When can my baby have chocolate? Expert Guide

By Hannah Whittaker RD, PGDip | Nov 20, 2023

As a new parent, it’s natural to want to introduce your little one to all kinds of new foods, flavours, and textures, including the sweet and creamy taste of chocolate. So if they are eating solid foods you may want to know, ” When can my baby have chocolate?”. This is a question I get asked so often, especially around Easter or Christmas. But, they have a milk allergy so what about dairy free chocolate, is this different?

Dairy Free Chocolate options for milk allergy

For babies with milk allergy, finding a suitable chocolate alternative that doesn’t contain milk can feel little tricky. Fortunately, there are alternatives available which we’ll explore.

You might also want to know where chocolate stands on the milk ladder, don’t worry I’ve got this covered too.

When can my baby have chocolate

When can my baby have chocolate? 

So, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends not giving chocolate to young children under the age of 2 years. 

Why can’t a baby have chocolate before 2 years old?

The reason that it is recommended to not give chocolate to infants under 2 years is because it contains caffeine, theobromine, and sugar. Too much of any of these ingredients may have a negative impacts on your baby’s health. Let’s look a little more into these contents. 

Caffeine content of different types of chocolate 

Chocolate, a beloved treat, varies in caffeine content depending on the type. Here, we’ll explore the differences in caffeine levels in milk, white, and dark dairy free chocolate. This will guide you in making suitable choices for your little ones.

Milk Chocolate: 

Milk chocolate contains relatively lower levels of caffeine compared to its darker counterpart. This is because it has a lower amount of cocoa beans, which are the main source of caffeine. On average, milk chocolate contains about 2.5 mg of caffeine per ounce (28g) which is about 3 pieces of chocolate.

White Chocolate: Virtually Caffeine-Free

White chocolate stands out as a unique choice for little ones. Unlike milk or dark chocolate, white chocolate contains minimal cocoa solids – mainly cocoa butter and sugar. This means white chocolate is virtually caffeine-free. However, it’s important to remember that while it’s low in caffeine, white chocolate is generally high in sugars and fats.

Dark Chocolate: Higher Caffeine Content

Dark chocolate, known for its rich flavor and health benefits in adults, contains a significantly higher amount of caffeine than white and milk chocolate. It does however contain more caffeine, this is due to its higher concentration of cocoa solids. For example, an ounce (28g) of dark chocolate can contain between 5-20 mg of caffeine, depending on the cocoa content. 

The darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine. While dark chocolate offers antioxidants, its higher caffeine content makes it less suitable for infants and young children.

Caffeine impact on babies

Caffeine which comes from the cocoa contained in chocolate, can raise your babies heart rate, blood pressure, affect their sleep making them irritable. It can also have a negative impact on their nervous system if eaten in large amounts.

Does dairy Free Chocolate Have Caffeine?

Yes, Dairy free chocolate will likely be similar in it’s caffeine content as milk-containing chocolate. This is because it is the cocoa that contains the caffeine not the milk part of the chocolate. 

Chocolate and babies sleep

So we generally think about the sugar and caffeine in the chocolate but what about theobromine. This is an ingredient that can impact the sleep cycle of infants as they are more sensitive to this stimulant due to their nervous system still developing.  

Too much Caffeine and theobromine can lead to increased restlessness, irritability, and difficulty in settling down to sleep for our little ones. Disruption in sleep can have a ripple effect on your baby’s overall development. Quality sleep is crucial for processes like memory, learning, and growth. 

I would always say to be mindful of the type and amount of chocolate you give to your little ones. 

 

What is chocolate made from? 

Chocolate is typically made from cocoa beans, which are harvested from the cacao tree. The beans are roasted and ground into a paste, which is then used to make chocolate products. 

The cocoa (or cacao) in chocolate is native to Central and South America. 

What is the difference between Cacao & cocoa

The difference between the two;

  • Cacao is the raw cacao beans that haven’t been roasted
  • Cocoa is the name given to the beans when they have been roasted.
When can my baby have chocolate?

How do I introduce chocolate to my baby?

I would advise to try and hold off as long as you can but if you do give chocolate then try to stick to small amounts. Generally 1-2 small pieces or chocolate buttons is plenty.

Chocolate can melt quite easily in the mouth but if the portion is too large for your baby it can be a choking hazard. Always be with your baby when you are giving foods. 

When can my baby have chocolate milk?

Chocolate milk can be an alternative option to solid chocolate bars.  There is still some caffeine in hot chocolate, plus sugar and fat, but the caffeine contained is lower than it is in hard chocolate. 

