From picky eaters to time-pressed parents, ensuring children get all the goodness they need to thrive can be a challenge. Here, the latest offerings that can help!

By Maggie Jaqua – July 18, 2019: Originally posted on WholeFoods Magazine.

Moms’ top 3 wish list for kids: A strong immune system, a healthy diet, quality sleep. That was the finding of the DSM Global Kids Usage and Attitude Study, which surveyed more than 7,400 mothers of children ages 4 to 12 to determine parents’ top health interests for their little ones (1). As the study revealed, many moms are dealing with picky eaters, and trying to complement their kids’ meals with fortified food and beverages or opting for supplements to boost nutrients missing from the diet. Globally, says John Quilter, VP/GM of ProActive Health—Kerry, 83% of consumers say their product choice is always influenced by how it will affect their child’s health (2).

Making the healthy choice isn’t always easy, though. “For a lot of parents,” says Ari Raz, co-founder and president of Once Upon a Farm, “understanding which natural food products actually provide good nutrition to their kids can be a daunting task…I’m sure a lot of parents prioritize giving their kids food they will actually eat over anything else.”

No doubt about it: “Parents are under ever–mounting pressure, trying to juggle work and family life, and this can understandably sometimes lead to opting for convenience over nutrition when it comes to meals,” acknowledges Hannah Braye, Registered Nutritionist (DipCNM, BANT, CNHC) and senior technical advisor at ADM Protexin. As she points out, though, diet plays a crucial role in ensuring well-being, growth and development during childhood—as well as in determining health outcomes later in life. “If a child’s health is not supported through a healthy diet, it could potentially have detrimental effects lasting into their adulthood and even their health in old age.”

A diverse and nourishing diet, says Hartje Andresen, nutritional advisor for White Leaf Provisions, “will set the foundation for strong bones, robust immune system, healthy teeth and positive eating habits, all of which the children will benefit from well into their adult years.” A more short-term factor, adds Braye, is that diet can have a profound impact on behavior and mood, “so ensuring your child is eating a balanced wholefoods diet is likely to be of benefit for all the family!”

Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, sr. director of research & development/national educator, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, brings up another nationwide concern: childhood obesity. Approximately 18.4% of kids ages 6 to 11 and 20.6% of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were classified as overweight in 2015 to 2016, according to a NCHS Data Brief by Hales, et al. Given that, Sugarek MacDonald says, “parents need to take a more active role in teaching their children the benefits of eating well-planned, nutritious meals that will support not only healthy growth and development, but will also support an ideal weight status.”

Anthony Thomas, Ph.D., director, scientific affairs at Jarrow Formulas, also emphasizes the role of the parents. “Eating behaviors are established early in life and children’s dietary choices are usually dictated by what foods are consumed and made available by their parents. ‘Do what I say and not what I do’ is not an effective strategy. Parents need to model positive eating behaviors and dietary choices for their children.”

As those in the natural products industry know, parents face concerns that go well beyond picky eaters. Dr. Murray C. Clarke, D.Hom., M.Hom., L.Ac., ChildLife Essentials founder, outlines a few key problems: “Based on my experience in my clinic and then over the years spent researching studies for my book, I began to realize that the prevalence and increase in the number of children suffering from health challenges these days was not just happening in America, but also throughout Europe and Asia as well. Understanding this then led me to the following three underlying reasons of why children from all around the world are being affected in the same way and to the same degree.” Those reasons:

  • As more food is grown on less land to feed an ever-increasing population, the soil and those foods grown on it may not always contain the same amount of essential nutrients that they used to.
  • Children today may be eating more processed foods and fast foods that also may have less nutrients and at the same time contain artificial chemical additives such as flavorings, colorings and sweeteners that their body and brain do not need.
  • The vast increase in environmental toxins and pollutants that children are now exposed to, as evidenced by the Environmental Working Groups study in 2005, shows how much children’s ‘body burden’ is these days, and how it may affect growth and health.

“When we understand and realize the challenges that children are facing these days,” Dr.Clarke says, “we can then give them the extra support and protection that their developing bodies, minds and immune systems need in today’s world.”

