Prepared Foods of June 20, 2005 enewsletter

New data from a leading market research firm show fresh fruit as the most popular snack among children -- a finding greeted with some skepticism by nutritionists.

The research by the NPD Group showed yogurt in second place with children ages two to seven. Potato chips come in second for boys seven to 12, while girls in that age group prefer gum. Chocolate candy ranks in the top five for all children two to 12.

The news comes at a time of growing concern about children eating too much junk food. The NPD Group tracks snack trends by having 750 people do online surveys about the snacks they ate the day before. Parents record what children under seven ate.

Fresh fruit's high rating does not surprise Harry Balzer, vice president of NPD. "We often forget that fruit is a very popular snack food in America. Families are trying to feed their families with healthy products."

Children eat about 1.3 servings of fruit a day, according to Produce for Better Health Foundation, a non-profit group. Most children need more than double that amount, the group says. Kids' favorites in order of preference are apples, bananas, grapes, peaches, oranges, berries, pears and pineapple.

Some nutritionists are shocked by fruit's high snack rating in the NPD survey and insist that kids still fall short on fruit intake. "I'm in total disbelief," says Marilyn Tanner, a dietitian at St. Louis Children's Hospital. "When I talk to kids about what they are snacking on, often it is chips. It's a rare child that is eating fruit."

Says Northwestern University nutritionist Linda Van Horn, whose recent study showed that kids get a third of their calories from pizza, desserts and snacks, "Parents certainly want their children to consume more fruits as snacks, but the reality may not measure up."

NPD found that favored snacks for 18- to 54-year-old adults are gum, chocolate, fresh fruit, breath or candy mints, and ice cream. Gum and candy are popular because they are convenient and portable, Balzer says.