Cookies have crumbled to second place as fruit has taken the lead as top snack for children under six, going some way to explain why US obesity numbers are stagnating, says the NPD Group.
According to the market research company, food journals written by mothers in 1987 found that cookies were the snack of choice for young children, followed by fruit, milk and juice.
However new data, released in response to indications that childhood obesity figures have leveled off, has shown that fruit is now the leader, followed by cookies milk, crackers and juice.
This information points yet again to the demand for healthy products across food sectors, and particularly the opportunities for snacks manufacturers to improve the nutritional profile of their products while maintaining their appeal to children.
"Kids younger than 10 are motivated to choose foods in large part because they're perceived as fun and they want a treat or reward," said Harry Balzer, NPD vice president and food industry expert.
"Kids account for almost one-third of all consumption of snack-oriented, convenience food products. Among those products, fruit is the top choice consumed by kids, but consumption frequency for fruit declines markedly as children age."
The NPD Group based this data on food and beverage journals from 500 mothers between 1985 and1987 and from 600 mothers between 2005 and 2007. The women kept diaries for 14 days on everything consumed by their children under the age of six.
The data also showed children now are more likely to consume fruit rolls, showing there is scope for innovation here. Additionally, they yogurt and bottled water are popular now, while children in 1987 were given more carbonated soft drinks, ice cream, candy and cakes.
Efforts by the government and regulators have been high in North America to improve labeling, reformulate products and educate the population about healthy eating to curb the rising numbers of obesity.
At least 20m children under the age of five worldwide were overweight in 2005, according to World Health Organization statistics. In the same year, approximately 1.6bn adults were overweight and around 400m were obese.
Cereal was found to be the most popular start to the day, which remains unchanged since 1987, followed by milk, juice, toast and fruit.
This contrasts to popular, less healthy breakfast foods that were more likely to be consumed in 1987, such as bacon, English muffins and pancakes.
The young market
According to NPD Group's findings, many industries that target the youth market are enjoying strong growth, which often outpaces overall industry growth.
As children's diet outside the home tends to imitate those introduced by their parents, and with mounting pressures for manufacturers to steer junk food marketing away from kids, there is increasing scope for developing healthy products aimed at the younger market.
The NPD Group said: "With the forecasted increase in the US birthrate, kids 12 and younger will continue to be a crucial consumer segment for manufacturers and retailers."