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Tomato Sauce (Ketchup) and Kids

Keep reading for some nutritional facts about tomato sauce, what age can you introduce it? What if your child wants it on everything? How do you choose a ‘better’ tomato sauce?

Tomato sauce or Ketchup is a widely available condiment that most children are exposed to from a young age, especially if it is used in the home. It is commonly served with popular kid-friendly foods such as burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets. The familiarity and association of ketchup with enjoyable foods can contribute to a child’s overall preference for it. Tomato sauce has a sweet and tangy flavor that appeals to many children. Its combination of sweetness and acidity can make foods more palatable, especially for those who are picky eaters or have sensitive taste buds.

However, commercial tomato sauce can be a hidden sauce of sugar and salt. Here are some nutritional facts to consider about tomato sauce to help you decide when you want to introduce it to your child and how often you serve it.

  • On average, commercial ketchup is high in sodium and contains about 150 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, with 1 tablespoon (20g) meeting 40-75% of the sodium RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) in 1-3-year-olds. That does not leave much room for the rest of the day.

  • The majority of commercial tomato sauce/ketchup is also high in sugar, with a sugar content of around 30%. The sugar content can vary slightly from brand to brand but in general, it is the second ingredient listed after tomato. On average for every tablespoon of tomato sauce, your child eats, they are having 1-1.5 teaspoons of added sugar.

  • Some low-sugar tomato sauces can use a variety of artificial sweeteners as a replacement, which tiny tummies can be sensitive to.

  • The majority of commercial tomato sauce will also contain added flavours (natural or artificial) to enhance the flavour of the product.

When can I introduce tomato sauce?

For infants under 12 months, I would recommend avoiding tomato sauce altogether, with the added sodium and sugar content exceeding recommendations for this age group. Focus instead on serving tomato, tomato passata, or tomato cooked in dishes

Under 2 years of age, I would also recommend holding off on tomato sauce if you can (this can be more challenging with older siblings). If you can delay tomato sauce introduction by all means delay it.

There are plenty of other sauces/dips that babies can use like guacamole, hummus, vegetable dips, homemade gravy, and whipped ricotta.

If you are going to use tomato sauce at home for your child, you may wish to look for a product with lower sugar and lower sodium levels, and also avoid artificial sweeteners as well.

How do I choose a commercial tomato sauce for my family?

Look for a tomato sauce with less or lower amounts of added sugar (without the replacement with artificial sweetener) and less or lower amounts of added salt. If you are looking at reducing your family’s intake of artificial/natural flavours, you can also look for products with fewer added ingredients.

Higher salt and sugar tomato sauce/ketchup examples:

Lower salt and sugar tomato sauce/ketchup examples:

What should I do if my child wants tomato sauce on everything?

This is when I like to refer to the Division of Responsibility……

As a parent, you get to decide what foods are on offer. This means you get to decide when tomato sauce is included in meals and snacks.

Sometimes tomato sauce will be an accompaniment at a meal, and sometimes it won’t, and that is okay.

For the times you decide that sauce isn’t being served, you can say

“Tomato sauce is not on the menu tonight”.

When you do decide to serve tomato sauce, allowing children to decide how much sauce they want in these instances and permitting them to have seconds, can help over time with learning and trust, and meal times.

It can also be helpful to keep language neutral when discussing tomato sauce; It is neither 'good' nor 'bad' or 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'.

What about my picky eater?

Here we have to consider the big-picture of helping a picky eater learn to like new foods.

Tomato sauce can be an excellent bridging food. A bridging food is a food that helps make another food more likable and less ‘new’. You may have experienced your child having more confidence to taste a new food with the help of tomato sauce.

  • Its combination of sweetness and acidity can make foods more palatable, especially for those who are picky eaters or have sensitive taste buds.

  • The bright red colour of ketchup can be visually appealing to children. The vibrant colour can make food more attractive and exciting, which may increase their interest in eating.

You can use tomato sauce as a bridging food with a variety of other strategies to support your child at mealtimes.

For more check out my tomato sauce Instagram review:

x Anna

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