“To encourage children to eat foods with whole grains, we need to add color and shine,” said David Sheluga, director, consumer insights for Ardent Mills.
Prominently displaying the amount of whole grains on a product package is unlikely to elicit a gasp of delight from a child. Bright colors and cartoon characters on the package are more likely to prompt grins. Getting children to eat more whole grains also could involve incorporating the whole grains into items they already eat, like hot dog buns.

Both children and adults are attracted to bright color, shininess and moistness in food, said David Sheluga, director, consumer insights for Ardent Mills, Denver, Colorado, U.S.

“To encourage children to eat foods with whole grains, we need to add color and shine,” he said. “Imagine a bread with a colorful glittery swirl or colorful shiny toppings. Imagine those toppings or inclusions changing with the holidays and seasons. This would excite moms to buy and children to eat, and today’s glittery toppings are made with natural food dyes such as beet juice or carrot juice and contain no sugars. So moms won’t object.”

Food manufacturers might catch the attention of a child by making products more visually appealing, said Katie Harris, product development scientist, Bay State Milling, Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.

“This can be achieved by using different colors, shapes or photos of their favorite TV character on the front of the package,” she said. “Making whole grain products into fun shapes or utilizing common TV characters on the package could be helpful in guiding kids to eating a diet that includes more whole grains.”

Since children are not that interested in nutritional values, food formulators need to help parents deliver nutrition in ways that are “fun, portable and palatable,” said Gerrie Bouchard, director of marketing for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

“Kids are sensitive to textures,” she said. “So incorporating grains in novel ways such as ADM’s quinoa crisps is a great way to incorporate health benefits in a cool, kid-friendly way.”

Harris also pointed out taste perception changes with age.

“Whole grains can be challenging for children to consume because of the bitterness often noted in a number of whole grain products,” she said. “It is common to see children select foods that are sweeter and have no bitterness due to the maturity of their taste buds. Adults have a more developed sensory perception and can tolerate foods with bitterness and can be more sensitive to sweetness.”

The amount of whole grains in a recipe might be pivotal in children’s food.

“In some foods, it may be helpful to start by replacing or formulating 25% to 50% of the total grain with whole grain,” said Beth Arndt, a formulator for Panhandle Milling, Dawn, Texas, U.S. “How the food is usually consumed is also an important factor that will influence the appearance and flavor perception of the whole grain. For example, a hot dog bun can likely be formulated with a higher inclusion of whole grain because the bun serves as a holder for a hot dog or other filling and is therefore not the main focus, whereas a biscuit is commonly served alone and may be cut in half or torn into pieces with butter, jam or other spread applied to the inner surface.”

Companies should look to incorporate ancient grains, which are whole grains, into applications familiar to children, like pizza, chicken nugget breadings, yogurts, cereals and extruded snacks, said Brian Anderson, Ph.D., vice-president of innovation and marketing for Bunge in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.

“Additionally, ancient grains can be blended with other grains that are more commonly used so that finished products can maintain the flavors and textures that are familiar to kids,” he said.

Ardent Mills has had success with its Ultragrain white whole wheat flour, which comes with whole grain nutrition as well as the taste, texture and appearance of refined white flour.

“While some children enjoy a variety of grains thanks to parents who encourage them, the vast majority prefer grains with the taste, texture and appearance most like white flour,” said Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills. “In school food service this phenomenon is most prevalent in grades K-8, with students in the upper grades becoming somewhat more adventurous in their food choices.”

Studies have shown that children often will select whole wheat products produced from hard white over hard red whole wheat, said Rachel Warner, director of national accounts for Grain Craft, Chattanooga, Tennessee, U.S.

“Both visual and blind taste tests were performed, and in both scenarios, children seemed to prefer the white whole wheat products,” she said. “In addition, finer particle size may be more appealing, as products appear more similar to refined flour. Manufacturers can also use whole grain products in items that children like to eat such as pizza.”

While some may view children as difficult eaters, they really only want simple applications that make sense, Ms. Bouchard said.

“A product that is meant to be smooth should be smooth,” she said. “A product that is crunchy should be crunchy. They are interested in what they understand.”