All content of this blog is my own opinion only. It does not represent the views of any organisation or association I may work for, or be associated with. Nothing within this blog should be considered as medical advice and you should always consult your Doctor.

13 Baby Led Weaning Myths

"Baby-led weaning (often also referred to as BLW) is a method of adding complementary foods to a baby's diet of formula or breastmilk. 

Baby-led weaning allows babies to control their solid food consumption by "self-feeding" from the very beginning of their experiences with food. The term weaning should not be taken to imply giving up formula or breastmilk, but simply the introduction of foods other than formula or breastmilk." (wikipedia)

I love BLW for lots of reasons;   it allows baby to regulate their own intake, offers oodles of sensory opportunities and the chewing and processing promotes good oral development.

Seven years ago when I used it to introduce solids to my baby, my health visitors had never heard of it (although one did come round to learn more) and as he was born at 34 weeks gestation a few people thought I was rather mad, he would surely choke or starve! Yet it worked brilliantly.

As more people recognise the benefits of letting babies feed themselves, I've noticed when working with parents (in person and online) the same myths and questions arise.  So I thought I would share my thoughts here to save repeating :-)

1. Baby must be able to sit unaided to start solids.

A mum the other day online asked whether that meant when baby was placed in the seated position, or when they could actually get themselves there from laying down?

Some babies are 8/9 months before they can sit unsupported, why can they not eat before then even if showing other signs of readiness?  Once babies can sit unsupported you wouldn't feed them without support until truly stable, as they will still randomly tip over after a bit which is hardly safe when consuming food.

So what's the relevance?

The key is that baby is upright and has a clear passage from mouth to stomach....

This baby is reclined, eating solids in this position is not recommended.
Both these babies are supported, yet have good head control, are not slumped to one side and food can move easily from mouth, to throat to stomach.  They may or may not be able to sit unsupported but as we can see that's really irrelevant, they are maintaining a safe eating position.
In fact lets compare it to a baby in a high chair:

Again we have no idea whether this baby can sit unsupported or not, because she's supported by the seat behind and the tray in front.  It really doesn't matter as she has a clear passage from mouth to gut.  She would be sat in this chair exactly the same way whether she could sit by herself or not.

Gill Rapley says:
"Sit the baby up to the table with everyone else. He can be either in a high chair or on an adult's lap – supported, if necessary, so that he can use his hands and arms freely. Make sure he is sitting upright to handle food, not lying back or slumped."
I confess it's a long time since I read Gill's book, but I don't recall anything about baby sitting unaided there either.  Anyway as I say, personally I don't see a rationale for it.

2. Vegetables & fruit are the best first solids.

I think it takes a lot for people to make the mental shift from the old fashioned weaning schedule, when solids were introduced before gut closure.  Babies of three and four months (particularly before 17 weeks) are at increased risk of allergies from exposure to solids - therefore vegetables were considered "safer", particularly those considered easier to tolerate, and with low allergenic potential such as carrots, pears and butternut squash!

Pre six months nutritional needs are met by breastmilk, and so babies don't need vitamins and minerals from foods.  From around the middle of the first year, requirements for additional protein, iron, zinc, B Vitamins and vitamin D increase  - but the best sources of these aren't fruit and vegetables!  We know some infants are more at risk of low mineral stores than others, for example those born early, at low birthweight or to mums of poorly controlled diabetes.

We also know babies have small tummies, so they need nutrient dense foods - ie foods which provide good amounts of vitamins, minerals and calories even when consumed in small amounts.  Breastmilk has around 70 Kcal per 100g, in comparison carrots for example have 27 Kcal, less if there if they're not drained well.  

Judy Hopkinson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine says:
"It is important to remember, that when solid foods are introduced, the amount of breast milk a baby consumes decreases."
If a baby has an underlying feeding problem or isn't taking enough milk, baby may then I believe take food in addition to solids (which is why Dr Newman recommends earlier solids rather than formula if extra nutrition is required from around 17+ weeks), for typical babies though a reduction in milk feeds occurs.

This means that although vegetables are healthy, the vast majority don't offer anything that breastmilk doesn't ie milk is also abundant in these same nutrients too - but they do have less calories and less easy to assimilate iron and zinc.  Vegetables gradually become more significant the more baby transitions to solids, and important when baby is no longer drinking breastmilk or formula.

