The family cookbooks below are a great place to start trying out new recipes with the aim of reducing the overall amount of sugar in your children's diets. The idea, as the well-known Australian journalist and sugar-free advocate Sarah Wilson writes is not to ban "bad" foods, but to crowd them out. "Instead, we focus on eating a whole stack of other snacks, treats, and meals so there simply isn't enough room left for the sugary stuff," she writes in her Kids' Cookbook.
Some of these recipes do contain natural sweeteners, such as brown-rice syrup and dark chocolate, but the idea is to eat these snacks and desserts as a treat. Moderation is everything. As author Lizzie King puts it in the introduction to her Lizzie Loves Healthy Family Food: "Now you've ditched the white stuff, it doesn't mean you can go wild with a bottle of maple syrup – that kind of misses the point. Naturally occurring sugars/sweeteners do similar things to blood-sugar levels, so our focus shouldn't be on finding a simple swap, but on lowering the sweetness in our diets overall."
Another good reason not to overdo the maple syrup, cacao powder and any other natural sweetener is the cost. Adding cups of organic maple syrup to your rolled oats will soon add up – and the calorie count is not insignificant, either.
What is important is to get children on board by showing them that being sugar-free need not mean missing out. In The Sugar Free Family Cookbook, author Sarah Flower advocates using alternative sweeteners such as xylitol, stevia and erythritol as a stopgap. "Get [children] into the kitchen to bake and create using sugar-free sweeteners until their palate changes," she writes. "You might find in the first few months you make far more sweet stuff as you prove it is not a restrictive diet. As your palate changes, you will need the sweet foods less and less."
You will see from the range of comments made by my family team of expert tasters and their different likes/dislikes that everyone's palate is tuned into sweet flavours rather differently. But then it was always going to be a work in progress as my children's (and husband's) palates adjust with hits and misses along the way. See how yours fare with these simple recipes.
1 banana; 2 lolly sticks; melted dark chocolate, cream, nut butter or yoghurt; chopped nuts (almonds or hazelnuts – optional)
▶ Cut the banana in half and place a lolly stick into each piece.
▶ Dip or coat in melted chocolate, cream, nut butter or yoghurt. Sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired.
▶ Place in the freezer until frozen
From The Sugar Free Family Cookbook by Sarah Flower, published by Robinson, 2017
The family’s verdict: Annys, six: “Mmm. 10/10” Thora, eight: “I like this, but it makes my teeth a bit cold.” Nick, 46: “Still tastes like a bit of a treat, even if it’s not ice cream.”
Hazelnut choc crunch with raspberries
Makes 8-10 slices
1 cup (135g) hazelnuts; 1/2 cup (60g) pecans; 2 heaped tbsp cacao powder; large pinch sea salt; 5-6 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped; 1 tbsp almond butter (or 1 tbsp maple syrup); handful of fresh or frozen raspberries to decorate. Topping: 1/2 cup cacao butter; 2 tbsp cacao powder; 60ml maple syrup; pinch sea salt; or 150g dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids minimum)
▶ Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 900g loaf tin with baking paper.
▶ Lay the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for five to 10 minutes. Leave to cool, tip into a clean tea towel, then rub between your hands to shed the skins. Reserve a small handful of nuts and roughly chop them.
▶ Place the remaining nuts in a food processor with the pecans. Pulse-blend until you have a fine meal. Add cacao powder, salt, dates, almond butter (or maple syrup), and pulse-blend again until broken down and sticky. Tip the mixture into the loaf tin, and press firmly and evenly. Place in freezer while making the chocolate topping.
▶ To make the topping, melt chocolate. Alternatively, melt other ingredients in a small pan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Take the tin out of the freezer, pour topping over nut mixture, scatter over reserved hazelnuts and decorate with raspberries. Return to the freezer to store for at least 30 minutes and remove 10 minutes before eating. Or keep in the fridge, if eating immediately.
From Lizzie Loves Healthy Family Food by Lizzie King, published by Trapeze, 2017
The family's verdict: Annys: "I like the chocolate topping." Thora: "On my second bite, it's very nice." Nick, 46: "It looks like what you'd give a bird in winter. It needs creme fraiche."