Food

Do kids enjoy plant-based meat?

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A study shows that kids’ perception of food is influenced by product composition and sensorial aspects such as appearance, aroma, texture, and taste.

Plant-based meat has been widely accepted globally as alternative meat products continue to generate buzz.

And, with a new wave of conscious consumerism, more and more people are reducing meat consumption for health, the planet and the animals.

According to a recent study by research firm The Hartman Group, an estimated 48% of consumers look for products labelled as “plant-based.”

However, do kids like eating plant-based meat? Are these products even suitable for them? A number of studies attempt to answer these questions.

Kids’ perception of plant-based meat analogues

A new study published in ScienceDirect indicated that the kids’ perception of plant-based meat analogues is influenced by product composition and sensorial aspects such as appearance, aroma, texture, and taste.

Researchers from Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands interviewed 34 kids – aged 8, 9 or 10 years old and who usually ate meat products.

The kids were presented with a vegan burger and plant-based meatballs, as well as vegetarian options from Nestlé’s Garden Gourmet brand and Unilever’s The Vegetarian Butcher brand.

The study findings showed that the kids perceived meat alternatives to be healthy and this observation was unrelated to the vegetable content and reduced amount of fat.

The positive perception of meat alternatives was influenced by palatability, which was noted to be satisfactory for most children surveyed.

Moreover, children’s empathy towards animals also contributed towards their favourable judgement of meat alternatives.

Finally, although, the children appreciated the resemblance of the packaging of meat alternatives when comparing it to conventional meat, they were of the opinion that the packaging should communicate that it contains a meat substitute.

The results indicated that the younger generations are more open to explore plant-based analogues, especially if the taste and texture match their meat counterparts.

A separate 2019 poll commissioned by Linda McCartney Foods found that 70% of children want to see more vegan and veggie meals on their school menu.

Around 1,000 children between the ages of 8-16 were interviewed.

The survey found that 44% of school pupils had reduced meat consumption, and 10% already lived a meat-free lifestyle. 

The motivations for the kids moving away from meat were being kinder to animals (44%) and the environment (31%). An additional 29% said they wanted to be healthier, and 19% said they just preferred a vegetarian lifestyle.

Is a vegan diet healthy for kids?

There is a unanimous consensus that a well-planned, varied plant-based diet is suitable for everyone, including children. 

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ‘appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.’ 

A healthy plant-based diet contains all the healthy fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals growing children need.

That means a diet made up of whole plant foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetables, pulses, legumes, whole grains and fruits is absolutely suitable for young kids.

Furthermore, Louisa Matwiejczyk, lecturer and advanced accredited practising dietitian at Flinders University said: “As supported by lots of studies over generations, if the diet is well-planned, there is no risk of children being malnourished while following a vegetarian diet.”

“Both short-term and longitudinal studies have found that vegetarian children grow at the same rate as their meat-eating peers and grow up into being very healthy adults.”

Matwiejczyk, however, cautioned that children on vegan diets need to be monitored more carefully to make sure they are getting all the requisite nutrients.

“That is a subpopulation that could be at risk of malnutrition as it is really hard to get calories in for children on a vegan diet,” she said.

“Because there are essential nutrients that are only found in animal products, there can be serious effects if children miss out on those nutrients.”

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