Therefore whilst parents think they're giving gentle, harmless foods by not offering their 8 month old anything more than plums and pears, to ensure optimum growth and protect against deficiencies, food should contain nutrients babies begins to need first.  

In Canada meat and eggs are now recommended as ideal first foods, the La Leche League have suggested this for years - in fact there are not many cultures who wean on to refined grains, vegetables and fruit.  This makes sense as baby has all the enzymes to easily digest meat  at 6 months, and it's also high in protein, iron, B vitamins and zinc - the foods we know infants need first.  Egg yolks are extremely easy to digest and if organic are also an excellent source of vitamin D.  Obviously vegans and vegetarians can meet requirements via their normal sources of these nutrients, although as less bioavailable clever food pairing is also required (which I'm assuming those choosing either diet are already familiar with).

3. Closely followed by grains: bread, pasta, cereal.

Let's start with bread as a product.

Made at home contains: Wheat Flour, Yeast, Water, and Salt (with a very small amount of sugar if any).

Wharburtons meduim sliced contains: Wheat Flour,Water ,Yeast, Salt,Vegetable Oil, Soya Flour, Emulsifiers E481, E472e, Preservative Calcium Propionate, Flour Treatment Agents Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), E920 (Vegetarian)

The sodium amount in one slice of bread is 0.4g yet according to the NHS:
"The maximum recommended amount of salt for babies and children is:up to 12 months – less than 1g salt a day (less than 0.4g sodium)"
Which means one slice equals more than baby's total daily maximum allowance - yet breastmilk and infant formula also contain sodium..

Wheat gets even more complicated as: 
"Today's wheat is a far cry from what it was 50 years ago.  Back in the 1950s, scientists began cross-breeding wheat to make it hardier, shorter, and better-growing.
Today's hybridized wheat contains novel proteins that aren't typically found in either the parent or the plant — some of which are difficult for us to properly digest. Consequently, some scientists now suspect that the gluten and other compounds found in today's modern wheat is what's responsible for the rising prevalence of celiac disease, "gluten sensitivity," and other problems."
Read more here, here, here and here.

Lastly grains also contain phytic acid, a substance present in grains in relatively large amounts. Phytic acid is often referred to as an “anti-nutrient,” as it blocks absorption of minerals, like iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium, in the body; the very things baby needs to absorb.  Other cultures who eat grains early, typically either prechew, sprout or ferment.  You can read more here and here.

As part of a balanced diet for an adult, quality grains may not be a huge issue for some; but when we're looking at nutritionally significant foods for babies who don't consume much, it seems to me there are far more valuable solids to explore, particularly in the first year or two.

The bigger picture is also that we are eating more wheat than ever before, hidden in products you wouldn't necessarily expect to find it. Hit the supermarket and check out how many ice creams, salad dressings and processed meats contain wheat.  Then consider some get cereal for breakfast, bread for lunch and pasta for dinner!

4. And only one type.

Just carrots, peaches or whatever else parents have selected. To me baby led weaning isn't just in the sense they feed themselves, but also that they lead what they choose to eat from a balanced meal.

Gill discusses in her book how some theorise the baby will choose foods with the nutrients he might need, guided by taste (2, 3) - but how if you only have a single food offered?

For those with severe food allergies in the family or where reactions may be serious, it of course makes sense to present things as individual foods before mixing in say a curry or casserole where it may be more difficult for baby to avoid potential allergens.

Similarly higher risk foods such as egg, dairy, peanuts etc should be given at different times so it's easy to identify if there is a problem, which item caused it.

For the most part however there is no evidence supporting the concept of introducing one food every few days and watching for a reaction, particularly once the gut is closed; people can develop a food intolerance at a later date too.

5.  Babies need bland.

Baby rice being the king of!  Breastfed babies are exposed to tastes and flavours via breastmilk and so often parents report their baby is far more interested in tasty meals.  Herbs, spices, garlic and pepper are all suitable.

