Children’s Food




In the 18th and 19th century, while upper-class parents indulged in all manner of culinary delights, their children were subjected to a succession of bland unappetising dishes believed more suitable for children. Nursery menus typically consisted of porridge, bread and butter, boiled mutton and milk puddings. This simple diet was believed to toughen children’s constitutions. With the exception of nanny, who shared the same meals as her young charges, even the servants ate better. To add insult to injury, rebellious young children who refused to finish their meals were often made to eat the cold leftovers the following day. Edwardian children enjoyed tastier, more varied, and often more nutritious diets, but their food was still plainer than that of their parents. Meals were eaten in the nursery, although older children were sometimes allowed to join the family table at lunchtime, provided they were well behaved.

In the Victorian period, babies were fed broth, milk and diluted wine in special baby feeders. Toddlers were given posset, a warm milk drink believed to have medicinal properties. Diluted wine or ale added to the milk made it curdle, while lemon juice, sugar and cream gave it flavour. Another popular food was caudle, which was like posset but thickened with eggs, gruel or bread. These foods were given to toddlers through the spout of a special delph teapot known as a ‘posset pot’. Expensive posset sets were very popular gifts of the Victorian era and were often handed down as heirlooms. Solid foods for infants were known as ‘pap’ and one popular type was panada, a gruel of flour, potato, milk and butter. By the Victorian era, processed food for infants was now available in shops. Neave’s food for infants was one popular brand - by 1911, it was widely available in tins and 4d packets, and their advertisements promised to produce a strong and healthy ‘little Hercules’.

Neave’s Food for Infants

A popular brand advertised in the Leinster Express, Jan 1911

Cakes and Treats

When old enough, children from wealthy homes enjoyed occasional treats of jelly, chocolate, sweets and cake. Sweet orange jelly, chocolate éclairs, bakewell tarts, meringues, candied popcorn, marshmallows, Turkish delight and brightly coloured ices satisfied the sweet tooth of many a rich child. Toffee, bon-bons, nougat and boiled sweets were all favourites, while ‘yellowman’, a hard brittle aerated toffee cut into long bars, made another sticky treat.


A colourful iced pudding from Mrs Beeton


Such mouth-watering delights were rarely available to children from poorer houses, for whom boiled sweets such as clove rock or orange drops, bought in a paper cone, were a special luxury. At Emo Court, however, children from the local schools at Emo, Morette and Coolbanagher were periodically treated to fetes at which sumptuous spreads of tea, cake and bon-bons were provided. At one such event in 1892, 400 or so schoolchildren were received on the grounds of Emo. The children all sat together at long tables set up in the park, and enjoyed tea and cake at 5pm, followed by races and games, with more cakes and sweets at 8pm.  Such events must have been greatly looked forward to by these young children. Christmas treats were also given. In January 1914, for example, the schoolchildren were treated to a Christmas tea with cake, sweetmeats and bon-bons in abundance. This was undoubtedly washed down with liberal amounts of lemonade, which by 1914 was available in bottled concentrate.


Advertisement in the Leinster Express, July 1907