Nourishing kids—the delicious way

A healthy diet is key to a healthy child, but of course, when it comes to what they want in their food, drinks and supplements, kids have a wish list of their own, and odds are it is wildly different than that of their parents. Where mom and dad want nutritious, kids want delicious. Thankfully, suppliers and manufacturers are up to the challenge.

“It’s important to focus on what children actually want, as well as the concerns of their parents,” says Quilter. “Nearly half—45%—of parents say they give their kids more of a say in family decisions than their own parents gave them, suggesting a generational shift (3). And globally 41% of consumers agree that their children decide what products to buy for them, demonstrating the importance of ‘pester power’” (4).

At Once Upon a Farm, says Raz, “We narrow the gap between nutritious and delicious to give all parents a convenient path to purchase products that their kids will not only love, but are made with nutrient dense ingredients that will set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. By being very honest with all parents about the challenges that we face during mealtime, we can hopefully ease the pressure on parents who are simply trying to find food their kids will eat.” She notes that the company’s organic, cold-pressed, refrigerated baby food, apple sauce and smoothies are made with the magic of cold-pressure, so unlike shelf-stable brands, they maintain the nutrients, taste and texture of each ingredient with no added preservatives, concentrates or pre-processed purees.

Consumers are ready for fresh baby food offerings, Raz adds, noting that 70% of parents make their own baby food at some point but 90% of them stop because they either got back to work, it’s too time consuming or for other reasons. “We’re filling a need for these parents who want to provide as close to homemade as possible with broad assortment and shopping convenience.”

Also speaking to the convenience factor, Julie Ruelle, RD, nutrition programs manager at Happy Family Organics, says, “We know families today are busier than ever, so our goal is to make it easy for parents to serve nutritious, organic foods to their children. It’s important to set up healthy eating habits early in life—to cultivate healthy taste development and ultimately raise a healthy eater. That’s why we provide an assortment of organic foods to help support a lifetime of wellness.” That includes Happy Tot Love My Veggies line with a full serving of veggies in pouches and bowls, and Happy Kid fruit and oat bars, made with organic fruits and whole grain oats for “kiddos on-the-go.”

Ruelle adds that Happy Family has options for kids of all ages. “Our ‘Enlightened Nutrition’ approach goes beyond organic and promotes age and stage appropriate nutrition. We work closely with a team of children’s health experts, including pediatricians and dietitians, to ensure we use ingredients with nutritional value that if consumed regularly, can support and promote healthy development through their different stages. From snacks that encourage self-feeding, to meals that encourage tots to try new veggies, our products make it easy for busy parents to feel confident nourishing their child—whether on the go or at home.”

White Leaf’s Andresen notes that children’s nutritional needs from when they are born until after they reach puberty differ from those of grown-ups—and so do their taste preferences. “Specifically, for the youngest of the little eaters, we want to ensure everything that goes into their tiny stomachs will be beneficial for them and build the foundations for a healthy approach to food and eating. White Leaf Provisions uses only the highest quality, biodynamic produce. The gentle processing methods preserve the nutrients of the ingredients better than otherwise preserved or processed foods. From our regeneratively farmed organic ingredients, convenient packaging, easy online ordering and store locators, to nutritional blogs and recipe suggestions, White Leaf Provisions aims to make wholesome nutrition easy and accessible for parents and caregivers.”

In every healthy diet, there’s also room for a treat—and many companies are offering up scrumptious options made with better-for-you ingredients. Some of the goodness we sampled at events like the Summer Fancy Food Show: Hopapops superfood snacks, which are plant-based and deliver vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; Peekaboo Ice Cream, which sneaks the vitamins and minerals from veggies (like carrots, cauliflower and beets) into an organic dessert to please even the pickiest of palates; SunButter SunSnacker cups, which pair bagel chips with sunflower butter for an on-the-go, protein-packed snack; Organic Smart Kids organic fruit-flavored sips with 100% vitamin C and no added sugars; and Abe’s Muffins, which are vegan, allergen-free and yummy. Another delicious favorite: Creamy-good spreads like those from Once Again Nut Butter to give classic faves a good-for-you upgrade. Amorè Organic Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa & Milk? Yes please!