Cultural norms vary widely so if we look at Indian cuisine and first foods, one example is a "cereal" made from rice (not processed, stripped of any goodness and then refined with synthetic vitamins baby kind!), toor dal (split peas), cumin seeds (bitter, spicy), ajwain seed (strong, spicy thyme like flavor), asafetida (tastes a bit like strong onions with a touch of earthy truffles) and dried ginger - bit of a far cry from a rusk!  Google the nutritional qualities of each ingredient and you will also see it's a good source in magnesium, zinc and iron with a low GI and is considered easy to digest.

6. Baby has to be exactly 182.6 days old (6 months).

Why? Does the magic gut fairy wave a wand on the eve of night 181 thus rendering the baby ready for solids? No.

It's a guideline not a rule.  I hear people say I'm going to start BLW at 6 or 7 months and wonder, if it's baby led, how do you know when you will start unless actually you're picking the date and it's not baby led at all?

I don't want to cover again the ins and outs as I covered everything here  but from a biological perspective it makes no sense babies would be able to pick up food, get it to their mouth, chew and swallow before they're ready to eat, because how would cave woman have known about the 6 month rule?  How would our ancestors have known to withhold food even after the baby was helping themselves?

Furthermore if you're going to buy into the concept of self feeding and that being able to do this indicates solid readiness, then surely it also follows that if babies aren't ready, you can present them with all the solid food in the world yet they won't be capable of eating it?

Indeed Gill Rapley conducted some small scale research and found:
“The babies who participated in the research were allowed to begin at four months. But they were not able to feed themselves before six months. Some of the younger babies picked food up and took it to their mouths; some even chewed it, but none swallowed it. Their own development decided for them when the time was right."
Just like I think baby led is more than self feeding and should encompass self selection of foods, I also think that should extend to when they do so.

7.  Tongue tie doesn't impact on starting solids.

This really confuses me.  The tongue is pretty key to eating (ask anyone who has ever suffered Bell's Palsy ), it needs to move the food laterally to the gums/teeth for mashing, it needs to retrieve bits that get stuck in the cheeks or roof of mouth, it needs to undulate to move the food to the back of the mouth for swallowing - how can that always happen if the tongue is anchored to the floor of the mouth in a way that significantly hinders these actions?

I'm not suggesting for a second all babies slow with solids have tongue tie, nor am I saying a restricted frenum always causes eating problems; but it's equally wrong to say that it never can, as this mum's diary clearly highlights.  If baby is still struggling with excessive gagging, pouching food (getting it stuck in cheeks or roof of mouth) or doesn't really seem to have progressed two or three months into the eating journey and parents have concerns, it's worth ruling out.

8.  Babies need water with their meal as soon as they start solids.

The general consensus seems to be formula fed babies should be offered water when solids are introduced; breastmilk however is around 88% water and so if you are feeding on cue there is no rush to introduce extra fluids with meals.  Playing with cups and water outside of mealtimes (some find in the bath allows for spillage!) can give baby time to enjoy that experience in itself.

9.  Puree on spoons is still BLW - if not you're a purist.

Of course some foods are easier to spoon - yoghurt or soup for example; and preloading spoons for odd foods is I think pretty instinctive.  However recently I've heard of people blending or mashing all meals, before loading up spoons and calling it BLW.  Yet I'm not convinced appetite regulation is that easy when things aren't solid.

Take a punnet of strawberries, you're average 6-9 month old might eat anywhere from a bite to a few. Puree the punnet however and you get a surprisingly small amount of mush.  Think how much fruit you need to make a smoothie, it's much easier to consume larger amounts of blended food than you would consume  in their solid state.

Having to pick up and bring food to the mouth and then process, rather than just swallowing, slows down the eating process allowing the baby more time to recognise they are full.  Babies pushing a preloaded spoon a few inches to their mouth eat much faster than those feeding themselves.

It also removes a lot of the sensory experience - visual identification and textures of foods, learning how to pick up a particular item and manipulate using fine motor skills, not squishing too hard or letting it fall.  I think Gill in one of her presentations has said previously, how can a child build a relationship with foods if green mush is sometimes apple, sometimes avocado, sometimes cabbage?

