What are parents currently most concerned about—and investing in—when it comes to their kids’ nutrition and wellbeing? We asked the experts to outline top issues and offerings for 2023 and beyond.


1) Allergen-Free and Dietary Restrictions

Allergies and dietary restrictions are a top concern for parents. Alexandra Santos, M.D., MSc, MRCPCH, FHEA, Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Paediatric Food Allergy at King's College London, reported on the greater prevalence, noting, “The increase in allergies is not simply the effect of society becoming more aware of them and better at diagnosing them. It is thought that allergies and increased sensitivity to foods are probably environmental, and related to Western lifestyles.”

In response, parents are seeking out products that help protect their kids. Take the sensitivity to gluten (and demand for gluten-free fare): In 2022, the Gluten Intolerance Group's (GIG) Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) third-party gluten-free certification program certified 9,300 products from more than 800 brands worldwide. GIG reported that this marks a significant increase, with the number of new certifications increased by 7,255 products from 2021 to 2022.

“Many children face allergies or dietary restrictions, and parents are often on the lookout for suitable alternatives,” say Mighty Yum Founders Howard Panes and Mark Elkman. “Mighty Yum recognizes this concern and offers a range of allergy-friendly options, such as gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free snacks. By catering to various dietary needs, Mighty Yum ensures that parents can find natural options that are safe and enjoyable for their children.”

Todd Goldstein, Founder of Whoa Dough, knows of the need first hand. “As a dad with gluten intolerance, along with my sons, I fully understand the concerns that parents have regarding food allergens such as gluten, soy, eggs, and dairy,” he shares. “Parents strive to provide healthy and nutritious snacks that are safe and free from these allergens, ensuring the well-being of their children. Like me, they carefully scrutinize ingredient labels, searching for allergen-free options to avoid any potential allergic reactions or discomfort. Parents are concerned about the potential health risks and want to create a safe environment for their children's snacking habits. By being mindful of these concerns and selecting healthy snacks that are free from popular allergens, parents can offer their children delicious and worry-free treats that cater to their specific dietary needs.”

Acknowledging parental concerns about the rise in food intolerances, Chloe Epstein, Co-founder and President, Chloe’s, notes, “We keep all these concerns in mind when creating our Chloe’s treats. We have remained dairy- and gluten-free throughout all our product lines. Most importantly, we do not compromise on ingredients with any of our offerings including our smaller-sized, family pack of Marvel inspired pops. In creating these Marvel inspired pops, we considered the children's palettes and preferences in flavor selection and the parents’ priorities with ingredients. It’s a delicious win for everyone.”

This trend applies to supps and medications, as well.  On the medication side, Genexa offers clean medicine options for kids that are free of artificial inactive ingredients, plus are Certified Gluten-Free, Non-GMO Verified, and free of common allergens. 


 2) Emotional Wellbeing

“The COVID-19 pandemic era ushered in new challenges for youth in the United States, leading to a mental health crisis, as the United States Surgeon General declared just over a year ago,” says Maggie McNamara, Marketing Director, Gencor. “But U.S. children and teens have been suffering for far longer.”

McNamara adds, “In the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness—as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors—increased by about 40% among young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, nearly 20% of children and young people ages 3 to 17 in the United States have a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. Mental health challenges were the leading cause of death and disability in this age group.”

Parents are rightly concerned. “According to the Pew Research Center report, 40% of U.S. parents are ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ worried that their children will struggle with anxiety or depression at some point,” McNamara says. “The report indicates that mental health was the greatest concern among parents, followed by bullying, which worried 35% of parents. These concerns trumped fears of kidnapping, dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy, and getting into trouble with the police. Hence, it’s very safe to say that parents today are very concerned with their children’s mental wellbeing. But for many parents, giving their child a drug to help with mood can be a double-edged sword, so more and more parents are looking for natural and less invasive remedies to help their children cope with daily mental struggles.”

One such option: Affron, Gencor’s branded saffron extract, standardized to 3.5% Lepticrosalide. It has been clinically tested in adolescents, and shown to help with a positive mood and to alleviate occasional stress, frustration, and tension from the child’s perspective. “Accompanying a dietary supplement like Affron with time spent outdoors, a healthy diet, and adequate activity can help a child’s mental and physical well-being for improved health,” says McNamara. “Clearly, there is a time and a place for recommending psychiatric medications to children. However, because the bulk of psychopharmacology research has not been done with children, we need to be especially judicious with medications in the pediatric population. Pediatricians, family doctors, nurse practitioners, and child and adolescent psychiatrists are constantly looking for legitimate information on supplements, botanicals, and vitamins that can produce real results for children, and favor recommending only evidence-based nutraceuticals. Affron not only has nine clinical studies, but has also been studied in adolescents.”

