Which spread to put on your child's bread?

Most kids LOVE bread. Whether it’s toast for breakfast or sandwiches for lunch, bread is usually a staple in most households. There are lots of nutritious breads out there (you can read my reviews of a decent white bread and a wholemeal option here). But, how good are the spreads we use on bread?

Here are my opinions on bread spreads, and a few different options for you to consider.

Vegemite

An all time favourite (particularly for our fussy eaters out there!) Vegemite is made from leftover brewer’s yeast and contains almost no fat, very little sugar, and a good source of B vitamins (these are essential for brain function, a healthy nervous system and energy release from food). BUT, it is particularly salty. Half a teaspoon spread on bread would provides about half of a child’s Vitamin B1 (thiamin) requirement and about 20% of an average child’s daily sodium/salt intake. Some positives, some negatives!

Marmite

A British version of Vegemite (although their website claims they’re the original Australian yeast spread?!) Anyway, same sodium/salt content as Vegemite, same Vitamin B1 (thiamin) content, more sugar (although it doesn’t make much of a difference in a 1/2 teaspoon) and some iron (10% of a child’s daily intake). Definitely a different taste to Vegemite, but the iron content might be a bonus for some fussy kids.

Peanut paste/butter

There are LOTS of different peanut butters out there. Regular Kraft (now The Good Nut or Bega) peanut butter is 85% peanuts and 15% oil, sugar and salt. Kids usually eat a bigger serve of PB, and a tablespoon has more sodium than a 1/2tsp of vegemite, 2g of sugar and a bit of saturated fat. The Sanitarium version is a better option with less fat, salt and sugar. Sanitarium also have a ‘natural’ peanut butter which is 100% peanuts (and a better nutritional choice) and a no added sugar or salt option, but both have a very different taste that you’d need to adjust to. Pic’s and Mayver's also do a 100% nut peanut butter, with less salt, sugar and saturated fat than standard peanut butter.

Cream cheese

Philadelphia cream cheese has a low sugar content, a reasonably low sodium content but a high fat and saturated fat content. Philly cheese also only contains a very small amount of calcium.

Ricotta

No sugar and low salt, this cheese made from the whey of milk. It is a reasonable source of protein and has some calcium (although not as much as regular cheese). Ricotta is also quite high in saturated fat (the bad fat).

Jam

The main ingredient in jam is sugar. Some jams contain up to 40% fruit, but that still leaves 60% sugar. Low salt and fat content, but no good reasons to choose jam over other spreads.

​Honey

Low fat and salt, but this product is 82% sugar. Some people like that it’s ‘more natural’ than sugar, but realistically, it’s not got a lot of nutritional benefit.

Melted cheese

Low in sugar and high in saturated fat and sodium. Basically, cheese is concentrated milk and all cheeses are going to have relatively high fat and protein content, and low sugar or carbohydrate content. Salt also has an integral role in the production of cheese, inhibiting bacterial overgrowth and balancing the acidity. The average salt content of cheese is about 620mg/100g, making it a high salt product. It's almost impossible to change these characteristics and still make cheese. On a more positive note, cheese is a good source of calcium for growing bones.

Nut butters

There are many different versions of these. Opt for ones that are at least 80-90% nuts. These spreads will naturally have a high fat content, and a reasonable protein content. They’re also low in sugar and salt, and contain some fibre. Be careful with the Bega Cashew or Almond spread, which contains only 25% cashews or 23% almonds, with the rest coming from oil and sugar!

Hommus

There are differences between brands, but many varieties are an excellent spread. Low saturated fat, high-ish overall fat, reasonable protein, low sugar and low sodium. Hommus is made from mainly chickpeas and tahini (sesame paste). It’s a delicious and nutritious option!

Nutella

This is a chocolate hazelnut spread, but don’t be tricked into thinking its equivalent to other nut spreads. This product is 13% hazelnuts, but the main ingredients are sugar (more than half!) and oil! This is really only a special occasion kind of spread!

Here are some other ideas for you!

Pâte

Pâte is a nutritious spread made from chicken livers. It is particularly high in both total fat and saturated fat (the bad fat) but it is a great source of iron. One tablespoon provides about 7% of child's iron requirements and it's from haem iron which is the most easily absorbed form of iron. You can read more about iron for kids here.

Fruit or veg puree with or without rice cereal

If you've been introducing solids to your baby then you might have some leftover purees. Otherwise it's easy to blitz up some fruit or cooked veg to spread on toast. There's no added sugar or salt, and you can add in some rice cereal to thicken it up and add a boost of iron. I like this rice cereal.

Chia jam

This is a super easy alternative to regular jam and it has no added sugar, with the natural sweetness coming from the fruit. The chia seeds thicken the jam to a spreadable consistency as well as adding protein and omega 3s for brain health. It's delicious too. You can find my recipe here.

Avocado

Avocado is an awesome source of healthy fats, folate, fibre, vitamin C and antioxidants. It's naturally low in sugar and salt, making it a delicious and nutritious option for putting on toast.

Tahini

Tahini is a past made from toasted sesame seeds, with a consistency a bit like peanut butter. It's a reasonable source of calcium, fibre and iron, with a relatively low saturated fat content. It's thick enough to spread, or good to mix with a puree or jam.

THE TAKE HOME MESSAGE

Just like with other foods, if your child is a diehard vegemite or jam fan, then you certainly don’t need to *stop* them from eating that spread. Just think about some ways you can add something else. Perhaps some avocado with vegemite, or some ricotta with jam. I know that our super fussy kiddies will absolutely not tolerate the addition of other ingredients straight away, but maybe it's something to model and work towards.

SOMETHING FUN TO TRY

Include your child in spreading their toast or sandwich and then the important job of slicing it. Lots of our clients LOVE to be in charge of cutting their own sandwiches or toast shapes. I particularly love the kiddie knife (totally safe and suitable for 2 year olds and older!!) from Foost. We use it in our clinic ALL THE TIME. You can buy it here (and they have free shipping!)

About Mealtime Building Blocks

Dr Kyla Smith is a paediatric dietitian specialising in fussy eating, feeding difficulties and childhood nutrition. Lauren Pike is an occupational therapist working in fussy eating and feeding difficulties. They have a private practice called Mealtime Building Blocks in Perth, Western Australia. You can connect with Kyla and Lauren on their website and sign up for their newsletter, and the Facebook page or on the Instagram page. You can also email them.

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