The last couple of weeks have been a busy time for us with the judging of the Free From Food Awards 2018. I have been involved in judging and organising the free from awards now for many years and one of the best days is running and hosting the children’s category.
The children’s category has been running as part of these awards for around six years and it was initiated due to the recognition that children with allergies, food intolerances or coeliac disease do have specific needs. Children of all ages with food allergies can often find themselves excluded from social situations – whether it’s parties, school dinners, eating out with friends and family or finding healthy foods on the go. As a nutritionist I am also aware that we need to nourish our children – not with empty calories or substandard free from products please but with great tasting food that not one would realise is any different from regular options.
As a mother with three children who all have allergies I know first hand how difficult it can be to keep them happy and healthy. In addition as I see many children in my nutrition clinic with food allergies and sensitivities I am very aware of the need for family friendly options.
The children’s category is of course judged by children and we choose children with a range of food allergies. This year for the first time I felt confident that the food being entered could also be eaten by children with nut allergies. In the past labels such as ‘may contain nuts’ had always made me very wary.
This year we had children aged from 8 years to 15 years with around 16 products to sample.
The children are asked to judge the foods in exactly the same way as other categories – this includes taste, texture, appearance, flavour as well as does it meet their needs? and is it a new type of product on the market that they think is valuable? We always like to ask the children “if you served this to your friends do you think they would realise it was free from?” The great thing about many products on the market these days is that they look and taste very similar to regular food options. Children are very honest with their feedback and just like adults they don’t always agree. However this year there was much agreement about who the overall winners should be.
The range of products entered this year was very varied – both sweet and savoury foods were judged.
They included a number of savoury options including fish goujons, beef ragu, veggie straws, mini pitta breads and samosas. Once they had sampled sufficient savoury foods we then moved onto the sweet foods. These were equally enjoyed by the children and the entries included two gluten free and dairy free party cakes, a cupcake mix, dairy free chocolate, dairy free ice-cream, doughnuts, eclairs, yogurt and several gluten free cookies. Two hours later, after much eating, and requests for seconds we had collated their marks and agreed on the winners.
The children love being part of the awards and their feedback is incredibly valuable for manufacturers. There is no point developing a new product you think children will enjoy if you don’t get them involved. What we like as adults may not be the same as our children. We often can make assumptions about what children will and won’t like. This year there were a number of products that the children absolutely loved that are not your typical ‘children’s options’.
Keeping the day running smoothly is of course Michelle and Cressida who behind the scenes help cooking and preparing the food. These two wonderful friends are the pillars behind the whole of the free from awards and are crucial for its success.
After a busy day and lots of full, happy children our lips are sealed until the awards night on April 17th. The shortlist will be announced prior to the awards night – for more information visit the Free From Food Awards Website