With busy schedules and not enough time to fix all meals from scratch, many parents struggle with how to feed their families better and healthier. As a mother of two and grandmother of four, I’ve struggled with this issue for years. Since we’d hate to deprive our toddlers of favorites like peanut butter and jelly, how can we make the healthiest choices possible?
The most healthy jam or jelly for toddlers is prepared using the freshest fruit possible along with no-sugar or at least low-sugar options or alternative sweeteners such as honey, tapioca, or maple syrup.
The good news is that jam is actually not a bad choice for toddlers. There are many natural and sugar-free peanut butter options available to make your sandwich healthier, and bread that can increase the nutritional value of your meal.
You have two basic options when choosing the healthiest jam or jelly possible. You can either choose a commercial option or you can make your own.
Guidelines for Buying Healthy Jam and Jelly
You typically have 2 options for buying healthy products.
1. Farmers’ Markets
As many parents of small children are severely limited as far as time to prepare everything from scratch, there are many good, healthy alternatives to making your own jam. Try local farmers’ markets and talk to jam and jelly makers to find one that fits your requirements.
2. Amish Products
Amish jams and jellies are very good, healthy, and nutritious. They make their products using only the freshest fruits and the finest ingredients to produce small batches of delicious jams and jellies. They do not use preservatives in their jams. The Amish also make a low-sugar jam sweetened with all-natural evaporated cane juice for those who wish to reduce their sugar intake.
3. Commercial Options
If buying locally isn’t an option, you can still find healthy products sold commercially. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Check labels carefully before buying. Fruit should appear first or second in the ingredients list.
- Fruit juice concentrates are a preferred sweetener.
- Look for 40 calories or less per tablespoon of jam or jelly.
- Avoid products containing added color.
- Avoid products containing preservatives.
Recommended commercial brands:
- 365 Organic Strawberry Conserves (Click to see Amazon Listing) A child-friendly store brand of Whole Foods.
- Bionaturae Organic Fruit Spread, sweetened with fruit and fruit juice and 30 calories per tablespoon. Bionaturae uses only organic, hand-harvested heirloom fruits. Heirloom fruits have never been hybridized.
- Polaner All Fruit Spreadable Fruit, sweetened with fruit and fruit juice, 35 calories per tablespoon, and certified non-GMO.
- Smuckers Fruit & Honey, sweetened with honey and 35 calories per tablespoon.
- Smuckers Low-Sugar Preserves, low sugar content and 40 calories per tablespoon. (Downside is added color and preservatives.)
- Smuckers Simply Fruit, no added sugar and 40 calories per tablespoon.
Guidelines for Making Your Own Healthy Homemade Jam or Jelly for Kids
1. Decide on your ingredients
- A refrigerator jam made from fresh fruit, honey, and fruit pectin, tapioca, or chia seeds is fast and easy to make.
- You can let your children do the taste test as you add the honey or another alternative sweetener.
- Recipes can be varied by preference and what is on hand.
- Small batches are quick to make and do not require a boiling water bath.
2. Use only organic fruit, if possible
Many local farmers grow fruit which is certified as organic. In case you are wondering, farmers who follow strict U. S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for their farming practices can certify their produce to be organic. This basically means that their fruits and vegetables have been grown in soil on which no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides have been applied for at least three years.
3. Use either a no-sugar or low-sugar recipe
4. Avoid artificial sweeteners
Although there is controversy over the pros and cons of using artificial sweeteners in food for children, I personally would prefer to use a reduced amount of sugar in making jam or jelly for children rather than sweetening with an artificial sweetener. I don’t like to see anything artificial going into my babies’ bodies!
5. Use jam instead of jelly for children
Whole fruit goes into making jam which adds some fiber. Jelly, on the other hand, is made only from the juice obtained from boiling and straining the fruit which eliminates the fiber naturally found in fruit.
6. Use chia seeds or tapioca instead of pectin as a thickener
Although it won’t set as fast or firm, Chia seeds are considered a “superfood” and contain protein, omega 3’s, many vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants. They are also low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. One downside to using chia seeds, however, is that they do contain phytic acid that blocks the absorption of certain nutrients. But, used in moderation, this should not be an issue.
Tapioca is one of the better options for toddlers as it is a natural carbohydrate extracted from cassava tubers. Tapioca has no common allergens, is easily digested and cholesterol-free, contains fiber, iron, manganese, calcium, and vitamin B, and is low in sodium, which makes it a healthy product to use in your jam. The only downside is that tapioca is also high in carbs and calories.
A Quick Recipe for Homemade Refrigerator Jam (Perfect for Toddlers!)