When it comes to dairy-free how chocolate for babies with food allergies there are many products out there. 

Some options are; Cadburys hot chocolate and Nequick powder.

*Remember to always read your labels to ensure that the product is milk-free as sometimes the manufacturer can change the ingredients list* 

As an occasional treat, you could also try giving hot chocolate made with cocoa powder using your little ones usual fortified plant-based milk. Here’s some of my favourites.

This may be a little bitter but does not contain added sugar. Cocoa powder is also suitable for those with a food allergy as it does not contain milk protein.

When can my baby have chocolate?

This is a picture of my daughter Niamh enjoying her hot chocolate! 

Is Chocolate Healthy?

This is a bit of a mixed answer. Dairy-free and dairy-contained White & Milk chocolate are both high in fat and sugar. This can have an impact on your baby’s digestive system and could give them an upset tummy. There is also evidence to say that introducing sweet foods too early on to an infant may make them have a lifelong preference for sugary foods and drinks. What we know as a ‘sweet tooth’. This may contribute to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay in later life. 

But there has been lots of coverage on Dark Chocolate linked to providing many health benefits. This includes; antioxidant properties to support the immune system, helping to reduce cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease, however, this is only in adults. 

Where is chocolate on the milk ladder?

Chocolate isn’t seen on the 6-step milk ladder but it is on the 12-step ladder. I would advise parents that if they want to give their little ones chocolate for the first time it is a good idea to make sure that they are tolerating cheese and yogurt first and to only give a small amount of chocolate. 

Choosing Dairy Free Chocolate Options

If your baby has a milk allergy then it’s important to opt for those chocolates that are labelled as ‘dairy-free’ or ‘milk-free’. This will give you the reassurance that you know that your baby won’t have any allergic reactions to the food you give. 

You will be able to see if milk is included in the product by looking at the label. If a product is labelled ‘free from’ be careful not to assume that it is free from milk protein as this isn’t always the case. 

There are many options on the market now and they are generally made from soya, rice, or oat-based in place of milk protein.

15 Dairy Free Chocolate Options

#Brand/ProductIngredientsAdditional InformationSoya Free
1Moo Free (White, Milk)Sugar, Cocoa (37%) (cocoa butter*, cocoa mass*), Rice Powder (rice syrup, rice starch, rice flour), Inulin, Emulsifier (sunflower lecithin)*Rainforest Alliance certified.Yes
2NomoSugar, cocoa butter*, rice powder (dried rice syrup, rice starch, rice flour), cocoa mass*, inulin, shea oil, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), sea salt, flavouringsVarieties include chocolate orange, white, and mint flavor.Yes
3Cocoa LibraSugar, Cocoa butter, Cocoa mass, Rice powder (rice flour, rice syrup), Dietary fibre (inulin), Emulsifier: SOYA LECITHIN, Natural vanilla flavouring, Natural cocoa flavouringVarieties include milk, white.No
4Playin Choc100% organic ingredients: cacao solids (cacao butter, cacao mass), coconut sugar, creamed coconut (24%), vanilla podsSpecial ‘Toychoc Box’ for kids.Yes
5Doisy & DamMainly dark chocolate-basedHigher in caffeine, suggested for occasional consumption.Unknown
6Milky Way Dairy FreeSugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Ground Tiger Nuts, Chicory Fibre, Rice Syrup Powder, Emulsifier (Sunflower Lecithin), Natural Vanilla Flavouring, Couverture Chocolate contains Cocoa Solids 35% minimumYes
7M&S Made Without Dairy Giant Chocolate ButtonsSugar, Cocoa Butter (23%), Cocoa Mass (13%), Dried Rice Syrup, Rice Starch, Chicory Fibre, Rice Flour, Emulsifier: LecithinsUnknown
8Tesco Free From Chocolate ButtonsSugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Rice Syrup, Inulin, Coconut Oil, Rice Flour, Flavourings, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithins)Available in white and giant varieties.No
9Asda Free From Chocolate ButtonsSugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Rice Syrup, Inulin, Coconut Oil, Rice Flour, Flavourings, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithins)No
10Fellow CreaturesCane sugar, cacao beans, cacao butter, coconut, emulsifier: sunflower lecithin, Bourbon vanillaMay contain traces of hazelnut, almonds, and pistachio.Yes
11Galaxy Vegan ChocolateSugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Hazelnut Paste (11%), Rice Flour, Emulsifier (Lecithins (Soya)), Couverture Chocolate contains Cocoa Solids 35%Contains hazelnut paste.No
12Happi Oat Milk ChocolateColombian Couverture Chocolate (100%) (cocoa mass, sugar, OAT powder, cocoa butter, dried rice powder, emulsifier: sunflower lecithin; vanilla extract), Natural Flavourings (varies by product)Flavors include white, caramel, orange, and cocoa nibs.Yes
13Cadburys Dairy Free BarSugar, Cocoa Butter, Almond Paste, Cocoa Mass, Rice Extract, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithins), Flavouring, Cocoa Solids 42% minimumNo
14No Whey ChocolateVegan Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Unsweetened Chocolate, Rice Syrup Powder, Sunflower Lecithin (An Emulsifier), Salt, Natural Vanilla, Natural FlavorWide variety including pea not cups, and bars similar to M&Ms and Twix.Yes
15Lindt Dairy Free ChocolateSugar, Oat Drink Powder* (Oat Syrup (70%), Maltodextrin), Cocoa Butter, Almonds, Cocoa Mass, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin), Natural Flavourings, *Gluten Free OatNo
Dairy Free Chocolate Options

