Like lots of parents, we’ve tried to avoid refined sugar in our little boy’s diet. I realise that most other sources of sweetness (fruit juice, dried fruit, honey etc) are still forms of sugar and shouldn’t be eaten with abandon.
But, for the odd sweet treat, I’m always on the look out for recipes that use more nutritious, less blood-sugar-spiking sweeteners than the granulated kind.
Here is a round-up of favourite recipes:
Spelt and Apple Stars adapted to become toddler gingerbread, from the great River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook by Nikki Duffy.
Apricot and Orange Loaf, from the same book, is a delicious, rich and slightly unbelievable fruit cake with no eggs, fat or sugar. It freezes well in slices that can be defrosted ahead of time by organised parents, or quickly warmed up in the toaster by people like me (watch out for super-hot raisins if you use this method).
Many of the recipes from My Lovely Little Lunchbox, a wonderful baby-led weaning recipe site, use alternatives to sugar. The recipes are often very simple, quick, and easy to adapt. Such as:
These ridiculously quick and easy banana oat cookies. I made these a lot when my son was first on solids, and since he loved to eat them I usually sneaked in one or more nutritious extras from this list: a tablespoon of tahini or nut butter, some blitzed up seeds, dried fruit, a handful of fresh seasonal fruit, a beaten egg. Here’s my own version.
These strawberry and pistachio flapjacks are beautiful, fun to make and delicious (photo is by Lovely Little Lunchbox, not me – can’t you tell?).
My own go-to recipes for sweet treats are:
Fresh fruit purees, gently cooked or pureed raw and sweetened with apple, pear, raisins, banana or cinnamon if the main fruit you’re using is too tart. Serve with yoghurt or…
…Refined-sugar-free crumble (called Gruffalo Crumble in our house). Use the granola version of the recipe as a topping for a fruit puree and/or yoghurt, or bake it into a proper crumble with seasonal fruit.
Berry pancakes – either for breakfast or as a snack. My son loves to cook these with me, probably because there’s lots of mixing with a hand whisk and also the exciting, sizzling sound of frying. Usually I improvise a very quick recipe involving egg, flour (buckwheat or wholemeal), cinnamon, milk and berries. I fry them in a little butter or oil and don’t find they need any added sweetener. We eat them with yoghurt (and okay, sometimes with honey or maple syrup drizzled over them). This recipe would work well if you replaced the sugar with maple syrup, honey or just a teaspoon of cinnamon, as would the blueberry pancake recipe from the River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook.
Owl Ice Cream – really a smoothie made using some frozen and some fresh fruit & veg. My son thinks it’s ice cream and it’s a great way to sneak all sorts of nutritious stuff into him (avocado, flax seed, spinach…).
Cinnamon – not a recipe, but just a reminder that cinnamon is incredibly sweet and delicious. If you want to make something (porridge, baked rice pudding, oat cookies, pancakes, hot buttered toast) sweeter, warmer and more comforting without adding any sugar at all, try cinnamon.
How to do any of this with a toddler in tow?
I’ve made all of the above with my son ‘helping’, usually by sitting in his high chair and mixing ingredients/tasting ingredients, or rolling out and cutting dough. The high chair trick still works well as it gets him at the same height as the kitchen counter but contains him, so long as he’s interested… When he was younger I would hand him a constant stream of safe kitchen objects (whisk, spatula, wooden spoon, plastic stuff) to bash around while I worked on any non baby-safe steps.
If the ingredients are particularly delicious or not all edible raw, I give my boy a separate ‘mixing bowl’ with a handful of the ingredients that he can choose to mix or eat as he pleases.