For customers who come in with seriously fussy eaters, share this news from Happy Family Organics: “We’re thrilled to announce the launch of our brand new Picky Eating Portal, a dedicated resource on the Happy Family website filled with advice, tips, recipes and a downloadable guide to help parents through this completely normal, but often challenging, stage in their children’s lives.” Your customers might appreciate knowing that the company also offers additional support. “Parents can access our live, free chat function with our team of experts—the Happy Mama Mentors—seven days a week on our Happy Family website.” The experts are registered dietitians, certified lactation specialists, certified in maternal and infant nutrition from Cornell—and all are moms, too.

Nourished from Day 1

Even before they’re born, nutrition is key. There are many nutrients that are critical to early child development, and most are well known. One that may be overlooked: Choline. It is found in foods like eggs, liver and meat—though pregnant woman can also talk to their doctors about supplementing with a product containing choline, like Balchem VitaCholine, which is also an ingredient in infant formula and foods and beverages for kids. According to information on, it’s been studied for its role in improving cognition in infants and better pregnancy outcomes.

Also working to help pregnant women and nursing moms, Fairhaven Health offers a range of products designed to make things a little more comfortable or just a little easier. “In addition to fairly typical prenatal vitamin/mineral/omega–3 offerings, we offer a product called PregEase, which address the two most common digestive discomforts associated with pregnancy: morning sickness and heartburn,” say Suzanne Munson, MS, VP of product development and compliance, and Sarah Cocke, VP of operations and Social Media. Fairhaven, they add, supports breastfeeding as the optimal feeding option for babies, but recognizes that many women experience significant difficulty establishing and maintaining a breastfeeding routine. “As a result, we have built a line of breastfeeding support products that help to make breastfeeding and breast milk storage just a little easier.”

The company’s Milkies line includes Nipple Nurture Balm (a lanolin-free, organic nipple balm), the Milk Saver (a breast milk collection device) and Milk Trays (a breast milk storage device). “We also offer Nursing Blend, a dietary supplement that addresses one of the most frequent concerns that breastfeeding women have: breast milk supply. Nursing Blend provides a full multivitamin with targeted support for breastfeeding moms (extra B vitamins and 700% Daily Value of Vitamin D), as well as a blend of herbal galactagogues, including fenugreek and fennel, that help ensure a plentiful breast milk supply.”

Offering a helping hand with supplements

“It’s not always easy to eat the wide range of healthy foods we strive to eat every day,” acknowledges Chris Oswald DC, LN, CNS, manager, education content, Nature’s Way Brands. “Even when eating a well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables, it may still be difficult to get all of the vitamins and nutrients we need from food alone. A multivitamin, especially our Alive! Premium Gummies for Children and Children’s Chewables, are great options to help and fill potential nutrient gaps to provide nutrients your children need.”

Jarrow’s Thomas also points to subpar diets: “General adherence to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines is low and the majority of Americans, including children, do not follow a healthy eating pattern. Overconsumption of calories, yet inadequate intake of fiber and various micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients—combined with low levels of physical activity, can predispose children for chronic diseases later in life such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and osteoporosis.” Jarrow Formulas, he says, offers a number of dietary supplements to support the nutritional status of infants, children, and adolescents, including multi-vitamins/-minerals, probiotic and prebiotic sugar-free chewables, micronutrients (like vitamins D and K2 as MK-7), and phosphatidylserine gummies, lutein drops, probiotic and prebiotic powders.

Especially in our toxic world, as Dr. Clarke notes, supplements play an important role. “By understanding the nutrients that the body requires and utilizes to help neutralize, detoxify and eliminate toxins, we can then start giving our children the supplements that give them the protection they need. ChildLife Essentials offers all of the important vitamins and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin D3, vitamin A and vitamin E. And the omega–3 fatty acids like DHA and all of the B vitamins, which are so important to support healthy brain growth and function.”

In addition to daily multivitamins and minerals formulated for children to offset any low-intakes of essential vitamins or minerals that children might face, Sugarek MacDonald says supplements for active children can be beneficial, since the dietary needs of active children are higher than sedentary children. “Bluebonnet Nutrition is proud to introduce the Rainforest Animalz line of chewable supplements to its line of dietary supplements, which includes a multiple, as well as calcium magnesium plus vitamin D3, and standalone vitamin C products.” This line for preschoolers to teens, she says, “provides all of the necessary vitamins, minerals and whole food nutrients that are required for proper growth and development.”

