Early life nutrition is crucial to the healthy development of children, and knowledge is increasing into how the first 1000 days can shape a baby’s future. But food brands are discovering that children’s meals is an area ripe for innovation.
Take baby food brand Mamamade, which promises toddler ready-made meals to consumer doors in just 10 minutes after announcing a partnership with on-demand grocery delivery service Gorillas. This move ticks the boxes of convenience and nutrition that are so important among today’s time-strapped and health gripped parents, said Mamamade founder Sophie Baron. “Since launching last January, we’ve been listening to our customers and the number 1 thing they were telling us was that they needed support - sometimes more than ever - even once their children were done with weaning and eating as part of the family. That was our main driver for developing a range of ready meals and snacks for 12m+,” she told FoodNavigator.
According to the brand’s research, 72% of parents rely on packaged foods for feeding their children under age 5, 85% rely on packaged snacks. “So we know the market is there - parents need convenience products,” she continued. “They’re using Gousto and HelloFresh for themselves, and are also looking for foods that are more suitable for growing children.”
All Mamamade meals are fully plant-based, made using 100% organic ingredients, and allergen free. Popular toddler dishes available to order via Gorillas include Lentil Shepherd’s Pie, Kale Pesto Pasta, Lentil Veggie Bites and Banana Oat Pancakes.
The toddler ready-meal shelves, have up until this point, explained Baron, featured classic ‘kids menu’ meals like fish pies, chicken fingers and Bolognese. But for vegetarian/plant-based families, or families who are relying on more variety - there were almost no convenience, short-cut products available beyond pasta and jarred sauces, she said. “We’re here to help share the load with these families. To normalise asking for help. To normalise using packaged foods for all meals and mealtime occasions. And to provide foods that are fit for that purpose.”
What are the specific nutritional needs of the 3+ age group and how does this differ from other life stages? And how does this impact NPD? Growth typically slows for toddlers, which means caloric needs are actually much lower than a baby’s - despite being much more active, Baron told us. “So ensuring all nutritional needs are met can present a challenge. It’s important to offer toddlers nutrient-dense foods, to make the most of small portion sizes. The same goes for snacks - many on the market are effectively the same as crisps for adults. There’s a time and a place for foods like that, of course, but most people would agree that these foods wouldn’t be a ‘healthy daily snack’ for an adult - and so all the more so, parents should have options that are nutrient dense, handy and convenient for their children.”
The recommendation is that babies under 12 months have no added salt whatsoever, and toddlers are recommended to have a limited intake of salt. So ensuring foods are flavourful and delicious, and excite tiny palates, without using salt, is an “added complexity”, according to Baron. “As Gen Zers and Millennials move into parenthood, we know that the generational concerns around wellbeing and sustainability will continue to be front of mind,” she added. “Mamamade is here to provide a helping hand and provide peace of mind to parents who care deeply about how and what their children eat.”
‘No more pasta shapes with a bit of splodge’
The Wild Hare Group has also unveiled a range of children’s meals aimed at four to 10-year olds after also spotting an area ripe for innovation. Founder Dominie Fearn told FoodNavigator that too many existing ranges for one to five-year olds are ‘tasteless’ she claimed, featuring “a pasta shape with a bit of splodge”. The ready-meal format is a convenient way to give kids a similar taste and nutrition experience as adults, she told us.
“They should have a range of meals that's very similar to what you're eating as an adult so that you can sit down and look like you're eating the same food. The whole principle of our dishes is that they are very similar to the adult range but they'll have less spice if it’s a spicy one, they'll have no salts, no added sugar, and we try and add three or four of your five a day.” It also recently unveiled a partnership with Weezy, one of the many new grocery delivery app start-ups to have sprung up in cities across Europe, most backed by large sums of venture capital money.
Existing government guidelines for children, meanwhile, are “really poor”, she added. “So we are almost writing our own saying no sugars, no or minimal salts and extra veg. We're making sure that if it's only that one meal they have they're going to be getting, it’s close to exactly what they need to eat within that day -- that's what convenient food is about.”
Fearn told us that the brand uses tips from top chefs to take on the challenge of making dishes taste great without the salt.
“With Our cottage pie, for example, we take away the potatoes and put it with swede parsnip and carrot and make the mash out of that. That makes it really naturally sweet. We'll also put cumin with the beef which starts their taste buds understanding food. We also put it side by side not on top because children still like to eat foods separately and they like the different colours.”
West Sussex-based Margot and Mable is another family run business providing home cooked meals for little ones aged 1-4 years old which are delivered direct to customers. “Our philosophy is simple, we cook amazing meals that we love to serve to our own children which at the same time gives parents some much deserved time back,” it said.
“We have worked hard to source the best quality organic and free range ingredients from local suppliers. These are then cooked in small batches producing quality, convenient toddler meals ready for you to reheat at home.”
Cook is another company making frozen ready meals, which it delivers to its customers' doors. Kids Meals are prepared by hand without artificial preservatives, colouring or salt, and all contain at least one portion of veg. Its motto is to cook “using the same ingredients and techniques you would at home, so everything looks and tastes homemade”.