Despite foods being needed to survive, certain foods carry the stereotype of being either "for adults" or "for children". To see an adult eat foods "for children" would make him look child-like or, at worst, reveal him as a Manchild. On a flip side, liking "mature" foods is often a sign of an Adorably Precocious Child.
This often comes down to marketing. A major example is cereal. Many breakfast cereals (especially in America), with their wacky mascots and loads of sugar, are aimed at kids. The more generic, healthy, or "boring" ones are marketed at either adults or families in general.
This can also come down to the food being a childhood Comfort Food. This is a reason why chicken nuggets are associated with kids.
In general, plainer, softer, or sweeter foods tend to be kid-aimed, while bitter or savoury foods tend to be for adults. There's Values Dissonance to this trope depending on the region the example is from. Context is also relevant. For example, boxed macaroni and cheese is something often marketed as for kids and a single adult character could be seen as childish for liking it, but in other contexts it could also signify the adult as low on cash because boxed mac and cheese is cheap and easy to make.
This trope doesn't refer to foods obviously aimed at certain ages (such as baby food), though certain foods (such as applesauce) that are commonly marketed as being for infants and toddlers do count.
See also: Drink-Based Characterization (for drink examples), Real Men Hate Sugar (for when liking sweets is associated with femininity or children), and Real Men Take It Black (for when black coffee is associated with adults, especially manly men). Overlaps with Stock "Yuck!", especially with the notion of children having a dislike for vegetables due to their taste buds being more sensitive to bitter tastes.
- In one chapter of Bunny Drop, 7-year-old Reina reacts negatively to being given fruit jelly, which she deems "old lady candy".
- Azumanga Daioh:
- Tomo teases grade school aged Chiyo for being childish because her favorite food is meatballs, but when asked what her favorite food is, Tomo says that it's bananas, prompting Yomi to call her an idiot.
- In another episode, Ms. Yukari asks Chiyo if she has ever had Matsusaka beef. She has. When Ms. Yukari asks her to choose her favorite thing from an expensive catalog, Chiyo points out an ice cream set, and Ms. Yukari gets angry at her for it, asking her if she's being childish or just showing off her rich background.
- Rino helps establish her Womanchild credentials in the first chapter of My Girlfriend Without Wasabi by forcing Nozomu to buy her some omurice from the college cafeteria. Taken further when it was adapted as part of the I Can't Understand What My Husband Is Saying anime where she's shown whining for it in a manner similar to a child throwing a tantrum and the food was topped with a cat face drawn in ketchup.
- There's a recurring motif in FLCL about protagonist Naota's difficulty pretending to be mature when he really likes sweet foods and drinks, and isn't used to sour, spicy or bitter things (or pulpy fruit juices). Amarao, who's something of a grownup version of Naota who never really grew up, is more open about his preferences (though he does try to excuse them at one point by saying that the brain needs sugar).
- Yoshiko from Aho Girl has loved bananas ever since she first tasted one as a child. The fact that such a simple fruit is still her Trademark Favorite Food emphasizes how childish and immature she is.
- In Adventures of the Super Sons, Jon tests his future self by asking what his favorite ice cream flavor is. Older Jon replies with "double-double chocolate-chocolate in-a-cup, with chocolate sprinkles on the bottom and the top". Damian chides Jon for eating like a 10-year-old, but Jon points out that he is a 10-year-old.
- Major Bummer does this on the old side of the spectrum: when Lou suffers from Rapid Aging in the final issue, he starts craving prune danish.
- The Family Circus panel has Thel and Dolly at a restaurant, as a waitress comes up with a tray containing two orders: a big, elaborate meal, and a simple sandwich. The caption has Dolly saying, "The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is for me." Clearly trying to be helpful, but it's painfully obvious whose order is which by the looks on their faces.
- In Give In, Give In [and Relish Every Minute of It], Claude has never bought cereal until the second chapter. He buys it for the 15-year-old son he's just learned he has.
- Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code: The title character is a 13-year-old Man of Wealth and Taste, so when a waitress offers him a children's menu, he icily declines and makes an order that leaves her wondering if he's a centuries-old Undead Child.
"What I would like is a medley of shark and swordfish. Pan seared. On a bed of julienned vegetables and new potatoes. ... Spring water. Irish, if you have it. And no ice, please, as your ice is no doubt made from tap water..."
- In one of the Ramona Quimby books, Ramona is given a kids' menu but doesn't like the sound of any of the dishes (fish sticks, chicken drumsticks, or a hot dog), so she orders a hamburger and fries from the adult menu instead.
- In Lottie and Lisa, the mischief-making Luise loves pancakes, but the more mature and responsible Lotte, while posing as Luise, announces she'll eat what her father eats from now on.
- Buster, a stereotypical momma's boy, from Arrested Development, is described as having a "limited palate": Chicken nuggets, Jell-O, and burgers without any condiments or fillings other than meat. Makes it hard when trying to cater a party in his honor.
- Big Time Rush: In "Big Time Mansion", Kendall has to convince his mother that he and the guys are old enough and mature enough to watch Gustavo's mansion without her help, claiming that he's grown up and shouldn't be treated like a kid. This includes not wanting Dinosaur chicken nuggets... just as Carlos and James are playing with said chicken nuggets at the table.
- iCarly: Manchild Spenser likes to make fun food for himself and Carly, such as Spaghetti tacos, showing his creative and child-like mind. In "iChristmas", when Carly wishes he was "normal", he becomes a serious and mature adult lawyer, who makes boring food like steamed halibut.
- The Big Bang Theory: Manchild Sheldon sometimes is seen eating food more appropriate for children. His favorite meal is spaghetti with chopped hot dogs like his mother used to make, and his favorite drink is Strawberry Quik. One episode has him drinking Kool-Aid through a Red Vine.
- This was also a Running Gag in early seasons with Howard Wolowitz, as he still lived with his overbearing Jewish mother, who coddled him relentlessly and treated him like a child. His favorite breakfast was Eggo waffles and chocolate milk, and Mrs. Wolowitz once set up plates of cookies and Hawaiian Punch for Howard's "little friends" when they came to visit. The problem reached its peak when Howard was nicknamed "Froot Loops" by the other astronauts at the International Space Station because they heard his mother calling for him to eat them before they got soggy. It's a sign of his Character Development when he moves away from the childish foods and starts behaving more like an adult.
- NYPD detective Theo Kojak is a tough-as-nails but fair investigator with a Sweet Tooth. He'll often reward himself for solving a case with a lollipop. Kojak's colleagues know better than to ridicule him for this quirk.
- How I Met Your Mother: In one episode the gang gets to see Marshall's shopping list, which is filled with candy and junk food. Marshall apparently does this whenever he's stressed. This list gets compared to the kind of shopping list an 8-year-old would come up with.
- Home Improvement: In "An Older Woman", 17-year-old Brad announces his engagement to Samantha, a 20-year-old college student he recently met on the rebound, and is annoyed that his family aren't taking the relationship seriously, despite it being pretty clear he's really not mature enough to make such a decision. Jill, in an attempt to show how totally cool she is about the situation, suggests they have dinner together so they can get to know each other better, and offers to make Samantha's favorite dinner, which turns out to be chicken cordon bleu with endive watercress salad.
Jill: We'll go with your favorite dinner.
Brad: [excited] Sloppy joes and tater tots?
- This was a recurring trait of Womanchild Rose on The Golden Girls. In addition to a love of stuffed animals and still playing imaginary games (keep in mind that she's in her sixties), she had a major Sweet Tooth. Rose frequently indulged in things like Ho-Hos, candy, and baked goods (she was famous for her "Molasses Rice Krispies Maple Sugar Log"). She also took Dorothy to a kiddie birthday restaurant called Mr. Ha-Ha's Hot Dog Hacienda for her birthday and was the only one who enjoyed the food. There was one exception to this rule—Rose didn't like to eat gummy bears...but only because they were more fun to play with.
