Healthy tot foods: easy preparation and nutrition knit new trend

When the children of the 1960s became parents nothing was too good or too laborintensive for their offspring. Buy baby food? Not when you can make it.

Why give a young child sugarcoated cereal when he can be nourished with brown rice puree?

Things have changed. Welcome to the new millennium and the new mom.

Parents don’t have time for do-it-yourself toddler foods. While they’re no less concerned with their children’s nutrition than the previous generation was, today’s parents expect more from processed foods, including reduced sugar and fat and fewer preservatives.

“What parents are looking for is less work on their behalf to get the foods that are good for their children into them,” says David Grotto, a Chicago-area registered dietitian and father of three.

No wonder organic foods, wholesome snacks, sugar-reduced breakfast cereals and family-friendly foods are finding a place in the supermarket. And since toddlers don’t know about nutrition but can be easily captivated, consumers can expect to see a bit of whimsy in child-focused foods.

Here’s a look at some of the new product introductions that combine wholesomeness with entertainment and value.

Healthy tot foods easy preparation and nutrition knit new trend

Flavor and health take equal billing in the Wholly Wholesome line of organic baked goods, which recently introduced Mini Organic Cookies in Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin and Snickerdoodle varieties.

“It has to deliver on the promise of better health,” says Doon Wintz, chief executive officer of the Chester, N.J.-based company. “People always go back to what tastes good, especially when it comes to kids, it’s got to taste good.”

The Wholly Wholesome product approach is to add nourishing ingredients, including whole grains to snacks children love.

The company boasts that Wholly Wholesome baked goods are free of trans fats, bleached flour, synthetic preservatives, artificial colors, flavors and additives. The bakery items, which also include single-serve cheesecakes, bake-at-home cookies and organic pie crusts are sold in Whole Foods, Kroger and independent grocery and natural food stores.

However, even with the natural formulation, Wintz wants to avoid having his products labeled “good for you.”

“I even hesitate to say it’s better for you because people have their own definitions. We want to provide products with some positive attributes,” says Wintz.

Breakfast cereals are another category in which less is a virtue.

Mom’s Best Naturals’ new line of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals is free of artificial ingredients, hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup.

The eight cereals are Mallow Oats, Toasted Wheat-fuls, Sweetened Wheat-fuls, Toasty O’s, Honey Nut Toasty O’s, Raisin Bran and the just released, Honey-ful Wheat and Oats & Honey Blend.

“Our focus is providing affordable family favorite cereals naturally,” says David Burns, team leader of consumer insights/ category management for the company in Northfield, Minn.

Taste and value are the two most important determinants for purchase, according to Burns.

Having a product that’s both natural and affordable is a selling point for parents with young children, says Burns.

“We’ve seen studies showing that the leading barrier to purchasing natural/organic type items is cost.”

The Mom’s Best Naturals cereals have a suggested retail price that’s 20 to 50 percent less than similar varieties of natural and organic cereals, according to the company literature.

While parents want nutritious and natural foods for their children, they also demand convenience for themselves.

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Whole fruits, which need to be peeled and cut into bite-size pieces, don’t rank high in convenience.

“We did some consumer research recently on why people don’t eat as much fruit as they should,” says Matt Herzog, president of Funky Monkey Snacks in Indianapolis.

Close to half the respondents complained about spoilage and about a fourth had some issue with fruit preparation.

Herzog’s answer is freeze-dried tropical fruit processed without added sugar, preservatives, colors or flavors. The line consists of Bananamon (banana and cinnamon); Carnaval Mix (banana, pineapple, apple, papaya and raisins); Jivealime (pineapple and lime juice) and Purple Funk (banana and acai). Each 1-ounce package has a suggested retail price of $1.99 to $2.49.

With fruit snacks, affordable low-sugar breakfast cereals and wholegrain baked goods, companies are addressing the desire for easy-to-serve, easy-to-carry foods for young children.

However, health experts are still concerned that more can be done to help parents prevent obesity in their children.

“Parents need more help in the ‘How do we make this good for you’ message,” says Grotto, author of “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life!” (A Bantam Book, 2008).

Food companies and parents alike know the nutrition message can be a hard sell, and that may be challenging.

“You can’t make food that’s high in vitamin C; you have to make it delicious and fun,” says Grotto, owner of Nutrition House Call, a business that helps consumers select healthier food.

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Even with the attention manufacturers are paying to children, some opportunities abound.

Grotto, for example, would like to see convenience-packaged vegetables beyond carrot and celery sticks.Whole grains are also on his wish list.

“I make the lunches and it’s still challenging to find whole-grain snack items,” says Grotto.

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Ideally he’d like to see the snacks in calorie-control packs he can add to his daughters’ lunches.

Marcia Moglosky sees a demand for children’s foods with fewer chemicals.

“Parents with young children are a big driver in organic food sales,” says Moglosky, senior research analyst with Mintel International in Chicago.

“There are so many food options that include preservatives.The amount of salty snacks flavored with chemicals gives parents pause,” says Moglosky who studies the organics market.

Specifically, the market researcher suggests opportunities exist for less processed organic breakfast cereal, pudding cups (which provide portion control), organic ice pops or other frozen treats as low-fat alternatives to ice cream.

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