Babies can’t talk, but they still have ways of telling grown-ups what they want. When I first started at Gerber three years ago, I saw this creative communication in action when scientists from our R&D team brought some of our 2,000 tiny taste testers to help us choose the best tastes, shapes, and textures for our products. We want to know what sorts of snacks and meals they like, so we can be sure to deliver the important foods and nutrients they need…in a format that they’ll actually eat.
That day we were offering snacks in different shapes, like circles versus lines. One 9-month-old taste tester had tried them at home beforehand and had already formulated his opinion. He picked up the first sample, took a quick look and threw it right on the floor, then went on to happily munch on his favorite samples. Ahead of fun tasting days, our food scientists work hard to make sure samples are just the right size for little hands and the right texture for young mouths that are getting used to chewing, all while being nutritious and tasting great.
The moral of the story? Even the shape of foods can make the difference between whether a young child will eat them or spit them out. At Gerber, we know it’s critical for babies to start on a positive nutrition path early. We aim to create tasty, nutritious foods that babies love — and will actually eat — so they’ll start healthy habits young.
Research and experimentation — ranging from detailed taste tests to nationally recognized, peer-reviewed nutrition studies — let us do just that to develop new products that meet established nutrition needs, like Gerber Veggie Crisps with real veggies, whole grains and vitamin E.
One key source for identifying real-world nutrition needs is the Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), the largest diet survey focused on children under age 4. The study is an ongoing investment that we make to understand their nutrition needs. It also helps to identify what foods and beverages kids eat most and where they’re falling short compared to pediatric recommendations. We continue to learn a lot from this study, for example, our most recent FITS research shows:
- Diet patterns are established early. In fact, by the age of 2 the types of foods children eat are fairly set.
- For toddlers, one-third of daily calories come from snacks. The most common snack choices are often lacking in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Nearly 3 in 10 young children don’t eat a portion of vegetables on a given day.
- 30% of toddlers are not eating whole grains on a given day.
Infants and toddlers have tiny tummies, but big nutritional needs. So it’s important to make every little bite count, particularly at snack time given its significant contribution to their daily nutrition. With FITS findings like these in mind, we aim to prepare snack foods that make it easy for parents to feed their children vegetables or whole grains — turning snack time into a chance to help kids meet their nutrition needs. Our new Gerber Veggie Crisps are a snack made with real veggies and 3 grams of whole grains per serving and they provide vitamin E — one of the nutrients that FITS identified many young children fall short on. They were well accepted by our tiny tasters, and they also have less sodium than the leading veggie chip snack*.
Research also helps us create foods with children’s developmental stages in mind. As parents of tiny tots know, babies have a learning curve at meal times. They may just be getting used to sitting or crawling, while also developing new abilities to chew and pick up objects. Kids need foods that are the right size and texture to support them at each stage in their feeding journey.
To understand what it’s like to be a young child learning to eat, scientists in our Research and Development Center put on their ‘baby’ gear that helps simulate a child’s developmental stage. They wear enormous, difficult-to-maneuver gloves and goggles that mimic a child’s still-developing eyesight. They experience first-hand how hard it is for babies and toddlers to get food from bowl to mouth. This type of research led us to give our Puffs a slightly sticky texture to help tiny fingers and make each bite easier to pick up. Food of the right shape and texture (and grip-ability!) can facilitate a child’s independence, making it a bit easier for them to eat on their own instead of having mom and dad feed them.
We can’t promise that our research will eliminate every bit of fallen snacks on the floor (or the need to sweep up under the highchair after every meal). But luckily, the most fun and joyful ‘lab’ in the country is working hard to put children on a lifelong path of enjoying nutritious foods.
*10–35mg sodium per 15g serving of Veggie Crisps compared to 105mg sodium per 15g serving of the leading veggie chip/snack
More from FITS: