Persuading children to eat healthily may not be as difficult as was once feared. New research from the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) in the UK has shown that children as young as seven are aware of the need for a balanced diet, and that something as simple as a free gift or toy would be enough to persuade them to try healthy food products.
The IGD's report found that one third of the children questioned could be persuaded to buy a product if a cartoon or film character was linked to it, while a third also said seeing something on television would encourage them to try a product.
The findings are particularly welcome at a time when there is considerable concern about children's diets. Just last week evidence emerged of the first cases of adult-type diabetes in Caucasian children in the UK, and the number of obese children is also continuing to grow.
The IGD surveyed 400 children aged seven to nine across the UK and interviewed children at schools in Hertfordshire and Staffordshire.
While parents were the main source of information about healthy eating (89 per cent), around a third of children also asked their teacher (37 per cent) or learned about healthy eating from TV cookery programmes (31 per cent).
Most children ate at least one portion of fruit and vegetables each day, but many were unsure about how much they should be eating. Most ate a broad range of foods, including Chinese and Indian, and enjoyed food that was entertaining, such as celery, which one child said could be peeled "like cheese straws".
Over 80 per cent said they enjoyed cooking at home, while 74 per cent of children said their family mostly or always ate at the same time. Some 71 per cent of children said their family mostly or always ate the same food, while 34 per cent eat together every day.
Angela Groves, consumer analyst at the IGD, said: "Our findings suggest that stimulating initial interest and curiosity about food is imperative in creating and sustaining a child's interest in cooking and healthy eating. This could be done through the ingredients used, or in how the final meal turns out.
"The current trend amongst adults of distinguishing between cooking as an everyday chore and for weekend entertainment seems set to continue as these children grow up. Today's kids may not want to know how to boil an egg but they love cooking a curry with dad. There is a huge opportunity for industry to help parents by creating "cookery kits" for children, just as they have for adults with meal solutions."