Objective The present study investigated parents' understanding and approaches to providing energy-dense and nutrient-poor 'extra foods' to pre-school children and explored variation between parents of low and high socio-economic status in relation to these issues. Design We conducted thirteen focus groups. Data were subject to framework analysis. Setting Child-care centres in distinctly socially disadvantaged and socially advantaged areas. Subjects Eighty-eight parents of children aged 3-5 years. Results The three most common terms parents identified to describe foods that are not 'everyday foods' were 'treats', 'sometimes foods' and 'junk'. Parents' perceptions regarding what influences them in providing food to their children included seven sub-themes: (i) the influence of the child; (ii) food-related parenting practices; (iii) health considerations; (iv) food costs and convenience; (v) external factors perceived as influencing their child; (vi) factors related to child care; and (vii) social influences and occasions. Parents' decision-making processes regarding provision of 'extra foods' related to moderation and balance. Parents generally expressed the position that as long as a child is eating healthy foods, then treats are appropriate; and for many parents, this might apply frequently. All groups described the health of their child as an influence, but parents in low socio-economic groups were more likely to describe immediate concerns (dental health, behaviour) in relation to avoiding sugar-dense food or drink. Conclusions The belief that provision of 'extra foods' can be frequent as long as children are eating a healthy balance of foods is factored into parents' decision making. Challenging this belief may be important for reducing the consumption of 'extra foods' by young children.