Braye points out that while kids require a varied and balanced diet to provide all the macro and micro-nutrients nutrients they need to grow healthily, certain nutrients are more difficult to obtain from the diet and consequently many children are found to be lacking. “These include vitamin D and omega—3 fatty acids, which is why they have been included in our children’s product Bio-Kult Infantis.” She points to evidence suggesting that omega– 3s play an important role in early brain development and cognitive function (5), plus appear to have anti-inflammatory effects on the immature and developing infant immune system (6). And vitamin D, she says, contributes to the normal function of the immune system and a healthy inflammatory response, and is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children—the company uses vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which she notes is the natural form made in the body and has been shown to be most efficient at increasing blood levels (7).

Also focusing on vitamins and minerals: “We have products that can help with iron deficiencies in kids without the well-known side effects that iron products can cause,” says James Flint, VP of A.C. Grace Company. “Also, we offer water soluble vitamin E that helps people that cannot metabolize fat.” The findings of what vitamin E can do, he adds, often seem endless. (For more on the perks of E, see this month’s Vitamin Connection.)

Beyond basic nutrition

Immunity may be among parents’ top health goals for kids, and natural products can help deliver on that wish—and many more:

Promoting immune health: At Kerry, Quilter says, “Our message would probably be for manufacturers rather than parents. And that would be to recognize that parents aren’t just influenced by one simple consideration like ‘nutrition’ but by a complex range of connected considerations that include factors such as naturality and great taste as well as multiple health considerations. It’s not just about being low in fat or low in sugar—many parents are also looking for products that offer functional health benefits, for example immunity.” Kerry’s Wellmune is a patented proprietary baker’s yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan that Quilter says is clinically proven to help strengthen the immune system and supported by more than a dozen studies, including some specific to children. “In one, children who took Wellmune reported two-thirds fewer upper respiratory tract infections (8).” He adds that Wellmune is suitable for use in a range of functional food, beverage and supplement applications that are popular with kids. By offering a highly sought-after functional benefit, Quilter says, “Wellmune can add to a product’s ‘health halo’ and help it stand out from the crowd.”

Fostering gut health (and beyond): As Anke Sentko, VP regulatory affairs and nutrition communication, BENEO, explains, “The intestine is the largest organ to aid the body’s own defense system. While it is virtually sterile at birth, bacterial species quickly colonize it to form so-called microbiota in the gut. This is a critical and essential process, as it may positively impact health in later life by potentially reducing the risk of obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and allergies.” In addition to helping regulate the body’s inner defense system, the beneficial bacteria have a positive influence on intestinal health.

Functional dietary fibers, Sentko continues, help promote intestinal health and support inner defenses in kids throughout life. She explains that scientifically recognized prebiotic dietary fibers include natural chicory root fiber, inulin and oligofructose, and synthetically produced galactooligosaccharides. And the prebiotic effect does more than just improve digestive health. “Latest scientific findings prove, for example, that healthy intestinal flora can improve mental function, as well as assist with the absorption of vital nutrients.” Sentko points to scientific studies indicating that inulin and oligofructose can have positive effects beyond the intestine. “For example, a 2002 study showed that regular ingestion of oligofructose was associated with fewer fevers, fewer visits to the doctor due to symptoms associated with diarrhoea, fewer febrile colds and a reduced need for antibiotics in children aged 4-24 months (9). In a further publication and meta-analysis on studies conducted on children aged 0-24 months, the total number of illnesses requiring antibiotics was significantly lower when prebiotics were regularly administered (10).” These results are confirmed by a current intervention study, she says, which shows that 6g of prebiotic dietary fiber (Orafti Inulin, BENEO) from the chicory root promotes digestive health and strengthens the resistance of children ages 3 to 6, during the winter months (11). Prebiotic ingredients improve the health of children long-term, too, she points out, because they help with calcium absorption and thus bone density, and regulate satiety, aiding weight management.

Braye notes that having the optimum balance of microflora is important for everyone, but especially key from birth to give infants the best start in life. “Ov