A cleaner, nutrient-rich diet is also beneficial. “Children's emotional well-being is a top priority for parents, particularly in today's fast-paced and stressful world. Natural options can support emotional well-being through various means. Mighty Yum offers snacks that are free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, allowing parents to provide their children with nourishing food that avoids potentially negative impacts on mood and behavior,” Panes says. “Additionally, incorporating mindfulness and relaxation techniques into daily routines, such as deep breathing exercises or yoga, can help children manage stress and build resilience naturally.”


3) Healthy Development

“A child’s body is going through a very dynamic period, requiring a variety of nutrients to support them,” Dr. Stacey Smith, Communications and Marketing Manager NORAM with Gnosis by Lesaffre, says. “A top concern as a parent is to provide everything possible for their child to be happy, healthy, and thrive. As the kids become more active and capable of surviving on their own, they need to have been given the tools to make good choices. This includes understanding when to fill in the gaps due to their lifestyle, whether they need to fuel up for a weekend tournament, or rest and replenish after one.”

Three essential ingredients that are performing well and in high demand for children’s health products, per Dr. Smith:

  • Vitamin K2 as MK-7, which promotes bone health by activating osteocalcin, a crucial K-dependent protein already in the body. “Once activated, osteocalcin binds calcium to the bone mineral matrix, leading to stronger, denser bones,” Dr. Smith says. “In fact, a 2014 clinical study of healthy children and adults showed that children had the highest levels of inactive osteocalcin—8 to 10 times higher than adults—reflecting low vitamin K status and therefore the greatest need for K2 supplementation.
  • Vitamin D3, which offers immune-supporting properties, plus promotes production of bone-building osteocalcin and supports calcium absorption from the diet, Dr. Smith says.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which promote learning and cognitive function, and vision health.

“MenaQ7, the only clinically validated K2 as MK-7, has been used in child-specific studies demonstrating it safely and effectively led to more active osteocalcin, leading to stronger, denser bones,” Dr. Smith says. “It has also been shown to work synergistically with vitamin D3 and omega-3.” The clinically proven recommended daily dose of MenaQ7 for children is 45 to 50 mcg, Dr. Smith notes, adding that child-specific products are available that offer synergistic combination formulas palatable for kids, lending to greater compliance.

In addition: “Parents are increasingly concerned about providing their children with a balanced diet that supports their growth and development,” say Panes and Elkman. “Natural options can play a crucial role in meeting these nutritional needs. Mighty Yum emphasizes sustainably sourced ingredients, non-GMO, and plant-based options to incorporate into children's diets. These natural alternatives help reduce exposure to artificial additives, preservatives, and excessive sugar, promoting a healthier eating routine.” 

Within those healthy diets, parents are increasingly aware of the impact of gut health on their children's overall health and immune system, they add. “Natural options like probiotic-rich foods and drinks can support a healthy gut.”


4) Better Picks for Kids & the Planet

There is a shift toward foods and supplements that are cleaner and greener, better for both children and Mother Earth.

“Being more conscientious consumers, parents are taking the time to read labels and make informed choices for their children's nutrition ensuring their kids get nutritious and delicious,” say Else Nutrition USA’s Kayla Bridges, DCN, RD-AP, CNSC, FAND, Medical Director, North America, and Vanna Kent, RD, Medical Sales Manager. “They prioritize minimal added sugars and cleaner ingredients, avoiding unnecessary dyes and artificial substances.”

Bridges adds, “Else Nutrition offers a line of plant-based pediatric products that cater to these needs made with minimally processed ingredients, minimal added sugars, and the Clean Label Project Purity Award. This means all products undergo third-party testing for over 400 contaminants that could potentially impact long-term health. With Else Nutrition's commitment to these standards, parents can find solace in providing their children with wholesome options that meet their concerns and fulfill their kids' nutritional requirements.”

Parents are seeking out products that are safe from environmental contaminants, like plasticizers, pesticides, and toxic heavy metals, Bridges and Kent say. “Parents are recognizing the potential adverse effects on their child's health. The abundance of information about the negative effects of ultra-processed foods has prompted parents to proactively educate themselves on reading food labels, acknowledging various ingredient sources, and even delving into details like the form of salts and the origins of specific vitamins and nutrients.”