- The Fourth Doctor is often remembered for his Trademark Favorite Food being Jelly Babies. However, it's also worth noting that he once said, "There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes?" He even Lampshades this by offering Sarah Jane his bag of jelly babies as he says it.
- In Pokémon: The Birth of Mewtwo, Amber mentions that adults hate cake but kids love it.
- Kantai Collection: In Akatsuki's marriage quote and 14:00 hourlie quote, she shows distaste at being given kids' meal (juice, spaghetti, hamburger steak with flag on top) because she thinks of herself as a "lady" (even though she still looks like a kid and acts like one).
- In Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, Lulua calls Aurel childish after he states that his favorite food is hamburgers, but Aurel calls her a hypocrite because Lulua's favorite food is curry, which is considered a childish comfort food in Japan.
- In Tales of Vesperia, there's a skit revolving around the series main healing item, gels, which are medicinal gummi candies. In this skit, 12-year-old Karol is scolded for eating most of the party's gel supply, because he loves the taste. It's revealed that 15-year-old Rita also loves the taste of gels. However, the adults Estelle and Yuri say they don't much care for gels. Raven explains that gels were made sweet and soft to appeal to children. Karol becomes upset at his taste being called childish, and Judith responds that there's nothing wrong with that since they're both children, which upsets Rita as well.
- In Ensemble Stars!, Hokuto's Trademark Favorite Food is konpeito, which is a reference to his close relationship with his grandmother and resulting tendency to act like an old person, as konpeito is considered an old-fashioned sweet of the sort an old lady might offer her grandchildren. (The closest Western equivalent might be Werthers Originals.) In the Main Story, when Hokuto offers Anzu some konpeito, Subaru explicitly refers to it as his grandma shtick.
- Whateley Universe:
- Generator, a girl who plays up her child-like appearance for all its worth, eats sugary cereals frequently, as shown in some Ayla stories:
- Ayla 4: Ayla and the Tests (Chap 3):
Jade was really late to breakfast for some reason
As she wolfed down breakfast just before we needed to go to first period classes, I handed her about twenty sheets of paper.
"What's this?" Well, I had to guess at what she was saying, since she said it through a mouthful of Lucky Charms cereal.
- Ayla 4: Ayla and the Tests (Chap 6):
Breakfast was its usual lunacy at the Team Kimba table [...] Tennyo's mouth was full of food most of the time, and anytime Jade had a mouthful of Count Chocula cereal, her backpack took over her end of the argument.
- Ayla 4: Ayla and the Tests (Chap 3):
- The Imp, someone in touch with her inner child, expresses a fondness for sugary cereals like Froot Loops, and Lucky Charms in some of her stories, such as The Art of Being the Imp (Part 3) An Imp-perfect World (Ch 2), An Imp-perfect World (Ch 3), Imp 4: A Teacher's Tail (Part 1), and Imp 5: Head over Tail (Part 1)
- Generator, a girl who plays up her child-like appearance for all its worth, eats sugary cereals frequently, as shown in some Ayla stories:
- Game Grumps: Discussed during an episode of Super Mario Maker, when Danny and Arin talk about how no adult, no matter how sophisticated, can even so much as mention the words "apple juice" without sounding like a child. They exemplify this with a scenario of a man at a high-class restaurant, ordering high-class food...and then getting apple juice with it, along with a voice change from mature to childlike, and the request for a sippy-cup and crazy straw.
- In Jem, the bombastic and troublesome Misfits are fond of junk food and sweets, while the more calm and mature Jem and the Holograms are more health-conscious to the point where they eat a cereal literally just called "Healthy Cereal".
- Rugrats: One-year-old Tommy likes Reptar Cereal (based on his favorite monster character). Most adults prefer Corrugated Bran Puffs; however, Tommy's grandpa found Corrugated Bran Puffs yucky, and he found Reptar Cereal more appetizing by comparison.
Lou: Corrugated Bran Puffs. Sounds tasty. Yecch!
