Parents seek immunity-boosting, budget-friendly & convenient foods for kids heading back to school

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ filmstudio
Source: Getty/ filmstudio

Related tags: Food for kids

Grocery retailers and packaged food and beverage brands should brace for another significant shift in consumer shopping habits this month as many families with students returning to in-person school after a year or more of distance or hybrid learning look for more on-the-go, budget-conscious and immune-boosting breakfast and lunch solutions, according to one grocery store dietitian.

“Last year, kids were home most of the time and thus mealtimes were different from a traditional school year – kids could enjoy more heated meals, leftovers, etc. Less planning was required as kids were home to grab food throughout the day and decide last minute what to eat,​” Allison Delaney, MS, RD, LDN, Stop & Shop Dietitian Program lead, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Now, with kids back in schools – its back to quick and easy, healthy convenience, no-heat solutions that work well in a lunch box,”​ such as pre-packaged solutions, like Nature’s Promise baby carrots or sliced apples, she said.

Breakfast also will change as students rush to meet the first bell and no longer have time to gather at the table for a meal with their family, Delaney said.

“We don’t anticipate that families will have the time to gather around the table for family breakfasts like they could when everyone was home. It’s back to the grind – routine, simplicity, etc,”​ she said.

As such, it is also back to healthy on-the-go or quick and nutritious breakfast ideas like overnight oats, oatmeal bake, hard boiled eggs, granola bars and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, she said.

Noting that “getting back into routine is harder this year versus years past due to the pandemic forcing many of us to lose our normal routines”​ and kids feeling “sleepy and unmotivated,”​ Delaney said that Stop & Shop Nutrition Partners dietitians are recommending families prepare breakfast the night before.

Parents want immunity-boosting products to protect children too young for the COVID-19 vaccine

In addition to convenience, consumers are looking for immunity-boosting products that they can give their children for breakfast or pack in lunches.

“Because younger kids are not able to get vaccinated yet, we are seeing more parents concerned about the overall health and well-being of their children, especially around boosting immune health once back in the classroom and keeping kids healthy through nutrition,”​ Delaney said.

For example, she said, she is seeing a trend towards functional beverages for children, like coconut water that is packed with electrolytes or vitamin waters targeted towards kids.

“It’s hard to tell if that will stick around, as people typically jump back to their old habits after some time, but we anticipate it to linger through the start of the school year and through flu season,”​ she said.

She also predicts that consumers increasingly will search for kid-friendly products with hidden vegetables, such as cauliflower macaroni and cheese, vegetables in cheese cracker and vegetables in popsicles.

Likewise, parents are looking for no or low sugar products, like lower-sugar yogurts or no sugar added juices and fruit snacks, she said.

Delaney says she also sees families using back-to-school as an opportunity or motivation to improve the healthfulness of family meals to help counter weight gain related to inactive lifestyles adopted over the past year and a half during lockdowns.

“With kids at home over the past year-plus, many families are dealing with kids who have put on weight due to more sedentary lifestyles. Instead of running around at schools, many kids were at home, with less overall activity,”​ she said, adding that “families are looking for tips for healthy meal planning to help with this.”

Stop & Shop is meeting this need by offering free, live educational and interactive webinars​ for parents of elementary and middle schoolers. The retailer’s Back-To-School Wellness Checklist​, scheduled for today, Aug. 17 at 5:30 pm, and Aug. 26 at noon, will be led by Stop & Shop’s team of nutrition partners, registered dietitians and pharmacists.

Budget-friendly and bulk items are in demand

Many families will also shift their shopping habits to be more budget-friendly or value focused, predicts Delaney.

“The pandemic left many families without jobs or steady income or forced job instability – which caused them to be more cost conscious in general. Our Healthy Shopping On A Budget classes were extremely popular over the last year – how to stretch your food budget to feed your family,”​ she explained.

Many families also continue to shop less frequently and so are buying larger bulk products, such as an eight-pack of pasta to last the month instead of a single pack, Delaney said, adding: “This can be translated to kids’ foods as well – larger bulk products are still making their way into parents’ carts.”

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