Is it Possible to Make Healthier Foods Kids Will Eat?

It can be done. Ingredient substitutions exist that can remove fat and calories and insert fiber and whole grains – tastefully.

By Rory Gillespie, Contributing Editor

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Snacks are not always a villain if consumed – and manufactured – with healthfulness in mind.

"The snack category has sprouted new product development," Stephens continues. "Snacks offer portion control, portability and serve as the perfect vehicle to sneak in healthy components such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole-grain flours. And because snacks come in a plethora of forms – bars, nut and fruit mixes, puffed bites, extruded pieces, baked, etc. -- boredom rarely is a word used to describe this fast growing category." Another Penford non-GMO potato-based ingredient, PenFibeRS resistant starch, can replace flour or sugar in low moisture snacks to reduce calories and increase fiber content.

It seems that families are always in the car toting an offspring to some event. It would seem youth are more active than ever. But, 8-18-year-old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies, and only one-third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity, according to Let's Move.

This is a hectic and challenging time for the family.

"For time-crunched parents, the need for convenience is just as important as ever, but I think what is changing is that parents are focused on the nutrient content of the foods they are providing," Cargill's Daly says. "Our proprietary research shows that about two-thirds of parents are looking for nutrition highlights on the front of the package and that they are more likely than the general population to look for nutrition claims."

Simple messages such as reduced sugar, sugar-free and made with real fruit or whole grain, when stamped on front of packages, can help with the purchasing decision process.

At Cargill, "We are in the unique position to take a truly holistic approach -- we have ingredients and expertise to reduce sodium, fat and sugar and at the same time we can increase positive nutrients, such as whole grains and fiber. Through our applications know-how and sensory testing capabilities, we can ensure that the resulting formulations will appeal to kids," she concludes.

If the hustle and bustle isn't enough, the youth and teen demographic is notorious for being the most finicky of customers. This consumer group isn't interested in their health. They want it to taste good, and they want it now.

"Foods that are portable, shelf-stable and health-orientated are created for parents and children on-the-go," Penford's Stephens adds.

However, this is no time to rail against the society we live in and harken back to the days of yore. Food companies realize this and are greeting today's challenges.

"We understand that it's a delicate balancing act to get the taste right but also make the food nutritious and affordable, and we stand ready to help our customers work through this challenge," Daly says. "We recommend starting with research, applying the findings from Cargill's proprietary Gatekeeper Purchase Drivers Study on what nutrition attributes are most important to parents in a given category. While parents own the decision to bring the food into the house the first time, it won't be bought again if kids don't eat it. That's why we encourage our customers to leverage Cargill's sensory testing with children. This is a great reality check that can be done along the way to make sure the taste and texture of the product is acceptable to the ultimate decision makers, kids."

Portion sizes have exploded – they're two to five times bigger, and beverages have grown from a modest 13.6 oz. in the 1970s to 20 oz. of often sugar-sweetened drinks at a slurping of today, according to Let's Move.

Surrounded by bad news on all sides? It's not time to panic.

"In general, options that include nutrition benefits in products that kids will actually eat will resonate with gatekeepers," Daly says. She sees these trends for the food industry becoming a solution. The industry is "finding innovative ways to include fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains and fiber into foods in a way that pleases kids," she exhorts.

"Include items naturally rich in nutrients. Focus foods and beverages with broad family appeal versus just kid-centric."

The tools and technology are available. Every parent must have the will to use them … whether the kids like it or not.

The article appeared as the cover story for Food Processing's Wellness Foods supplement in October 2013

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