By Kimberly Bond

A recent research study has revealed that children in the UK are becoming so used to engineered food – with unnecessary additives, artificial flavours and colours – that it is impacting their ability to recognise and experience ‘real’ foods.

The Engineering Taste report, conducted by Greg Tucker, a Taste Psychologist, and Professor Andy Taylor, from the University of Nottingham’s Food Science department, was commissioned by Organix to find out the impact artificial flavourings, colours and disguised flavours are having on children.

Their research revealed that two thirds of children (66%) prefer chicken nuggets over chicken breast, whilst others even think chickens ‘don’t have bones’ and apples don’t have cores. This indicates that children’s eating habits are changing as they are needing more instant taste gratification and ‘easy eats.’

The report showed how foods such as fish fingers and chicken nuggets are blurring the lines between ‘real’ and artificial. These engineered foods deliver instant and dynamic tastes that are easy for children to eat, and for parents to cook. In some cases, ‘natural’ ingredients are being used, often inappropriately, and when they have no ‘natural’ role in the food.

The research revealed many children have their fruit chopped and peeled, and are unfamiliar with sights of a 'real' apple.

The research revealed many children have their fruit chopped and peeled, and are unfamiliar with sights of a ‘real’ apple.

In the case of Petit Filous, a leading children’s brand of yoghurt, the researchers found that the strawberry flavour had 14 different ingredients -including carrot juice.

Researcher, Taste Psychologist Greg Tucker says, “We’re seeing a new take on artificial. The addition of a natural ingredient to a food, but one not expected or understood, and designed to shift or materially enhance the delivery is an artifice – carrot juice in a strawberry yoghurt is clearly not right. This zone of artifice is a deliberate mislead by the food industry, and it’s changing how children eat.

“These engineered foods behave differently when it comes to flavour release. Rather than a slowly released flavour that moves at the pace of the chew, we get a more instant hit of flavour and an immediate reward. But this flavour burst quickly dies away and leaves children feeling emptier sooner, so they eat more. Eating more engineered foods and fewer ‘real’ foods means that children miss the experience of the ‘real’ taste and instead look for immediate gratification.”

The research was backed up by a survey of 1,000 mums, which revealed 72% are more likely to buy food if it is labelled ‘real or natural’ on the packaging. Yet, when asked, many were shocked at the amount of ingredients on the labels.

Filipa Kay, mum to Joshua, 7 and Daniel, 5, writes a healthy budget recipe blog, Gourmet Mum. She says the report has been ‘like looking in the mirror’.

She said: “The research was a real wake up call for me! I have always been really keen on feeding my kids proper food cooked from scratch, and I love to cook and get the kids involved with cooking and shopping.

“However, we sadly lost our baby girl in December 2014 at full term, so the past year has been really hard. I actually didn’t realise it until I read through this report how much we are in this realm of ‘artifice’! The bereavement has got us into this rut as a family.

“When I read the report it was like having a good look in the mirror. Chicken nuggets and fish fingers have become a regular thing (they never used to be) and I always get the expensive ones which say “100% chicken breast” and “100% cod fillet” and in my mind I’m thinking, oh it says that, it must be good for them, but I never thought to read the back. I used to be so hot on that sort of stuff.

 “We used to make nuggets from chicken breast – it’s not that hard! We also ate drumsticks regularly! And homemade fishcakes! They love that petite fileu yoghurt, I know there’s so much sugar in there but I have kid myself into thinking they are getting calcium from it. And we go through a bottle of ketchup a fortnight. We slid into all this so easily!”

Organix are now campaigning for the food industry to be more open about the labelling on their foods – and to educate parents about the ingredients they might find in their children’s meals. You can read and download an alternative chicken nugget recipe here.

  • For more No Junk recipes, baby and toddler advice and to download your free copy of the Engineering Taste report, please visit www.organix.com. You can share your response to the report, recipes, experiences and photos with other parents at #OrganixTaste.

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About Author

Kimberly Bond is the Managing Director and founder of Visit from the Stork CIC. Although not a mum, she is passionate about ensuring that young parents have the right information at the time they need it and giving them engaging content through the website and magazine. Kimberly is a first class honours Journalism graduate from Staffordshire University.

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