Wow. That’s a confrontational headline, but I got your attention. Now let me explain.

I am not advocating a raid on the secret sweetie stash (we’ve all got one). Nor am I recommending a fizzy drink fest. On the contrary, I TOTALLY believe in home-cooked “real” food and I am, no doubt as you are, worried about our society’s increasing reliance on ready meals and what this means for our kids’ generation in terms of obesity, tooth decay and all kinds of other future health issues.

But I don’t believe that being the sugar police is helpful either.

If you’ve ever been on a diet, and I am guessing that most of us have been, what’s always on your mind? Yup. All those foods you can’t eat. Can’t eat carbs, cake and cheese? What are you craving? You guessed it.

Well, surprise surprise, kids are no different. If you ban cakes, sweets and chocolates, that’s what they want and it can quickly become a battle-ground especially if their friends are allowed these things. And if you make a “healthy alternative” with all the coconut oil, nuts, goji berries and other superfoods of the moment, let’s be honest, it doesn’t taste like the real thing and the kids will just feel cheated. (By the way, you can pack your bakes with honey, agave or maple syrup which are admittedly less refined, but sugar is sugar in terms of what the body does with it and the ultimate health implications). I’ve lost count of the number of birthday parties I have gone where kids “denied” cake are sitting under the table stuffing their faces while they have half a chance.

Which is why I believe in that old fashioned maxim – everything in moderation.

A little of what you fancy does you good and remember, when it comes to kids and food it’s our job to teach them:

No foods are “banned” or “bad” – labelling food can have all kinds of longer term implications. And it often results in kids eating more of the “bad” foods than if everything was on offer and we taught them:

What are healthy foods for their bodies that they should stock up on (proteins, fruit, veg, carbs etc) and what foods need moderation (sweet treats) and why

That food is a sociable pleasure. Exclusion diets aren’t pleasurable or often sociable as it makes it hard to eat out or with friends

To broaden their palate and expand what they eat. If you have a fussy eater you will know how important this is!

Being open minded and experimenting is key. If we ban and label foods which is what we are doing when we demonise sugar and produce supposedly “healthy” alternatives, then we aren’t teaching our kids self-regulation around food (both what they eat and how much they eat) nor are we trusting our kids to make their own food choices.

One of my key mantras is to change the behaviour first. We should be encouraging our kids to try a wide range of foods and if that means sometimes introducing ingredients in a “sweet” context (see my chocolate beetroot cake recipe below for example) then I am all for that as a first step. That way I’m showing kids that cooking (and eating) can be fun, I’m using new ingredients and challenging the “I don’t like it” brigade, and for those fussiest of fussy eaters, I’m getting them to touch, smell, even taste and so involving all their senses which is the first (slow) step to introducing new foods.

So, set aside a little time to bake with the kids and do try out my chocolate beetroot cake recipe. It’s a fab introduction to the earthy sweetness of beetroot, it’s a fun “game” when you watch the cake mix going in pink and coming out brown, and you challenge people to guess your secret ingredient. Plus there’s all the toilet humour potential of beetroot which is always a winner with kids! You can check out the photos from class here

Chocolate beetroot cake

Makes 24 mini muffins

A great way of introducing kids to beetroot – both taste-wise and toilet-humour wise! Don’t worry if the kids wee and poo go pink. This is called beeturia and the reason is that the pink colour of the beetroot isn’t broken down in your stomach when you digest the food.

If you are buying bunched beetroot, keep the stalks for “painting” or cut the beetroot in half and use like you would for potato printing which is a great hands-on craft activity. You can also use the beetroot to give your lips a natural “stain”

40g cocoa powder

90g self raising flour

90g caster sugar

125g cooked beetroot (roast yourself or use pre-cooked packets, though not the stuff sold in vinegar)

2 eggs

100ml sunflower oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

If you are roasting the beetroot, peel, cut into quarters/chunks, drizzle with a small bit of oil and roast at 200C for 30+ minutes until soft and going brown at the edges. This will depend on the size of your beetroot pieces.

Tip: your hands will go bright pink which is fun, but if you don’t want to look like you just killed someone with your bare hands, wear a pair of rubber gloves when peeling.

Puree the beetroot in a food processor

Slowly add the eggs, vanilla and oil and whizz until smooth. The mixture will look bright pink.

Now add in the cocoa, flour, sugar and baking powder and whizz again.

Pour into the mini muffin tins

Bake at 180C/ fan 160C for about 15 mins until a skewer comes out clean.

Tip: to teach your kids about natural food colours, you can even make an icing for the cake by mixing some beetroot juice (or just use the bowl you’ve put the roasted beetroot in) with some icing sugar and water until you have a spreadable paste

So I hope I’ve convinced you that sugar isn’t the big baddie all the time and that using it judiciously can introduce kids to new ingredients they might not otherwise try. By teaching kids about ALL different types of food and the concept of moderation, we set them up for a long term healthy relationship with food which is, after all, what we all want.