Kids agree a healthy diet, full of bread, cereal and other grains is good for you. That's the good news.
The bad news is that the majority of them think that foods that are healthy don't taste good, according to a study conducted by the Gallup Organization, Princeton, N.J.
The poll of 400 children ages nine to 15 was conducted by Gallup for the American Dietetic Association, Chicago, and the International Food Information Council, Washington, along with the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Washington.
Some of the findings could bulk up the belief -- one held by some retailers and others in the industry -- that children represent a neglected market for freshly baked products, particularly bread.
"I think we [retailers] are missing a big opportunity to merchandise healthy products like bread to kids," said Barb Harner, bakery director for Steele's Markets, Fort Collins, Colo. The four-unit Steele's, which does its baking at a central facility, is currently working on formulations and packaging for a line of bread specifically designed to appeal to kids. Commenting on the part of the study that showed most kids think anything that's good for them doesn't taste good, Harner emphasized the need for aggressive sampling and demos. She added that Steele's "kids' bread" will be introduced with kid-appealing spreads such as honey and peanut butter.
Another observer, a veteran of the in-store bakery business, who has long been an advocate of merchandising and marketing bakery products to children, also stressed the importance of reaching kids.
"I know they would be attracted to fresh, crusty bread. It smells good and tastes good, but most children here haven't been exposed to it. In Europe, children will take a fresh, hard roll over any other snack," said Herbert Waschull, former director of bakery for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets. He retired earlier this year after 32 years with the chain.
"The message for supermarkets [in the study] is to do more sampling. Instead of a cookie, they could offer children a piece of warm, freshly baked French bread, for example. It's a matter of showing them how good it is," he added.
Dr. Ron Wirtz, director of information services for American Institute of Baking, Manhattan, Kan., agreed.
"Traditionally kids have liked light-colored breads. Also, anything novel in the bread line can attract their attention. There's a local store here that makes a rainbow bread and bread in school colors, and they just can't make enough of it," Wirtz said.
More than half the participants in the Gallup study agreed "some" or "a lot" that foods that are good for you do not taste good. Only one-third did not agree with that statement.
"I'm surprised that so many children said that what's good for them probably doesn't taste good," Waschull said of the study. "They may not have identified foods they are already eating and liking as good for them. Such as pizza and bread sticks," Wirtz said.
Overall, however, kids seem to be very conscious of their health, the study showed. Seventy-seven percent agreed "a lot" with the statement that it is very important for good health to eat a balanced diet. Another 20% agreed "somewhat" with that statement. Two-thirds agreed "a lot" that they liked to eat different kinds of food, and half agreed "a lot" that trying new foods is good for you. One-third agreed "a lot" that snacks can be an important part of a healthy diet, and 40% agreed somewhat with that statement.
"We've found that kids like many kinds of bread," said Judi Adams, president of Englewood, Colo.-based Wheat Foods Council. The Council is currently kid-testing chewy bread sticks -- made from a recipe it developed -- via school food-service programs.
Fifty-two percent of the children surveyed are aware of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid. Another Gallup poll, commissioned for the Wheat Foods Council, found 56% of adults are somewhat or very familiar with the pyramid.
Of the 52% of children that are aware of the pyramid, 71% could identify breads/cereals/wheat as a food group. Slightly more, 76%, were aware of the meat/fish/poultry group. Almost half of all respondents said they and their family eat together every day.
However, the picture is not completely optimistic, according to the study.
While most kids do not agree that it is all right to eat anything you want anytime you want, nearly a quarter think it's somewhat all right. Another 10% agree a lot that it's all right.
Fewer than half agree a lot with the idea that it's best to eat smaller amounts of many different kinds of foods, and not too much of one kinds. Forty-one percent agreed some with that idea.
Missing meals seems to be a problem for many kids. Half of the kids reported skipping breakfast at some during the week they were polled, and most report skipping breakfast more than once a week. They can also get overloaded with information that will only confuse or bore them, the study found. Nearly three-fourths of respondents said they are tired of hearing about foods that are supposed to be good or bad for them.
"We need to remember that eating is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, not a prescription," said Nancy Schwartz, director of the American Dietetic Association's National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics.