We spend so much time telling children what they can’t drink, it’s no wonder they regard alcohol as tempting. In many families, it’s also a big fat no to vibrantly coloured, sugary, caffeinated drinks (and for good reason), but if you ban them entirely, it’s not all that surprising that kids will crave them.
Personally, I think children should be encouraged to experiment with drinks in much the same way as we wish they’d do with food. Probably the best way to achieve that is to let them make their drinks themselves (obviously with a responsible adult on hand to help if they’re on the young side). Now’s a good time to go elderflower hunting and make your own (less sweet and sickly) cordial, for example; strawberries can be whipped up into smoothies, and cold brew teas or infusions can be left in the fridge overnight and transferred to water bottles the next morning. Even something as simple as putting children in charge of the water jug on the table, and encouraging them to add fruit or cucumber, will make them more conscious of what they’re drinking day to day.
Drinking out is an opportunity, too, especially now that there are many more alcohol-free options available, even in pubs. I recently had a Nix & Kix Blood Orange and Turmeric at a far-from-flashy joint in south-east London. And where I live in Bristol, and in other cities around the country, bubble tea bars are springing up in response to the growing Chinese student population, and are regularly frequented by teens and pre-teens, too – it’s their alternative to the coffee bar.
More problematic is whether it’s a good idea to give children drinks that mimic alcohol – alcohol-free ciders, say, would very much be to a 10-year-old’s taste. Should you give them an alcohol-free G&T with a gin substitute such as Seedlip Garden? Or a glass of alcohol-free (or low-alcohol) white wine? You could argue that this will help develop their palates beyond sweet, sugary drinks, but, at the same time, it may make the full-strength versions more alluring.
Common sense suggests that it depends on the age of the child – what you offer a 13- or 14-year-old is not likely to be the same as you’d give a five-year-old, after all – but the latest generation of soft drinks is so clever that it muddies the waters about what is and what isn’t alcohol. If you’re worried about that, perhaps you shouldn’t be: a third of all under-30s don’t drink at all, so they may not even be interested.
£19.99 for 50cl, aecornaperitifs.com, Selfridges.
Sophisticated, herby, alcohol-free dry vermouth-type drink: would appeal to anyone who like olives and other bitter flavours. Top with fizzy water
Clairette de Die Tradition
£7.99, Lidl, 7.5%.
Pretty, light, frothy, sweet, moscato-style sparkler. A sip for special occasions.
Rebel Kitchen Organic Mylk
£2.50 a litre, Ocado, Waitrose.
Expensive but delicious nut-based(mainly coconut) milk. Makes terrific shakes and smoothies.
Orchard Pig Totally Minted
£1.45 for 25cl, Dike & Son.
A friend’s 11-year-old loves this. Fresh and summery.
• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com
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