Most children eat with their eyes first, if the food does not appear tasty or familiar then they will typically turn their nose up to it before they even try it. If the appearance has passed their inspection, then the next most important aspect is texture and taste. Most children have a hard time consuming foods that are not smooth or crunchy. The biggest challenge for several children is getting them to consume enough protein because the texture of meat is not their favorite. Another challenge with children is they tend to veer towards foods that are high in sugar or starch which tend to be more processed.
Adults on the other hand also eat with their eyes, food presentation is important for everyone. Adults are typically more open minded when it comes to texture but if they have become addicted to sugar and salt they may still crave processed foods just like children.
What are some of the biggest challenges of providing lunches for children? How can operators best deal with those challenges?
The most common challenges for those providing lunches for children include making the foods appear tasty, and providing a variety of foods to meet the nutritional needs of children while avoiding boredom from the same types of foods and of course avoiding waste. Most kids will simply throw away what they do not want to eat while parents assume they are eating their entire lunch. Operators can overcome these challenges by making the food appear colorful, incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables and even staging them in a bento type box. Bento boxes are divided into compartments and make the food more appealing and fun to eat and the bonus of these containers is they are more “green” because you can reuse them!
Talk a bit about the importance of non-food aspects of catering to children. (i.e. toys, games, fun)
Arranging the food to look like a shape, or animal is always more appealing to children. It could be as simple as arranging carrot sticks to look like the sun with a cherry tomato in the middle. If possible have the child help you prepare their lunch, this way they take ownership in what they are eating. They will also feel like they were more in control of their lunch and are more likely to eat more of it and not throw it away. Cookie cutters are also an easy way to turn a sandwich into a bear, heart or Mickey Mouse.
What are some easy ways to make kids lunches healthy, fun to eat and inexpensive?
Each meal should be centered on a protein, vegetable, fruit and healthy fats. Pinwheels are fun to eat, stuff a whole grain or gluten free wrap (if your child has a wheat intolerance) with nitrate free all natural deli meat or homemade chicken or tuna salad, veggies of your choice like carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, etc. and cut the wrap into little pinwheels. Serve the pinwheels with apples and peanut butter or almond butter (if you have a child who suffers from a peanut allergy). Another option could be a yogurt parfait with Greek yogurt, berries, and rolled oats with crunchy raw vegetables and hummus or guacamole. These options are less expensive and carry more nutrition with far less preservatives than the typical prepackaged lunch meals that are found in the grocery store.
How do issues such as organic, local foods, food safety and allergy awareness tie in with catering to children?
Organic and certified all natural are always going to be the best option, especially when it comes to meat and dairy. If budget is your concern, then prioritize meat and dairy because it is impossible to wash off antibiotics and steroids from these types of foods, at least with fruits and vegetables you can wash off some of the pesticides in non-organic produce. Finding a company, farmers market or co-op that you can buy organic and certified all natural foods in bulk from is going to be the best quality and bang for your buck.
Food intolerance and allergies are very common in children. The top 7 high allergy foods are peanuts, eggs, dairy, shellfish, soy, corn and gluten/wheat. Even if your child does not have an allergy to the above foods it is best to avoid consuming these foods daily because an intolerance and allergy can develop over time if the gut is compromised. Try to only have these above high allergy foods 1-2 times per week tops. Find alternatives like almond or sunflower butter instead of peanut butter, and check out the gluten free pasta, bread and warp options.
What educational programs do you support that tie in with catering to children?
Cooking and gardening are the foundation of living a healthy lifestyle. Health truly starts in the kitchen, children should be introduced to cooking education at an early age so they will incorporate it into their lives as they get older and not expose themselves to all of the added sugar, salt and harmful fats in convenient foods and restaurants. Children also love to watch things grow, teaching them about how to nourish plants and the patience of waiting for vegetables, fruits and herbs to arrive is amazing.
Any other relevant information that might be of interest to our readers?
If you want your children to live a healthy lifestyle into their adult life, make it fun now. Avoid the word diet; do not talk about their weight or body fat. Expose them to healthy foods that taste good, teach them how to prepare them, grow them and introduce them to exercise that is fun, avoid things that they dread to do for exercise. If they are not into team sports then try taking them for a hike or bike ride or vice versa.
This is a preview to an article that will be featured in the September edition of Candian Restaurant and Foodservice News. Check back for the full article.
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