I've been asked for my views on kid's food for some market research. I'm relishing the opportunity (sorry, I promise there won't be too many food jokes). Seriously, I think we should seize the chance whenever companies ask for our opinions. If you have bugbears then this is the time to share them.
I'd really like to get your input as well to feed back, so if you have a burning issue, then please use the comments section to get it off your chest.
I'll give my thoughts here on the criteria they are interested in, so please feel free to add yours - get your voice heard.
How do you shop for kid's food?
We do all our food shopping about once a fortnight, with top-ups of perishable items in between. Ruby comes with us on the main food shop and tends to give her input about what she wants! That's not to say she always gets her own way. The smaller shops I do on my own otherwise I suspect I'd come out with a basket full of treats.
What are your priorities?
I never bought manufactured baby foods, so try to resist the temptation of buying food aimed specifically at kids now. We choose normal 'adult' food and ingredients for meals I can make from scratch that the whole family will enjoy together. As we try to eat together every evening, I don't want to get into making several different dishes for different people.
The priorities for my daughter are the same as for us - good quality; nutritious; tasty food.
I'm a stay-at-home mum so in that respect am lucky I have the time to cook from scratch and don't tend to buy pre-prepared or ready made food.
What do you worry about?
I don't really. As I make meals myself, I know what levels of salt and sugar etc they contain. If I were buying pre-prepared foods, and with some processed foods like ham; cheese and bread I do check the levels of salt and sugar. I try to avoid things (particularly treats) which contain high levels of E numbers, as I have noticed changes in behaviour when Ruby eats certain sweets and drinks certain drinks.
Due to a constant tummy ache, we've been trying Ruby on a diet with no cow's milk for the past month or so. It has had a great effect, but it does mean I'm more conscious about checking labels for 'hidden' ingredients. Hers is just probably a mild intolerance, so it's not the end of the world if she eats something with a little butter or milk in, but it has made me sympathise with how difficult it must be for parents of children with severe allergies. I think clearer labelling all round would be a good thing.
What do you look for?
I prefer to give Ruby 'adult' food. We eat out a fair amount so I don't really want her in the habit of only eating something if it's in the shape of a cartoon character. I think this will only bring problems in the long-term.
What are the most important things to you when it comes to kids and nutrition?
Through what we've taught at home and what Ruby's learning at nursery, she is aware of the importance of nutrition and what various things do for the body. This helps lots if I'm able to say 'this has lots of calcium in so your bones and your teeth will grow healthy and strong' for example. I think the earlier your children understand and begin to take some responsibility for their own diet, the better.
Which brands get it right?
I like Organix because I know they get the taste of their food spot on. There's nothing more annoying than being coerced into buying a kiddie brand by your child in the supermarket, only for them to take one bite and declare 'I don't like that!'
They are also a brand I trust, have clear labelling and quality ingredients. We are also fans of Innocent drinks for the same reasons. I'm not big on gimmicks or promotions, but at least the ones that Innocent do are engaging and educational - like the alphabet magnets and the recent seeds giveaways.
What do brands do/say that annoy you?
It annoys me when a perfectly fine product gets 'rebranded' to appeal to children. I'm thinking of apples which are packaged up in bags emblazoned with Disney characters, or cheese which is packed into individual child-sized portions with excessive packaging and gimmicky labels.
I can see how this might be helpful for parents of fussy eaters, but it annoys the hell out of me personally - an apple is an apple! Why pay more for smaller things??
Where do treats/puddings fit in? What are the challenges there?
Puddings where not something we generally had, but since Ruby has started eating meals at nursery a couple of times a week, she's been conditioned into thinking that every meal is rounded off by dessert - she sometimes asks for pudding after breakfast! I'm not a strict parent, I'm quite happy to give puddings as long as the main meal has been eaten. Sometimes it will be fruit; sometimes yoghurt or ice cream or sometimes something naughtier! All things in moderation I say!
And...what do your kids say/think? Do they comment on their diet? Do they ask for certain things? Do they know about nutrition?
She does sometimes surprise me. We were making food for a little Jubilee party recently and she looked in horror at all the cakes: "but mummy, we need some fruit - we can't just eat cake!!" That made me giggle. Generally Ruby is quite good. She does have a sweet tooth and often asks for sweets or chocolate, but she does know it's not good for her and that she should only have a little. With the cow's milk free diet, she's taken a much keener interest in what ingredients are in certain products and she's having to try new things like goat and buffalo milk, new cheeses and soya products.
She is heavily influenced by advertising though, and we do sometimes have supermarket battles when she demands a certain type of sugar-laden cereal just because it has a crappy plastic toy in. Let me add that to the 'what do companies do that annoy you' section...
So, those are my personal opinions, but we're all different and have different priorities. What are your views? Please leave them in the comments box and I'll be sure to pass them on.
Disclaimer: I will receive a small financial reward for my involvement in this project. Thanks for your time and input.