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- In an effort to prove to his Grandma that he's an adult, one of the things SpongeBob does is refuse her cookies. When he later attempts to take one, she stops him, and gives him steamed coral instead.
- Recurring character Barnacle Boy is a senior citizen and sidekick to the superhero Mermaid Man. Unfortunately, Mermaid Man repeatedly treats him as his "young ward" and acts like he's a small child. It comes to a head when, in one episode, he forces Barnacle Boy to order a "Pipsqueak Patty" (which is not only tiny, but has a face drawn in condiments on it) at the Krusty Krab. Squidward adds insult to injury when he presents the patty to him with a bib and high chair.
- In The Loud House episode "A Tale of Two Tables", it's revealed that they only serve chicken nuggets at the kiddie table (whose oldest resident is eleven) and the people at the grown-up table (whose youngest resident is thirteen) don't even get dessert. At the grown-up table, they also have to eat liver.
- One episode of The Powerpuff Girls had Mojo Jojo babysit the titular heroes, at one point having to prepare their dinner. Mojo Jojo prepares a fine Hibachi meal for them, that they immediately spit out. It could simply be that the food really wasn't any good, but the way it's framed seemed to imply that since the main characters are 5 years old, they simply don't appreciate that style of cuisine yet.
- In the Little Princess episode "I Want to Be Queen", part of the reason why the Princess wants to be Queen is that the Queen can eat pancakes for breakfast while the Princess is stuck with cereal. According to the Chef, pancakes are not "healthy" enough for 4-year-olds.
- Dexter's Laboratory has a device that artificially ages a person, and Dexter uses it on himself, so that he can stay up late to watch grown-up TV. Dee Dee's meddling results in Dexter aging to a geriatric level, whereupon he's termed "gran'pa." Unable to eat a normal dinner, Dee Dee hooks up Dexter to an IV drip of "his favorite: applesauce and medicine." Dexter seems to like it. Don't Try This at Home.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Forever Filly", Rarity takes her little sister Sweetie Belle (who's preteen aged) to an ice cream parlor that they haven't visited in years. Rarity gives Sweetie Belle the ice cream sundae she used to always have, but Sweetie Belle finds it childish. Perhaps justified because the sundae was very physically small, so it wasn't big enough to satisfy a larger filly.
- Codename: Kids Next Door plays into this a lot, where the adults that often antagonize the KND are trying to keep things such as ice cream, candy, and soda away from kids for their own consumption. On the other side, there are other adults that are trying to force kids into eating more "mature" or "old-people" foods such as tapioca pudding and kidney pie.
- There is one exception to that rule—Rainbow Munchies, a breakfast cereal that both children and adults love. When there's only a single box left at the Villains Mart (a rather literal example of Villains Out Shopping), the kids of Sector V and most of the major adult villains of the show compete to get their hands on it. It eventually ends up in the hands of Knightbrace, an evil dentist, who plans on destroying it because of its high sugar content. This idea is so horrible to everyone involved that the kids and adults call a truce "until breakfast is over," beat the stuffing out of Knightbrace, and share the cereal with one another.
- In the Arthur episode "Muffy Gets Mature," 8-year-old Muffy wants to be mature and hang out with teenagers. She finds Francine's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be childish and eats salad, which she finds more "age-appropriate."
- Many Real Life restaurants have "kids' menus" that usually involve simpler and/or plainer foods. Specifically, fish sticks, chicken nuggets/tenders, hot dogs or corndogs, macaroni, and grilled cheese tend to show up very often on American children's menus. This can be especially common among Mexican and Chinese restaurants, as kids who don't regularly eat such foods are more likely to reject them outright.
- Many real life adults that are still Picky Eaters tend towards the aforementioned "simple" and "plain" foods listed above. A pretty common (but usually unhelpful) retort they're told from those with more expansive palates is to "grow up" or "toughen up". It can be especially hard for adults that may be on the Autism spectrum (people on the spectrum are prone to being picky eaters) or may have Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It usually takes a good amount of patience and hard work to try out stuff beyond their comfort zones.