- 2 cups prepared Strawberries (washed, trimmed, and chopped)
- 1/2 cup Honey
- 1 teaspoon Lemon Juice
- 1 package Fruit Pectin or 2 tablespoons Chia Seeds or 2 tablespoons of Tapioca
- Place strawberries, lemon juice, and thickener in a Dutch oven or other pot (not aluminum), and bring to a boil.
- Add honey and return to a boil, boiling for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Reduce heat, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently and skimming off foam. Use a potato masher to mash the fruit while it is cooking.
- Pour into prepared jars, wipe jar rims and affix lids, and set on a towel to cool.
- Once the jam has cooled completely, place in the refrigerator, ready to use.
Once the jam is made, it will keep for at least 6 months in the refrigerator or for a year in the freezer. Any alternative sweetener can be substituted for the honey, and the amount of sweetener can be adjusted to taste. Chia seeds or tapioca can be substituted for the fruit pectin to thicken the jam, or this recipe can be made without a thickener by cooking it an additional 10 minutes.
This jam can be made in less than one hour, which includes preparing the fruit, gathering all ingredients and utensils, preparing the jars and lids, and cleaning up after the jam has been cooked. This is also a good project to make with your whole family. They can help prepare the fruit and do a taste test to get the sweetener just right. They will love helping mom and dad make the jam!
Here is a more detailed step-by-step guide to making healthy homemade jam.
Alternatives to Jam and Jelly
If you would rather just completely leave the jam and jelly out of your children’s diet and go for a healthier snack, here are some healthy snack options:
- Fresh fruit for vitamins, potassium, protein, natural sugars, and healthy carbohydrates
- Fruit salsas (Cut fruit usually marinated in an acid like lemon juice and served cold.)
- Hummus for fiber and protein
- Guacamole for fiber and potassium
- Fruit puree added to yogurt (Fruit that has been chopped and pulsed in a blender with lemon juice added for tartness and to preserve color.)
- Fruit compotes (Fruit that has been chopped and cooked down to form a delicious gooey topping.)
Safety Considerations for Feeding Kids Jelly or Jam
Research led me to understand that lots of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners in our diets, especially for young children, is something we should avoid. Here are a few other things to look out for to help keep your toddler safe.
- Babies under one year of age should never be fed jelly or jam because of the sugar content and because the thickened consistency could cause them to choke.
- Children one year and up should be given only the healthiest jelly or jam available and in limited amounts.
- Watch for symptoms of food allergies as some fruits, especially bananas and strawberries, trigger allergic reactions in some children. Some of the more common reactions to food allergies are skin rashes, breathing difficulties, coughing and sneezing, and stomach issues such as pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.
What Is the Best Bread for Toddlers?
Starting with healthier bread at a young age is important to set good habits for your kids that will last a lifetime. So, if they have never eaten bread before it’s best to just go ahead and give them healthier choices right off the bat. For bread, it is always best to use 100% whole grain. As a rule of thumb, the whiter the bread, the less healthy it is.
Even so, I know how difficult it can be to get kids to eat certain things. This is especially true if they have already been eating the various common white breads that most families consume. As a compromise, if you can’t get them to try that super healthy wheat bread, at least see if they will like the “white wheat” choices that every supermarket has. It tends to taste pretty much the same as normal white bread, so they might not even notice the change.
What is the Best Peanut Butter for Toddlers?
As with bread, it is important to start out with healthier peanut butter at a young age. If they have never eaten peanut butter, it is better to just go ahead and give them healthier options with no additives. Once they eat peanut butter that has sugar, salt, and oil added, it will be very difficult to switch them to a healthier choice. Ideally, the best option is peanut butter that contains nothing but organic peanuts. So be sure to check those labels when choosing the best product for your family.
I recommend a brand called “Spread the Love“. Not only does it taste better than other organic options, but it is also made by a small business that is family-owned.
Peanut butter is a healthy addition to your child’s diet as it is high in protein, B vitamins, iron, folic acid, and fiber, and even though it is also high in fat, it is a monounsaturated fat that is heart-healthy. But something else to keep in mind when giving your child his or her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich is that peanuts are highly allergic to many people. Just be sure to watch your child for any symptoms of an allergic reaction.
If you are serious about feeding your children better and would like the healthiest jelly or jam possible, making your own homemade organic and sugar-free jam, purchasing Amish jam or jelly, or a homemade jam from your local farmers’ market are your best options.
Since the average American child will consume 1500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating high school, it is extremely important to make those sandwiches as healthy as we can. And, if you can get the whole family involved in making this jam, sounds like a win-win situation all the way around!