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The Kids Are Alright

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In a culture where 10-year-olds now carry cell phones and wear trendy clothes, the old adage about kids growing up fast has taken on a bittersweet meaning for many parents.

kidcook.jpgNot so when it comes to healthful eating, where they’ve become more than happy to treat their children like little grown-ups. Many have begun enrolling their kids with organizations like Austin, Texas-based Batter Up Kids, which offers classes, camps and field trips dedicated to healthy and practical cooking. They’re also cooking more at home. As The New York Times recently reported, publishers are coming out with more cookbooks marketed directly at children. Many of them focus on sophisticated healthful meals and snacks. Celebrity chefs like Paula Deen and Rachel Ray are even taking a crack at the market.

Across the pond, they’re way ahead of the curve. Earlier this year, England’s Department for Children, Schools and Families announced that, starting in 2011, every 11- to 14-year-old will be required to take cooking classes in school . This isn’t your mom’s Home Economics class, either. Aimed at curbing the country’s own obesity epidemic, the classes teach kitchen basics along with proper nutrition and healthful recipes. They’ll also cover trim twists on some of England’s classic dishes (mmm, shepherd’s pie).

For retailers and manufacturers, all of this is worth paying attention to. Many companies have traded in food colorings and high fructose corn syrup for all-natural ingredients. And stores like Lowes Foods and Price Chopper have offered health-focused store tours and scavenger hunts. But this latest generation of precocious, hands-on young eaters may signal a new direction in health and wellness marketing. The more they and their parents know about dieting and nutrition, the more they’ll demands they’ll make on the products they buy.

The after-school snack just got a whole lot more interesting.

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