Recent reports have shown that worldwide childhood obesity is on the rise with more than 22 million children under the age of five being classified as overweight. This highlights the importance of instilling healthy eating habits within children from an early age.
In today’s fast food culture the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ has never been more true, and parents are pulling out all the stops to try to convince their children of the Health risks associated with this. Worldwide, concerned mothers are “bribing” their children to eat their greens and preparing well balanced meals recommended by books and celeb nutritionists.
Yet kids will be kids and healthy eating usually means a cycle of dread - children dislike eating healthily because healthy foods are not always the tastiest option available. This only causes anxious parents to coerce them into finishing every bit of their meal, thereby adding to an already unpleasant experience. Given the choice, a child would choose snacking on a chocolate bar or chicken nuggets over munching on an apple slice - so would any adult, if we were honest. Major food manufacturers have been searching for the holy grail of snacking for decades - a product that kids would like to eat and parents would want to buy. But so far, there has been precious little innovation that can turn the looming tide of childhood Obesity.
How healthy should a “healthy” snack be?
The definition of “health” set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This highlights that a healthy snack should have three dimensions:
• Physical: The child is able to eat well to maximise growth and development
• Mental: The child is able to develop their intelligence
• Social: The child is able to connect well through interactions with friends and family
Therefore, the formula for an ideal healthy snack should consist of the following elements: Eating + playing + connecting.
Creating a win-win for parent and child
We at eYeka recently carried out a healthy snack project, whereby we invited our 200,000-strong creative online community to invent a healthy, fun and tasty snack for kids. In just three weeks, creative individuals from 14 countries across Europe, the U.S. and Asia developed 89 fresh and innovative ideas that could become a source of inspiration for food manufacturers across the world to develop healthier products.
A significant majority of the ideas we received from the creative community were designed to enable kids to have fun while eating, and allowing parents to prepare the snack without hassle with the assurance the product contributes to their children’s wellbeing – a win-win situation.
Among the interesting win-win ideas proposed were the use of vibrant colors and cartoon characters on packaging to give otherwise-boring ingredients a stronger personality.
Playing with food
Many of the creative project ideas transformed snack packaging into toys and games so that the product extended from a mere foodstuff, to something kids could play with or create while eating.
Most children take about 25 minutes to eat a meal, and though this may seem frustrating to time-pressured parents, it allows their bodies to alert them to being full. The longer children eat when they’re hungry, and stop when they are full, the more likely they'll listen to their bodies as they grow up. As such, turning a healthy snack into a game will allow children to enjoy and experiment with their food, encouraging them to eat at their own pace. Making the healthy snack into a game also addresses the viscous cycle of dread, discussed earlier, by turning an associated negative experience (force-feeding greens) into a positive and fun experience.
The most interesting snack ideas were those that looked to cultivate new eating rituals for children to create and interact with others. Snacks could be used to facilitate a social session – letting children connect with each other using food as a social object or enabling parents to bond with their children by interacting with the snack.
It is critical that major food brands continually take up the challenge of developing healthy snacks for children. By thinking beyond nutrition and extending their focus towards areas that are seldom touched upon, they will be able to develop a child’s mental development and social ability, as well as creating something that parents will have confidence in buying.
François Pétavy, CEO at eYeka