Improving Flavors for Kids' Foodservice

Removing bitterness, getting children to enjoy vegetables plus other mysteries of improving children’s nutrition.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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In addition to longtime favorites such as apple, grape and punch, Capri-Sun, a division of Kraft Foods, is beginning to venture into nature-defying combinations such as orange-dragonfruit and raspberry-lemonade. Capri-Sun says the “buddy system” – for example, pairing exotic dragonfruit with familiar orange – works well to usher in these novel flavors.

Encapsulation technology often is used to help protect such flavors. Encapsulated systems are particularly effective for special delayed release flavor systems, such as coffee beverages that are growing in popularity among teenagers. Teens gravitate to coffee beverages in part because of their sugary and sweet creamy flavors but also for their “cool,” adult factors.

While freeze-dried and powdered coffees are the least expensive coffee flavoring ingredients, they also tend to deliver an acidic or bitter aftertaste, which can be noticeable in cold beverages. So, especially when formulating for children, product developers might prefer to use concentrates for higher-quality and smoother flavors.

Ethnics for kids

Ethnic flavoring is another way to introduce complex flavors with a hint of bitterness to children. Not only are immigrant children influencing the culinary offerings of restaurants, but even melting-pot kids are watching the Food Network and getting curious about different cuisines.

Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexho USA’s Campus Foodservice division is gearing up to offer soba noodles in broths featuring lime and garlic flavors, as well as other Asian noodle or rice bowls. These layer exotic textures and flavors with depth and complexity. Besides, offering an entire meal in a bowl moves students through the line faster.

Foodservice for kids: Wrap sandwiches
"Kids love wraps," Tumaro's Gourmet Tortillas vice president Brian Jacobs enthusiastically observes. What's not to like? They're colorful, available in vast variety, and at least potentially, ethnically diverse.

The new ethnic offerings come with additional advantages: They include more vegetables, tend to be lower in calories and often are much healthier than the grilled, fat-laden offerings that once were school lunches.

“The growing demand for ethnic foods is a good one for school feeders to capitalize on,” says vice president Brian Jacobs of Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas (www.tumaros.com), Los Angeles. “Soy flatbreads with ethnic fillings are healthful, and kids love wraps.”

Aramark studied kids’ lunchtime food purchase habits during an 18-month period. It revealed middle- and high-school students on average spend almost $100 weekly on retail food purchases. Much of this demographic is framing its tastes and choices around restaurants like Chili’s and Panera Bread – a far cry from the fare of the school cafeteria. Savvy chefs would be wise to retool adult foods into tasty fun morsels for children, and perhaps serving them with flavorful dipping sauces.

Dipping sauces are an easy way to transform practically any food – vegetables, chicken tenders, cheese sticks and other bite sized foods – into gourmet and healthful dining pleasures. McDonald’s has a range of dipping sauces for its Chicken McNuggets, as well as its Fish McDippers in Japan. Rainforest Café has created fruited-lime sauce for shrimp tempura on the children’s menu.

Today’s youngsters don’t always reach for the sickly sweet or abysmal deep-fried, hand-held foods. These kids are sophisticated, and establishments need to have equally sophisticated offerings alongside burgers, macaroni ’n cheese and french-fried potatoes for their patronage.



Kantha Shelke is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at kantha@ais.net or 312-951-5810.


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