Moms Choosing Healthier Foods For Kids

Jan. 27, 2009
Mom’s new mindset means a new mission for marketers.
More Toops On

Eating right and kid delight are equally on mom’s mind when she shops, according to a study of 3,676 mothers of children 2-14 and how they make shopping decisions. “The Moms Food Study: Understanding Moms’ Needs for Her Kids” was conducted by Stamford, Conn.-based Just Kid Inc. (, a research, strategy and innovation agency focusing on kids, tweens and parents. 

The study delves into a broad range of emotional, rational and environmental drivers for mom. It identifies that the need for functional health attributes, such as added calcium, or emotional drivers, such as “show love for my child,” varies across the breakfast, snack, lunch and dinner day parts. 

Kid Delight – Taste vs. Tactics

Top Tier – Taste
Has a taste I know my child loves 78 percent
I know my child will love it 74 percent
My child will eat it without making a fuss 73 percent
My child will eat without supervision 68 percent
Something my child requests 61 percent 

Middle Tier – Child Happiness
Puts my child in a good mood 58 percent
Makes my child feel good about self 57 percent
Makes my child feel special 52 percent
Helps my child relax and unwind 45 percent

Bottom Tier – Kid Marketing Classics
It is a treat for my child 42 percent
Comes in shapes my child will like 26 percent
Comes in characters my child likes 22 percent
Has a fun box or package 17 percent
Has games, contests or promotions  11 percent

Moms may call the shots on final food decisions (73 percent), but it’s not black and white. While marketers look to moms to decide, mothers are balancing what they want with their kids’ preferences.

“In today’s world, where moms are really concerned about getting their kids to eat healthy, a major measure is kid delight,” says Kim Bealle, managing director of strategy and innovation, adding, “It’s a real combination; you can’t have one without the other.”

Looking at all the top measures of ideal food characteristics, mom’s top three were: is healthy and nutritious (82 percent); helps establish good eating habits for the long run (82 (percent); and fills my child up (80 percent). Those are eating right measures, but close behind are: has a taste I know my child loves (78 percent); is something I know my child will love (74 percent); and is something my child will eat without making a fuss (73 percent).

But there are different needs for each eating occasion – breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. “The study found that eating right for all occasions is important to mom,” explains Bealle. And the study offers some suggestions to manufacturers on how to align their products.

“Breakfast is about getting the right start to the day. Fill them up and help mom make mornings hassle free. At lunch, it’s about giving them something they love so they will eat it. Make mom shine. Snacks are about giving kids some independence to make their own decisions. Consider family-friendly versus kid-first snacks. Dinner is about bringing the family together and family comfort. Offer semi-homemade options.

“We know from other research there are a tremendous number of dinner occasions where kids eat alone because they are involved in many activities after school, and discovered a need for convenient dinner options for kids,” Bealle says.

Mom seeks authenticity in foods. She wants foods that meet her standards for health, foods that delight her child by tasting great and provide eating experiences they want, and brands and companies that understand her needs and her children’s desires.

“Moms and kids want simple messages and simple foods,” says Bealle. “Yes, there is sugar in yogurt, but there is also yogurt in yogurt. There’s a nutritional anchor in yogurt that both moms and kids understand. Moms are okay with granola combined with something yummy like chocolate chips or chocolate drizzle. The industry can’t go all serious on products. It has to have kid delight with good flavor, sweetness, texture – either crunchy or smooth – popability and portability. It’s got to be kidified.”

Moms are willing to give their kids treats for a specific purpose – it’s a bad day, a celebration or just because. “Those treats are still there but they tend to be in more manageable serving sizes like 100-calorie-packs,” says Bealle. “Fruit snacks come in small packages; they are a small treat, few calories and kids love them.”

Searching for the health holy grail, moms desire the attributes of balanced nutrition, fresh, unprocessed, fewer preservatives, all-natural foods and more traditional ingredients for their children, rather than trendy options, according to Bealle. “Manufacturers are pushing specific ingredients such as omega-3s, but that’s not as powerful a message to mom. Her new mindset means a new mission for marketers.”

What kids want
“I’ve been working with kids for three-and-a-half years, and I’ve noticed a tremendous difference in kid acceptance and incorporation of healthy eating in their lives,” says Bealle. “Three years ago, they said, ‘Yeah, my mom really wants me to have this, and I’ll eat it because my mom says I have to.’ Now, they really love healthy food, especially fresh fruit, including apples, bananas, strawberries, and I’m hearing more about blueberries. They also like clementines, which are the perfect size for kids, feel like they are just for me, flavorful and portable.”

Bealle points out kids also love fruit snacks and more of them enjoy vegetables. “They are much more knowledgeable about healthy eating. They don’t always know what it means, but they know fiber is good for them. There’s more of an understanding of what’s good and more of an appreciation that consumption of these foods are good for them.”

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