Ever since we launched it in 2013 the Children’s category in the FreeFrom Food Awards had been organised for us by nutritional therapist and special diet chef Christine Bailey who many of you will know well. Apart from having three children of her own on restricted diets Christine advises a number of children with severe allergies so she was always able to gather together a group of 8 to 10 kids to act as our judging panel.
These sessions were greatly enjoyed by the children – a chance to taste some new and exciting foods that they could actually eat – and worked well in that we did get some feed back from the children to pass on to manufacturers. However we felt that we really needed more.
Children’s food is such an important category. Nutritious food is essential for freefrom children, as their diet can be very restricted – but they can be difficult and fussy eaters, for very understandable reasons. And there is so much more involved in childrens’ diets than just the food: the family’s economic circumstances; the availability of freefrom food in their area; whether both parents and children understand food labelling; the whole family’s awareness of nutrition; how interested they are in sustainability, animal welfare, food miles; how affected are the children by marketing messages…..
We also wanted to know how their tastes and food awareness changed as they grow up from toddlers to teenagers heading off to an independent life at university.
We therefore decided to upend the usual FFFood Awards blind judging protocol entirely. Instead of having a group of children gathered together for a blind judging session at Christine’s, with the help of our nutritionist judges we are going to select a group of families with children ranging from four or five up to late teens. We are then going to ask them to go and buy the entries we want them to judge. Although we will reimburse them for their purchases this will give them (and us) a handle on whether most freefrom foods designed for children are within their budget – and how easy they are to find.
We will ask them to cook the food (how easy are the dishes to prepare?) and then ask the whole family to discuss not just what the foods taste like but what they thought of their packaging, their labeling, the marketing / messaging on the packs; the ethical approach of the company and anything else relevant – such as whether the kids would be happy to offer these foods to their friends and what other foods would they like to see on the market.
Finally we will ask them to fill in a questionnaire which will, we hope, reflect all of the above – both from the parents’ and the children’s point of view.
These questionnaires will come back to us to be analysed. We will put their conclusions to a panel of our expert judges who will assess how nutritious the foods actually are and taste them. They will then award medals as they see fit.
Our thinking is that this will not only give us much better insight into what the children actually think about the food on offer, but will enable us to offer a much more in depth steer to manufacturers wanting to access this market.
Watch this space….
Meanwhile, to enter your products, go here.