They say you are what you eat, and they also say the children are our future. It should be no surprise, then, that today’s parents, guardians and caregivers are more cognizant than ever before about what and how they are feeding their children.
The International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) March 2021 report on children’s nutrition highlights just how much parents are thinking about how they feed their children, especially as the one-year mark on the COVID-19 pandemic passes. The online survey of 1,199 American parents and caregivers of children 2-10 years old focused on:
- Knowledge and understanding of current dietary recommendations for children
- Behaviors associated with feeding this age group
- Sources of information when making dietary decisions
- Purchasing habits when food shopping for children
- Areas of concern parents/caregivers have when feeding this age group
- Areas in need of additional science-based information when feeding this age group
While the survey indicated more than 3 in 4 parents are confident their children’s diet is supporting growth, development and immune function, it also showed work still needs to be done. Nearly 40% of parents agreed it is difficult to monitor a child’s nutritional needs, and 83% said they would make better choices for their children if knowing those needs was easier.
The survey also showed supplementation through vitamins and minerals is of high importance to parents; more than 75% considered supplements extremely/very important, and 77% of parents give their child at least one supplement such as a multivitamin.
Parents are also growing increasingly aware of foods and ingredients they wish their children to avoid. Nearly 90% of parents said they try to limit sugar in their children’s diets, and more than half always or often look at product labels—including the Nutrition Facts label, ingredients and front-of-package seals—when choosing which food to buy for their kids. Stevia, monk fruit, sucralose and aspartame ranked highest, in that order, for alternative sweeteners parents would be willing to try for their children; however, these sugar alternatives still have a ways to go, as 40% of parents would not try any of them for their children and an additional 22% said they weren’t sure.
Many parents identified picky eating as the greatest roadblock they face to exposing their children to more, different and better-for-you foods. Nearly half (42%) identified willingness to try new foods as the No. 1 thing they wish they could improve about their children’s diets, and pickiness was the top-cited obstacle—ahead of even cost—to getting their children to eat healthier. Vegetables (especially “dark green” varieties), beans, peas, other legumes and seafood ranked as the most difficult foods to get children to eat.
Overall, the IFIC survey made several things clear about how parents, guardians and caregivers are feeding their children and ways to improve children’s nutrition. Most parents are aware of, and actively working to support, their children’s dietary needs. However, most are also finding a need to supplement their children’s diet with vitamins to fill gaps left, in most cases, by picky eating. Sugar is still public enemy No. 1, but most parents are not fully sold on natural alternatives to sugar. This leaves plenty of space for brands and formulators to develop solutions with both a taste kids will approve and a label parents can feel good about.