Gael Orr, Director of Marketing, Once Again Nut Butter, sees this as well. “Parents are paying close attention to ingredient labels and wanting to provide their kids with snacks that deliver real nutrition. Once Again’s certified organic graham cracker sandwiches deliver 3-5g of plant protein, plus fiber and healthy fats to satisfy hunger and provide little ones with the fuel they need to have energy throughout the day. They’re also handcrafted free of artificial ingredients and preservatives, making the cracker sandwiches a clean, kid-friendly choice that parents can feel good about.”

Plant-based is a winner with parents, and for good reason. Panes and Elkman explain, “Plant-based food offers a healthy option that supports the immune system, providing essential nutrients to keep our children's cells healthy and their bodies balanced. By introducing wholesome, plant-based options into their diet, parents can instil healthy eating habits that will have a lasting impact on their children's well-being.”

Cutting sugar along with chemicals is another key element. Dave Rosenberg, NOW Food Category Manager, explains, “Parents are increasingly more vigilant over their children’s health and are looking to avoid less-healthy or questionable ingredients while still satisfying the cravings and needs of their kids. Rather than giving up snacks and sweets, they’re seeking out more wholesome and healthier alternatives.”

As part of this effort, Rosenberg says, “There is a distinct move away from artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners. Brands that have capitalized on this trend have taken artificial colors out of candy or have developed whole grain snacks without adding a lot of sugar. Kids want familiar foods that taste good, and parents are meeting this need by choosing more natural alternatives. Sugar remains a big concern as obesity in children continues to increase. Fortunately, there are numerous zero-calorie, low-glycemic alternative sweeteners—such as allulose, stevia, and monk fruit—to reduce or eliminate sugar in snacks and prepared foods. We’re increasingly seeing brands formulate with these alternative sweeteners to reduce the amount of sugar and calories in their products while still maintaining a taste profile that pleases children’s sugar cravings.”

Noting similar, Katelyn Kaney, CEO, Cattaneo Bros., says, “Many parents, including myself, are concerned about the amount of sugar, along with artificial ingredients and preservatives, found in many snacks designed for kids. I became passionate about providing cleaner food choices for families and this led me to create Range 100% Grass-fed Beef Jerky. Made from simple, high-quality ingredients that include sustainable, locally sourced, top-round beef, red wine vinegar, and hand-mixed spices, the lineup is unique in that it contains no sugar and no nitrites.”

This drive for cleaner, lower-sugar options extends beyond foods, Rosenberg adds. “We also see concern around the amount of sugar in children’s gummies, so we formulate our chewable kid’s vitamins and supplements to be sugar free, sweetened instead with monk fruit and stevia as alternatives.”

The final word: “Remember the best way to address your top concerns for your child's nutrition as a parent is not only about physical health, but also about promoting emotional well-being, self-esteem, and a positive relationship with food,” say Panes and Elkman. “Let us prioritize the health of our children by embracing natural and nourishing choices that pave the way for a brighter and healthier future.”  

Lunchbox Winners!

Our experts shared their offerings for ensuring kids settle into the lunch or snack table with a smile.


For a protein-packed treats

  • “Cattaneo Bros. Range 100% Grass-fed Beef Jerky delivers 16g of clean, portable protein to provide little ones with the energy they need for the school day,” says Katelyn Kaney, CEO, Cattaneo Bros. “Kids love that the extra-thin jerky is easy to eat and tears like string cheese! Parents appreciate that this jerky contains no sugar, and that unlike when packing deli meat, they don’t have to worry about refrigeration or short expiration dates. Individual strips fit great in a lunchbox, plus a snack pack and larger pouches are available as well.”
  • “A popular back-to-school item is Harvest Snaps Mixed Snack Pack, a bag-in-bag offering that includes single-serve bags of our best-selling Lightly Salted and Tomato Basil flavors, along with Crunchy Loops Sour Cream and Onion,” says Sandra Payer, Head of Marketing, Calbee America, Inc. “The perfect size for lunch boxes, each features farm-picked green peas or red lentils as the #1 ingredient to deliver plant protein and a good source of fiber in every serving. The kid-friendly, tasty snacks are also completely free of artificial flavors, preservatives, and common allergens.”
  • “Freshé is the perfect addition to kids' lunchboxes,” says Henry Lovejoy, Co-founder, Freshé. “These artisanal tinned meals bring authentic global flavors to their fingertips. Not only are they ready-to-eat, but they also pack a punch of protein in small portions. Whether your child wants a meal or a satisfying snack during school or after-school activities, Freshé offers a delicious and convenient option. Made with simple ingredients like sustainably sourced proteins such as wild-caught Tuna or Atlantic salmon, vibrant superfoods, omega-3s, fiber, vegetables, and olive oil, they provide a nutritious and wholesome choice for kids. With a range of savory selections like Sicilian Caponata and Barcelona Escalivada, Freshé introduces kids to diverse flavors and expands their culinary horizons. Parents can rest assured knowing that these meals are shelf-stable for up to four years and do not require heating or refrigeration, making them perfect for busy households. The BPA-free artisanal tins ensure freshness and quality while being gluten-free and GMO-free. Whether your child is at school or engaging in after-school activities, Freshé is a tasty choice that will keep them satisfied and energized throughout the day.”
  • “When it comes to convenient and lunch-box worthy snacks for back-to-school, Mighty Yum offers a range of new and popular options that prioritize health and taste,” say company founders Howard Panes and Mark Elkman. “Getting kids to eat healthy food can be quite a challenge, especially when it comes to convenient and lunch-box worthy snacks for back-to-school. However, Mighty Yum understands the struggle and has come up with a range of options that kids love and parents trust.” A few examples: Mighty Yum Munchables Lunch Kits are created with 100% plant-based, healthy non-GMO ingredients. Mighty Yum meals are available in classic flavors like turkey & cheese and pepperoni pizza, with the same flavor and texture as traditional meat and cheese. Mighty Yum Puffed Rice Protein Bars are100% plant-based, non-GMO, and dairy-, nut, and gluten-free, with 4-g of protein. 

