One question I get asked a lot is WHY I choose to serve my kids fruits, and sometimes cakes or biscuits, on their plate alongside savoury options. Offering fruit as part of a meal is something I choose to do, as a personal preference and isn’t something that I say people HAVE to do by any means.
However, since I’m asked about it a lot, I wanted to share more on WHY I choose to do this. To share my thought process behind this and help people understand whether they’d like to follow the same strategy with their little ones too.
Do Young Children Have a Preference for Sweet Foods?
We are actually all born with a bit of a preference for sweet foods. Even during gestation an unborn baby shows a preference for sweeter amniotic fluids. It’s thought that this is due to the fact that, in nature, sweet foods tend to be safe, and also tend to come alongside plenty of nutrients and calories.
It makes sense then that young children are more likely to choose fruits, such as banana, strawberries, grapes and plums that are naturally sweet tasting over other, more bitter, savoury tastes.
This is one of the key reasons I recommend a veg-led weaning approach that focuses on introducing plenty of new and unfamiliar tastes for babies right from the start. It’s also why offering plenty of variety from a young age can help establish a taste and acceptance for lots of different flavours.
What About the Food Environment?
In 2023, we live in a society where sweet foods are readily available, but they aren’t all sweet foods which come packed with lots of beneficial nutrients (as with fruits).
We are biologically more likely to enjoy sweeter foods. But our society also heavily re-emphasises this, by promoting sweet foods as “treats”; as food for “special occasions” and for “dessert”.
If you go to birthday parties for example, it’s quite unlikely that you’ll come home with some broccoli or carrot sticks in your party bag – and that’s OK. But what this does do, is hugely reinforce our inborn preferences for sweet foods. By making them even more desirable and as foods associated with super fun occasions too.
I’m not expecting (or even suggesting) that any of this SHOULD stop. Foods such as crisps, biscuits and ice cream are made to be highly palatable for us as humans – we enjoy them for a reason. However, I always feel that these foods tend to be halo-ed to the disservice of all the other wonderful, delicious and healthful foods that we have available to us throughout the UK.
Avoiding a Food Hierarchy
I want to avoid over-emphasising to my kids that SOME foods are better than others. Ideally, I want them to (for as long as possible) see all foods as being equal, even whilst they may enjoy eating some more than others.
I also want to encourage them to follow their own appetite cues. If they fancy salmon from the plate then they can eat that first, if they fancy cherries then that’s what they can go for too. I want them to learn more about their own appetite, what they FEEL like eating. Rather than learning a food hierarchy in which sweet foods, whether that be fruits or sweets, will trump all others.
I know for many this may seem far-fetched. I also understand that this becomes harder as they grow up, become more independent and influenced by other factors. But setting a foundation with a love for ALL foods, not just sweeter foods is important to me.
This has also worked well so far for us (especially with Raffy who will always follow his appetite and doesn’t always reach for sweet foods) and MANY of you have also written to me to say it’s worked well for you too.
Offering fruit as PART of a meal
So, what is it that I do when it comes to mealtimes with my kids?
Generally, I don’t offer a “dessert” – I put all of the foods as part of one plate and they pick and choose which foods to eat and in which order. If fruit is part of the meal, it’s offered alongside salmon, potatoes and whatever else is on offer for that meal.
Dessert can easily turn into an end of meal “treat” and sometimes kids can totally refuse their main meal, knowing that they’ll get something “better” for dessert. My two do quite often do this when we go to my parent’s house for dinner as they know there that there is always a dessert offered. This can often lead to increased stress at mealtimes and parents restricting dessert unless their little one finishes their main meal. Restricting dessert in this way often makes it all the MORE appealing for kids over time and makes the main meal less appealing too.
Therefore, whether it’s fruit OR other sweet foods, I’ve found that offering it as part of the savoury meal and not drawing any attention to which foods they go for, or don’t, has really helped. As a family, we don’t tend to have dessert as standard, and so I follow this same approach for my kids.
Are Desserts NECESSARY for Kids?
For some, dessert really does have a place. Especially in children who are a little picky or don’t eat much at main meals. Desserts and snacks can play a big role in their diet and help to increase calorie and nutrient intakes over the day – providing extra occasions and opportunities to eat food.
This is why it’s always important to look at YOUR child and adapt based on their individual needs. As with everything when it comes to feeding children (and children in general!), there is no one size fits all. If offering a dessert helps your little one to eat more in general and for you to feel more confident in their nutrition, then that’s absolutely OK to do.
And of course, if dessert is part of your family routine, then there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with offering it. Children become accustomed to what’s normal for them, and if they know that they will have dessert even if they don’t like or finish the main meal, then they are also less likely to “hold out” for it. You could always try and vary what is on offer as a dessert too, so sometimes it’s savoury and not always sweet.
I’ve written more about how I offer sweet foods to my kids before, so do check out that blog.
Ultimately, I want to encourage people to show their little ones how to enjoy all food equally, as much as possible. And to encourage them to eat to appetite, rather than developing a food hierarchy understanding.
How I personally try to do this in the way I feed Raffy and Ada, I:
- Offer fruits alongside meals
- Avoid talking about some foods as better than others or more desirable
- Avoid referring to foods as “treats” or offering rewards for eating some foods
- Let them see me enjoying a wide variety of foods
- Don’t offer a “pudding” as such, as a daily occurrence
- Allow them to listen to their own appetite at mealtimes and go for what they want first
I hope you’ve found this helpful – of course there is NEVER a right or wrong way of feeding little ones. It’s often trial and error and what works for one family won’t always work for another. I’m sharing my experiences here and would LOVE to hear yours.