10.  Everything has to be in its whole untouched state, no mashing or it's not BLW.

I know this seems rather a contradiction to the above statement but some things are shades of grey, not black and white.  Whilst there is the extreme of pureeing everything to a soup and calling it self feeding, there is also the other end of the spectrum - some foods  that are nutritionally valuable are much more difficult for babies to process.  Previously premastication would be used in hunter gatherer societies, plus perhaps bashing something with a rock or squishing it between fingers eg nuts or meat (no mincers then!).

Surely instinct also plays a part?  

If baby enjoyed a meal, yet at a later date the same items are presented cooked/chopped differently, say in a casserole with a slippery sauce baby may struggle to pick it up as well as before - how can they be less ready for the food than they were before?

Helping baby by say roughly squishing to make more "graspable", is hardly comparable to spooning down jars at 4 months.

To some degree processing is often done - we don't present baby with a whole chicken and say he's can only eat it if he can carve himself a leg.  Nor offer eggs but declare baby only ready if he can get through the shell.  When offering a piece of chicken the parent is already subconsciously deciding the size and shape of what baby receives; whether that is one piece baby can hold, shredded which baby can practice picking up skills, made into minced balls or a mixture depending upon what the parent feels baby handles best, is to me personal preference rather than "weaning rules".

11.  Food is just for fun until they're one!

Agh this is up there with my pet hate sayings along with "happy mum = happy baby"!

A blogger who makes some great points (although also some I don't agree with!) sums it up well:
"I think the phrase “Food before one is just for fun” needs to go die a merciful death, to be honest. In all likelihood, the phrase itself was invented by some well-meaning person who wanted to encourage a more relaxed approach to solids among anxious mothers who were engaging in weird little mompetitions with other mothers about who could cram the most “jars” inside their child--and in the process, harmfully crowding breastmilk/formula out of the baby's diet.
But it’s looking increasingly as though this phrase has begun to be interpreted as meaning that solid foods play no nutritional role at all before one year of age—and that therefore, it’s completely fine and not an issue if months and months go by while your older baby eats basically no foods at all and does not receive any micronutrient supplementation either. And the evidence suggests strongly that this is just not true."
WHO say:
"At 9-11 months of age, for example, the proportion of the Recommended Nutrient Intake that needs to be supplied by complementary foods is 97% for iron, 86% for zinc, 81% for phosphorus, 76% for magnesium, 73% for sodium and 72% for calcium (Dewey, 2001)."
Nobody is suggesting babies need vast quantities of foods, to be on 3 meals per day ASAP, if baby is enjoying picking from a balanced diet, normal amounts can vary hugely.  Milk should absolutely be babies main form of nutrition, fueling bone and brain growth and only starting to tip in the favour of solids towards the end of the first year.

What's more nobody is suggesting food isn't fun!  Of course it is, it's an amazing learning experience.  But it isn't just for fun.

I think it's this belief that in part leads to some parents choosing less nutrient rich foods believing they're not actually needed at this age.

12.  Babies have the same tastes we do.

How can I sweeten yoghurt or porridge is a question I frequently hear.  Adding pureed fruit seems to be a common suggestion, but I always have to wonder why?  Whilst many adults are used to eating foods packed full of hidden sugars and so to them things taste bland or sour without,  why encourage sweetening for baby?

It's also normal for them to pull a funny face or shudder if something is bitter, tart or sour - but this doesn't necessarily mean they don't like it or it isn't worth offering again.  It can take ten tastes of something for baby to get used to it. Bitter foods are considered important to our health, despite the fact many now eat very little - these taste buds are typically underdeveloped, whilst sweet are over enhanced.

Recommendations are to eat more vegetables than fruit, and where possible choose traditional varieties; some new types of fruit are being bred for their intense sweet taste to suit ever sweetening palates.  For example grapes should be prominently sweet with a hint of sourness and a deep flavour, yet many now are designed to taste like balls of sugar with thin skins and extra water (juiciness sells) to compete with the every growing confectionery industry.

13.  BLW are slow to start solids compared to puree led and may go hungry.

Many say BLW babies consume less foods than those puree fed, but we could also flip that to say puree weaned babies eat more than those BLW.  Some worry BLW infants will go hungry as they can't consume enough.