For gluten-free goodness

  • Once Again Nut Butter’s graham cracker sandwiches are a convenient, individually wrapped snack that’s surprisingly filling, tasty, and super easy to pack in lunchboxes,” says Gael Orr, Director of Marketing. “They deliver all the sweet taste that kids love but are made with a wholesome blend of organic sorghum flour, organic oat flour and organic cassava flour in the crackers and filled with creamy, simple-ingredient peanut butter or sunflower butter. In addition to being certified organic, they’re also certified gluten free and vegan, making them a fit for families following special diets.”
  • “Mightylicious gluten-free cookies are conveniently packaged in two-packs for busy parents and professionals,” says CEO Carolyn Haeler. “They are made with pure, clean, simple ingredients like cage-free eggs, grape juice, real coconut, whole oats, natural vanilla, and real grade A butter. Best of all, these snacks were created by the founder who has celiac disease herself, which means each cookie is baked with empathy for anyone who is living with a restrictive diet or looking for a better-for-you, delicious snack that is actually worthy of the most discriminating toddler’s palette.”
  • Whoa Dough Cookie Dough snack bars are allergen-friendly, made without gluten, dairy, soy, or eggs, non-GMO, and vegan and kosher certified (OU). With 4 to 5 grams of protein and less than 10 grams of sugar, they offer a nutritious alternative to high-sugar snacks. “Individually wrapped for convenience and freshness, these bars capture the yummy taste of raw cookie dough using 100% plant-based, wholesome ingredients,” says Todd Goldstein, Founder of Whoa Dough. “Parents can confidently pack them in lunch boxes, knowing they are making a delicious, healthy, and convenient choice.”


For a healthier sip

  • “At NOW, we offer Slender Sticks water enhancers, which are a great sugar-free alternative to soft drinks, sports drinks, and other caloric beverages,” says Dave Rosenberg, NOW Food Category Manager. “The sticks come in a variety of vibrant fruit flavors and are easily added to a bottle of water to create a refreshing beverage with 50% of 8 daily vitamins and 15 calories or less per serving. NOW Real Food also offers a variety of lunchbox friendly snacks such as dried fruit, organic nuts, and sesame sticks.”
  • “With the rising convenience factor of ready-to-drink products, Else Nutrition is launching an Else Kids beverage in an 8-oz tetra-carton, perfectly fitting for school lunch boxes,” says Else Nutrition USA’s Vanna Kent, RD, Medical Sales Manager.


For complete nutrition

  • “Else Nutrition offers a range of Toddler & Kids products to fulfill these needs as whole-plant-based milk alternatives,” says Kent. “Our products have a more complete and balanced nutrient profile than many other options, providing all macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) along with 20+ vitamins and minerals while keeping added sugars low. They can be combined with a child's favorite milk, with fresh fruits/veggies to create delicious breakfast or after-school treats.” And, she adds, “For those feeling particularly creative, Else Nutrition's website offers fun recipes utilizing Else Kids, including energy balls, bars, and even cake, allowing parents to explore various snack options that are both healthy and enjoyable for their children.