place is crumbling to fruit as top kids' snack
June 11, 2008
Parents are beginning
to clean up their nutrition acts when it comes to the
snacks they serve their children, new data show.
Fruit is the most common snack for children under 6, and
cookies are second. In 1987, cookies ruled and fruit
ranked second, according to findings from the NPD Group,
a market research firm. And kids today:
• Are less likely to consume carbonated soft drinks, ice
cream, candy, cake and fruit juice as snacks than kids
the same age did 20 years ago.
• Are more likely to have fruit rolls and gummy pieces,
yogurt, crackers, granola bars and bottled water.
"Moms generally feed their children similar foods to
what they were given as children, but they are starting
to make subtle changes," says Harry Balzer, a vice
president for the NPD Group. "Slowly, mom is saying,
'I'm not giving my kids soft drinks and cookies as much
as I was given them as a child. Instead I'm giving them
water and yogurt.' "
The NPD Group, which tracks national eating trends,
bases this data on food and beverage journals from 500
mothers in 1985-1987 and 600 mothers in 2005-2007. The
women kept diaries for 14 days on all the foods and
beverages their children under age 6 consumed.
Parents seem to be serving healthier products, which may
partly explain why the number of overweight children is
holding steady, Balzer says.
Recent government statistics show that 32% of children
and teens ages 2 to 19 — about 23 million — were
overweight or obese in 2003-2006 compared with 29% in
1999. The increase is not considered statistically
"Women's weight has also stabilized, and since mothers
are the primary food providers and role models, these
two trends may be related," says Karen Miller-Kovach,
chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers. She says
it's "a whole lot better" for parents to serve their
children fruit or yogurt and water than soft drinks and
The types of snacks parents feed their young children is
critical because studies suggest snacks account for
about a quarter of a child's daily calories, and
snacking behavior sets the pattern for lifelong eating
habits, says Boston nutritionist Elizabeth Ward, author
of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and
Toddler. "Snacks present an enormous opportunity for
Although some parents may be doing a better job, there's
still plenty of room for improvement, she says. Some of
the top snacks on the current list are highly processed
foods that are packed with sugar including some of the
fruit rolls and pieces and some types of yogurt.
She recommends that parents completely change the way
they think about eating between meals and only serve
their kids the types of food they would offer at a meal.
Some of Ward's ideas: half a sandwich and a carton of
100% orange juice; bean dip and baby carrots; peanut
butter on whole-grain crackers and a small glass of
milk; or half a piece of pizza and small glass of milk.
"I know these are not what most parents are used to
serving, but these snacks are a great way to teach kids
how to eat healthfully when they are young and
impressionable," she says. "If you get them in that
groove, they won't be heading for the ice cream and
cookies for snacks like we did in the '80s."
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