A small study published last year found:

"BMI scores differed significantly between groups lower BMI were associated with baby-led weaning in the whole sample. The mean BMI percentile rank for the baby-led group was close to the expected average."
"In contrast, the mean percentile rank for the spoon-fed group was above the average level, indicating that more children in this group were likely to be classed as overweight."
"BMI z-scores were also found to differ significantly between the weaning groups. We found there to be an increased incidence of obese children in the spoon-fed group (n=8) as compared to the baby-led group (n=1)" (6)
In contrast, more children in the baby-led group were classified as significantly underweight (n=3)
The baby-led group was close to the expected average, furthermore 9 children were obese, 8 spoon fed and 1 baby led.  3 children were underweight, all baby led.    Therefore the risk of overweight when spoon feeding was statistically much greater than the risk of being underweight was if baby led.  They concluded:

"Our results suggest that baby-led weaning promotes healthy food preferences in early childhood that could protect against obesity. This finding is of note given the serious problems with childhood obesity facing many modern societies."


1. The Role of Zinc in the Growth and Development of Children Nutrition 2002;18:510–519

2. Davis, Clara M. Results of the self-selection of diets by young children. Can Med Assoc J1939 41: 257-6

3. Strauss, Stephen. Clara M. Davis and the wisdom of letting children choose their own diets.Can Med Assoc J 2006 175: 1199

4. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

5. Hambidge KM, Krebs NF. Zinc deficiency: a special challenge. J Nutr 2007;137:1101-5.

6.  1.I. Blossfeld, A. Collins, M. Kiely, C. Delahunty, Texture preferences of 12-month-old infants and the role of early experiences, Food Quality and Preference, Volume 18, Issue 2, March 2007, Pages 396-404, ISSN 0950-3293, 10.1016/j.foodqual.2006.03.022.

Stop giving my kids junk food!

Change 4 Life logo
When my children were pre school age, we received a lot of information about the governments "Change 4  Life" scheme.  For those who haven't heard of it it's designed to promote increased exercise, reduced consumption of junk food, eating five + fruit and veg per day and so on.

The risks of cancers, diabetes, obesity and heart disease increase as a result of eating too much of the wrong foods we are told. we received cloth bags, leaflets and were invited to various events locally promoting the scheme that is still actively running in the area.

Once they hit school age, dodging junk food (and I use the term "food" loosely!) becomes a skilled art form.

I first noticed it when we visited our local leisure centre, which is after all somewhere purpose built for fitness.  I therefore did a double take when the first thing I was greeted with upon walking through the door, was a row of vending machines.  Not a single healthy choice is available; just rows of crisps, poor quality chocolate and fizzy drinks.

Why?  People are going into the building 99% of the time purely to do something positive for their health, yet the glowing beacons of temptation have to be negotiated before you're even through the door.  What message does this send children, who are being taught about great and not so great food choices as part of the school curriculum?  Why aren't they using one of the many healthy vends that are available such as this or this.

Negotiating for one class isn't too difficult, signing up for a week long activity course however is a whole different ball game.  Friends from the group hit the vends at lunch time, as do the leisure centre staff running the course joining them (you know, the guys promoting a healthy active lifestyle) - but you have to tell your child that whilst you know lots of other people are getting it, that stuff isn't good as part of a daily diet?

"Why does the leisure centre sell it then" my daughter asks?

The cynic in me wants to say it's because there is a huge confectionery factory next door, and profiting from children by supplying addictive unhealthy foods is how this country seems to roll;  but I resist and say that sometimes people make different food choices.  Even I can't understand how the government can promote Change 4 Life as a supposed healthy living scheme with one hand, whilst filling their centres with junk.

(Update:  I contacted the leisure centre who stated healthy food didn't sell as well and they had "vending targets to meet".  So basically they get targets to sell foods known to be harmful to health to generate profit, and then the NHS uses that money to mop up the resulting diseases?  I'm clearly missing an integral piece of the puzzle here....)

Next up was a social group run by a charity within school grounds (but independent from them) one evening per week. As my daughter was waiting for a place at the local school, and as they had always been educated out of the area, we thought this would be a good way for her to meet other children before starting.

We walked in and paid, before being advised we could leave money for "tuck" if we wanted.  I turned around to see a woman unveiling rows of sweets and chocolate and my heart sank.  Seriously?  They're there for an hour and a half straight after dinner.

