Though often lumped together as a single demographic, the eating habits of children 12 and older differ significantly from their younger peers, according to “U.S. Kids' and Teens' Eating Habits,” a report by Mintel International Group (Chicago).

The 12-14 group demonstrates eating patterns that are more “teen-like” (i.e., less fruit, more chips and candy, eating more with friends). Those 11 and younger, however, primarily are influenced by what their parents want them to eat. As a result, the under-12 demographic consumes a wider range of foods. While they still eat sweets and salty snacks, they also have a much greater incidence of healthful food consumption.

Another distinction can be made between 15- to 17-year-olds and younger teens. More mobile and with a considerably larger spending ability, the older group also is influenced more by their friends than their parents. They eat a significant amount of salty snacks and sweets, but less so than the 12- to 14-year-olds. Older teens tend to have more-varied diets, however.

Drinking, the Snack

When it comes to snacking, it may be somewhat surprising that young people often forego chips or cookies. Instead, they frequently opt for beverages as a snack. Parents strongly influence the youngest children, who consume a wide range of what some perceive as healthful drinks, such as fruit juice. These patterns change as the child becomes less reliant upon the parent. For example, young teens tend to favor colas and juice, while the older group may opt for sports drinks, iced teas and non-carbonated bottled water.

Even in traditional snack choices, differences abound in the snacking choices of teens (12 to 17) and children (6 to 11). Teenagers show a degree of independence in choosing snacks, while children still greatly depend on their parents. Furthermore, teens are less likely to incorporate their parents' preferences into their dietary selections. Parents should not be completely without hope, however; research shows that many consumers carry certain childhood preferences into their teen years and beyond.

Hot Snacks

No matter the age, snacking is a hot trend. The Snack Food Association (Alexandria, Va.) has found that 93% of Americans snack, with 50% doing so at least twice a day. Children in the U.S. frequently prepare their own snack after arriving home after school, and manufacturers have responded with a number of products that blur the line between easily prepared, meal-like kits and traditional snacks such as chips and cookies. Mott's Applesauce (Stamford, Conn.), for example, can be eaten as-is from its small plastic container with easily removed top. Nutritional drinks such as Campbell Soup's (Camden, N.J.) mini V8 vegetable juices are another such “snack.”

For the 6-11 group, parents tend to balance three types of snacks fairly evenly: healthful, salty and sweet. Much to the dismay of the USDA, typical children's and teenagers' diets do not follow food pyramid guidelines. In fact, the USDA found that snacks contribute nearly 20% of the daily calories for more than 80% of the kids who eat snacks. With one in eight kids aged 6-19 considered overweight, the U.S. Surgeon General has declared obesity in children an epidemic.

As a result, some manufacturers have ventured into more-healthful snacking territory, or at least they have brought fortified snacks to market. In test in Canada, for example, is Chiquita Sports Blast Bar from Chiquita Brands (Cincinnati). Formulated for active young people, the bar aims to provide sustained energy. Low in fat and serving as a source of calcium, the Strawberry Banana, Wild Berry, and Apple Cherry Berry flavors are fortified with 15 vitamins and minerals.

Added vitamins and minerals for active kids also can be found in Chewy Caramel cereal bars under Stella Pharmaceutical's (North York, Ontario) Holy Cow brand. Available in Canada, the bars include vitamin B6, calcium and niacin.

Some evidence suggests children in high-income households have better diets than those in low-income households. Mintel's exclusive consumer research found no such patterns in snacking, however. Some specific foods are more likely to be mentioned by consumers in certain income groups. Higher-income households reported greater consumption of snack bars, while meal-type snacks and sandwiches were noted in the lowest income group.

Snacking Palate

Snacks favored by the younger group tend to resemble those of their older peers, though teens consume a wider range of foods. One reason is that teens' palates are so broad that they view many types of foods as snacks. Manufacturers also would be wise to note the significant racial/ethnic differences in snacking, according to Mintel. Asian teens, for example, are more likely to consume ice cream, potato chips and corn/tortilla chips, while Hispanic teens tend to opt for pudding, yogurt and flavored gelatin desserts.

Over half of all adults with children aged 6 to 11 report that the children get their own snacks when they arrive home, with an even greater participation among the teen group. While parents ultimately control what snacks are in the home, it is clear that even very young children have control over billions of dollars of annual household spending. Simmons (New York) found that 78% of children go grocery shopping with their parents, with 31% of teens doing so. Considering some 79% of young people use the microwave without a grownup present (not to mention the 18% that prepare their own snacks or meals at least once a day), processed food and snack developers should consider one very important question in their new products: “Can a child prepare and eat this product without adult supervision?”

For more information on the report mentioned in this article, “Kids' & Teens' Eating Habits,” contact Mintel International Group Ltd.; 213 W. Institute Place, Suite 208; Chicago, IL 60610; phone: 312-932-0400 or visit

Website Resources: — Mintel International Group—”Healthy Foods and Snacking” from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital — ”Latino Children are Snacking More and Eating Less Healthy Foods

Sidebar: Worldly Tastes

A look at snacks for young people around the world reveals quite a few with a maritime appeal. In Japan, Morinaga & Co. has debuted a clam chowder flavor of Ottotto. These non-fried snacks come in nine shapes and also are enriched with calcium, boasting 120mg of the mineral. Marketed to children aged 5 to 12, they feature 2.4g of dietary fiber and retail for the equivalent of $0.91.

A similar seafood slant can be found in a pair of recent snack introductions in the U.K. United Biscuits' KP Foods launched prawn cocktail snacks under the Skips brand. The snacks even went the color-changing route recently—by reformulating as a limited edition that turned tongues yellow.

The same flavor could be found in Transform-a-Snack corn snacks from Red Mill Snacks. Other flavors in the U.K. line of interactive snacks are spicy and pickled onion and a cheese & onion variety.

That interactivity element also came into play (literally) in a launch from PepsiCo in Spain. Its Matutano brand entered Cheetos Skeletos corn snacks into the marketplace as “super-crunchy,” skeleton-shaped Cheetos with a ketchup flavor.

Elsewhere on the Iberian peninsula, Kellogg's took a more healthful route with the launch of Smacks Barritas de Cereales y Leche cereal bars in Portugal. These low-fat cereal and milk bars are made with Kellogg's Smacks cereals and milk, adding calcium (totaling 720mg) and vitamins as well. Vitamins B6 (1.7mg) and B12 (0.8µg), plus niacin (15mg), iron (12mg), thiamin (1.2mg) and folic acid (170µg) also register on the ingredient legend. Rich in carbohydrates, other varieties of the line include Choco Krispies, Frosties and Frosties Choco.