Moderation is key

Incorporating treats like chocolate into your baby’s diet calls for a thoughtful balance. For babies, it’s important to manage their exposure to sweet treats. Occasional indulgence in dairy-free chocolate or similar snacks can be a delightful experience, enhancing celebrations like birthdays or family gatherings. However, making these treats a rare event rather than a regular part of their diet is key. 

This approach helps you to establish healthy eating habits from an early age. 

6 Healthier Snack Alternatives to Chocolate for your toddler

If you are looking to give your little one sweet treats then you could try the ones below;

  1. Chickpea Cookie Dough – This Chickpea Cookie Dough recipe is a safe and delightful snack for toddlers with milk allergy. Made without dairy, it uses chickpeas as a nutritious base, ensuring a healthy dose of protein and fiber. It’s an excellent way to introduce a mildly sweet flavor to your little one, perfect for a quick snack. 
  2. Strawberry Yogurt Frozen Mint Bites – These Dairy Free Strawberry Yogurt Frozen Mint Bites offer a sweet, creamy and refreshing snack option. Using plant based yogurt ensures that they are completely dairy-free while still providing a yogurt-like texture. 
  3. Baby Banana Pancakes – These Baby Banana Pancakes are a delightful breakfast or snack for babies. Made with 3 simple, dairy-free ingredients, they are soft, easy to chew, and naturally sweetened with bananas.
  4. Carrot Cake Bites – These Carrot Cake Bites offer the delightful taste of carrot cake without any dairy. Made with natural ingredients carrots, dates, and oats, they provide essential nutrients in a tasty, bite-sized snack. They’re great for on-the-go families or as a quick snack between meals.
  5. Chocolate Beetroot Brownies – These brownies taste just like chocolate cake with their natural sweetness of beets with dairy-free chocolate. They have a soft, moist texture that’s perfect for your little ones. Not only are they delicious, but they also sneak in the goodness of vegetables, making them a hit with both babies and parents.
  6. Date & banana oaty bars – Made with naturally sweet dates and bananas, these bars are not only delicious but also packed with nutrients for your little one.
Strawberry Mint Yogurt Bites

So, when can babies have chocolate?

When considering introducing chocolate into your little one’s diet, I would advise you to try and wait until they are at least two years of age. But, if you would like to give chocolate before this time then you can try a few small pieces or buttons.

As a Paediatric Dietitian, I always recommend that parents focus on aiming for a balanced diet for their little ones. Try to get a variety of foods in each day and limit sugary snacks.

Always remember to carefully read your food labels, especially for babies with milk allergies.

My 5 top tips when it comes to introducing chocolate to babies;

1. Try to wait until your baby is over the age of 2 years.

2. Keep the portion to a small piece

3. Know that chocolate contains caffeine with dark chocolate having the highest levels. 

4. Be aware of the sugar content of chocolate

5. Read your labels to make sure the product is definitely milk-free

Hannah Whittaker Dietitian Bump2baby Nutrition
Expert Pregnancy & Paediatric Dietitian at  | info@bump2babynutrition.com | Website

Hannah is an Expert Registered Dietitian specialising in Vegan Family Nutrition and Cows Milk Protein Allergy. 

She is a respected figure in the field of nutrition and a captivating speaker and sought after media spokesperson being featured in esteemed publications including the Sunday Times, Independent and Huffington Post.

Credentials

Registered Dietitian
First Class Degree in Nutrition

Experience

Over 15 years experience working in the field of nutrition
Respected Media Spokesperson both in the UK & USA; quoted online, TV and in local and international news
Writer & Researcher, supporting the BDA and PEN Nutrition

 

 

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