Please don't misunderstand, my children get chocolate and "treats", but like many I suspect they're also sensitive to the chemicals and additives in many commercial brands.  From as young as 2 years old I knew instantly if someone had given her "treats" when out, as she would be one big emotional mess for hours.  OK so not too out there for a 2 year old, but try that on for size with a 10 year old and see how fun it is.

It seems to me it's all a bit of a gamble, as there hasn't been a generation previously raised eating half the additives there are now.

Toffee which is just sugar would be a million times more preferable than:
"Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Cornstarch, Invert Sugar Syrup, Wheat Starch, Vegetable Fat, Wheat Flour, Humectant, Glycerol , Malic Acid, Potato Starch, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid, Gelling Agent ( Gelatine) Emulsifier( Glycerol Mono Stearate) Acidity Regulator( Potassium Citrate) Salt . Colours: E100, E120, E133, E171, Flavours: Blackcurrant Concentrate, Carrot," found in these "rainbow pencils".

We eat 70%+ dark chocolate, we make our own raw chocolate (that the kids love doing and takes literally minutes), make "bounty bars" and other bits and pieces.  If they go to parties or special occasions, we go with the flow on cakes, crisps etc as much as possible (although my daughter knows she can't eat anything coloured red!)  but these are odd events not a daily occurrence.

So, the next week before attending I decided to be one step ahead on the planning front.  We arranged for her to have dinner, not buy "tuck", then have some strawberries with chocolate sauce when she got home.   She eagerly agreed and off she went.

When she got back I was preparing her dessert.  "I'm not really hungry now "she said, "because I won a race I was given a Caramac bar, and then they gave us a cola flavoured drink and biscuits before we left...."

Last week my daughter started her place at the new school, within the first week we had received a letter home inviting parents and pupils to a talk about nutrition, and learn about a fitness programme they were launching.  Great I thought (although I noticed it was run by Juice +, don't even get me started on them!) healthy eating is part of the curriculum.

We take a lot of time, trouble and expense to send our daughter to school with a healthy lunch, so I was a bit confused this morning when I found money in her school bag.  She explained she was taking money for school tuck?  Scuise me what?

Apparently the school sell crisps and biscuits at break time, and she wanted to get some.  Confused I called the school and was advised they only sell healthier crisps that are baked not fried like Space Raiders or Mini Cheddars, and the biscuits are just plain rich tea or digestives.

Head meet desk.

These products contain among other things Maltodextrin, Flavour Enhancers, Monosodium Glutamate, Glucose Syrup, Glucose-Fructose Syrup and Partially Inverted Sugar Syrup. Blood sugars must be all over the place when the children return to class.

And what happens if blood sugars spike?  "interesting" and "lively" behaviour follows (to be diplomatic). Check out the different behaviours that followed different foods during this experiment.  There were 720 incidents of mean, physically aggressive or hyperactive behaviour in the group that consumed biscuits, crisps, and fizzy pop.  In comparison there were 120 in the healthy food group.

Google "child behaviour carbs" and you will find page after page highlighting how sugar and refined carbs cause problems for many children, even if as minor as reduced concentration/brain fog.

Why I asked, didn't they sell fruit, cheese or something that would at least provide some nutrition? I was told they had tried that but the children wouldn't buy it, and that there was no obligation for them to buy anything.

If the children don't want something vaguely healthy, why sell anything at all? Is it about profiting from our children? We all know how easy it is to snack on crisps and junk, even when you're not hungry.

No the children don't have to buy it, however children that are sensitive are often even more driven to consume these foods that give them a "buzz".  Their friends are eating it and who wants to be the odd one out? I don't want to create a big deal around these sorts of foods, I shouldn't have to negotiate this when going to school.

Also consider the children are at school for only just over 6 hours, with lunch in the middle.

I asked on the Facebook group what their school's "tuck shop" offered and it seems there are big variations, I suspect depending upon the demographic (mums in a nearby area would freak out if the raisins weren't organic, let alone allow crisps and biscuits!). One mum replied:
"It sold junk pure junk, my protests went unheeded and they "lent " her money so she didn't feel left out. I watched my child stagger home high on sugar and colourings".
Lots replied saying only healthy choices are available such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, cherry tomatoes or dried fruit such as raisins; others that their children took a snack from home.

