Parents are spending more time focusing on children’s nutrition during the pandemic, study says


Dive Brief:

  • Fifty-eight percent of parents describe their child as much pickier or somewhat pickier about food compared to other children their age, according to a new study from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). 
  • The most challenging foods to get their children to consume include dark green vegetables (41%), other vegetables (40%), beans, peas and legumes (39%), and seafood (35%). Beverages that children regularly drink include juice (74%), flavored milk (44%), and flavored water (31%).
  • Over half of parents indicated that COVID-19 had no impact on their child’s nutrition. One in 10 said their child’s nutrition declined due to factors like increased snacking, limited access to fresh food, and eating convenient but unhealthy foods. Meanwhile, 31% said their child’s nutrition improved during the pandemic thanks to reasons like the ability to focus on healthier eating, making more meals at home, and being able to monitor their eating habits. 

Dive Insight:

Parents have long struggled to figure out what to put on their child’s plate that is healthy and acceptable to their taste buds. Despite the battles at the dinner table over spinach and broccoli, children’s diets have improved “significantly,” according to an April 2020 study published in JAMA.

Some of the foods that children more readily eat, according to the IFIC study, include dairy, fruit, whole grains, poultry and eggs, starchy vegetables, red meat, and red and orange vegetables. 

A growing number of parents have also expressed a preference for organic, low-sugar foods that provide the right nutrition for their children. Although 74% of parents reported that their children regularly consume juice, 70% are trying to limit or avoid the amount of sugar their children consume, according to the IFIC study. Nearly two in 10 are trying to avoid sugar outright. Sugar substitutes do not seem to be a sufficient swap for a number of parents, with 40% saying they would not feed their child any beverages containing sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame K or even natural substitutes such as stevia and monk fruit.

And while the nutritional quality of some children’s diets declined due to COVID-19, three in 10 parents reported an improvement. This may be because the pandemic has given parents more time to think about meals. More than half of parents are spending more time cooking for their child at home.

Meanwhile, 25% sought out foods that boost their child’s immune system. With increased attention at the supermarket, COVID-19 may provide some food manufacturers a chance to capture new consumers who are more focused on their child’s menu. The challenge is finding a sweet spot between parents’ ongoing preference for nutritious, low-sugar foods and items that their kids will actually consume. 

Some manufacturers are helping parents sneak undesirable foods into common products, with products like Green Giant’s cauliflower and veggie tots and Oh Yes! Foods frozen pizzas that contain 12 fruits and vegetables in the crust and sauce. Cup Noodles by Nissin Food Products launched a new version of its instant noodle cup that includes a full serving of vegetables.

Many manufacturers are also adding nutritional support to dairy. Ingenuity Brands’ Brainiac Kids line is aimed at supporting brain development.  

Companies are also responding to the desire for better-for-you snack options. In 2019, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay launched a non-GMO snack line called Imagine. Organic ingredient company SunOpta debuted a line of snack bars made with real fruit and no added sugar in 2020. For parents who still find themselves short on time during the pandemic, the convenience that these options afford could be a strong selling point.