Since then my daughter has joined another school social club and been invited to a school disco, both of which are advertising sweets/pop and the latter includes a free hot dog!  It appears the lure of crap is marketing material, rather like enticing a junkie to your party with the offer of free crack cocaine.

Then there's "birthday sweets" and with 30 odd kids in a class that's not infrequent, plus on several occasions the teachers have given them out as rewards.

So it seems to me we have a situation where the demographic that would most benefit from a nutritious break time snack, don't get them as they wont buy them. In an area where for some children 5 per day is more likely to be of confectionery, the school takes the view of give em what they want?

The trouble is even taking food sensitivities out of the equation, if you consume lots of junk food you get addicted - and when you are healthy choices just don't cut it, hence why people don't buy it.

This is probably to be expected.

A 2010 study exploring food preference in rats (which aren't humans but we do share many of the neurobiological and hormonal mechanisms of flavour learning and appetite regulation), found as you might expect - those who had access to "junk" ate more and gained more weight than those who didn't.
What researchers didn't expect was that these foods triggered a "dopamine high", but that with regular consumption the "hit" became less; causing the rats to actively consume more food to repeat the high.

After the rats had gorged themselves to a ridiculous weight, the junk food was taken away and replaced with healthy food. Rather than eat the healthy food, the rats chose to starve themselves for two weeks. The rats would even intentionally subject themselves to electric shocks to get to the junk food, even though the healthy food could have been eaten without enduring a painful burst of electrocution. 

You may recognize this as the textbook definition of addiction.

A 2014 study found after just 2 weeks on a diet that included daily access to cafeteria foods, including pie, dumplings, cookies, and cake -- with 150% more calories -- the rats' weight increased by 10% and their behaviour changed dramatically. They also reduced their appetite for novel foods, a preference that normally drives them to seek a balanced diet.

The concluded:
We observed that rats fed a cafeteria diet for 2 weeks showed impaired sensory-specific satiety following consumption of a high calorie solution. The deficit in expression of sensory-specific satiety was also present 1 week following the withdrawal of cafeteria foods. Thus, exposure to obesogenic diets may impact upon neurocircuitry involved in motivated control of behavior.
Basically after 2 weeks, a high cal solution couldn't trigger the sated response in rats, and this was still the case even a week after they had stopped eating cafeteria food.  They theorise diets that cause obesity may impact on neurological pathways that drive behaviour.

We know junk food is deliberately manufactured to be addictive.  In 2001 a study of 120,877 people found:
"The largest weight-inducing food was the potato chip (or crisps to us Brits). The coating of salt, the fat content that rewards the brain with instant feelings of pleasure, the sugar that exists not only as an additive but also in the starch of the potato itself — all of this combines to make it the perfect addictive food.

"The starch is readily absorbed,” Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors says. “More quickly even than a similar amount of sugar. The starch, in turn, causes the glucose levels in the blood to spike” — which can result in a craving for more."
Regardless of whether they're baked or fried!

A few eye opening facts from Jamie Oliver as part of his campaign to protect the health of our youngsters:
  • FACT: The UK has one of the highest child obesity rates in Europe.
  • FACT: By the age of five, one-fifth of children in the UK are already overweight or obese.
  • FACT: By the age of 11, this figure increases to one-third.
  • FACT: 78.5% of children, aged 5 to 15, fail to consume the recommended five portions of fruit and veg per day.
Perhaps they could disseminate this information to all schools and leisure centres?  Because as it stands, it seems society in some areas at least, is unconcerned about the health of our children.  Are they only interested the money to be made from them, whatever the long term cost?  I don't want to be one of those parents, but similarly I don't want my children to become just another statistic.

Update:  I have received an email stating the school have withdrawn Space Raiders from the school tuck shop and are asking the children what healthier snacks they would be prepared to eat (fruit apparently didn't sell and made a loss for the school).  Unfortunately this feels like a drop in a very large ocean!

Cafeteria diet impairs expression of sensory-specific satiety and stimulus-outcome learning