Brits are eating more adventurously than ever before, and that desire to experiment with food is being passed on to offspring early – before they hit their first birthday, in fact.
According to a survey of 1,600 parents conducted by website MadeForMums last year, 26% of babies had eaten curry in their first three months of solid food, while 47% had done so by the age of 1.
"We know parents are keen to give their babies and young children a broad variety of tastes and flavours from early on,” Susie Boon, editorial director of MadeForMums, tells Food Spark. “This is partly due to scientific studies that suggest a varied early diet may lead to reduced fussiness later on.”
Papaya, prunes, spinach and pumpkin are all solid favourites, but mums and dads also feed their offspring quinoa, pilchards, artichoke, calamari – and even the odd ostrich or kangaroo.
But when it comes to ready meals for children, the own-label options in supermarkets are largely unadventurous. A pasta with meatballs here, a cottage pie there. The one slightly progressive variation appears to be the chicken curry, which is included in the Sainsbury’s Little Ones range and Iceland’s recently launched Hungry Heroes.
Recently entering Co-op, Nom Noms World Food is hoping to bring more fun to the culinary playground.
Play with your food
Founded by Lisa Sohanpal, Nom Noms originally debuted in Selfridge’s and Ocado in 2015. It’s taken a while, though, for the products to reach brick-and-mortar stores across the UK.
“Being listed in one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains is a huge milestone for the brand at this exciting time,” said Sohanpal. “Nom Noms is completely unique in its flavour profiles and is ideally presented for young nom nommers to enjoy a wholesome meal at home or for super convenient summer picnics.”
Co-op will be stocking two SKUs from the brand in 210 stores: the North Indian spinach butter chicken with pea pilau rice and the Malaysian chicken laksa with rice noodles. Sold in 235g packs for£2.65, they’ve been specifically created to expand kids’ edible experiences without introducing flavours that are too spicy or overpowering.
Other options sold on the Nom Noms site include chicken biryani, veggie tagine and Keralan fish curry.
Beyond just the taste, the packaging has also been designed to appeal to youngsters, with quizzes and puzzles designed to educate them about other countries and cultures. On the CSR side, for every meal sold Nom Noms donates a meal to underprivileged children via the Akshaya Patra Foundation.
The company is also readying to launch its adult range of internationally flavoured wraps into online fitness retailer Muscle Foods. Think Korean beef, Caribbean jerk chicken and Indian veg kathi.
Brands like Annabel Karmel and Little Dish – one or both of which are stocked in all the major supermarkets – are also moving tentatively beyond the British-Italian comfort zone. Both do versions of chicken tikka, while AK also offers a chicken and sausage paella and Little Dish boasts moussaka.
Making baby food and toddler meals, For Aisha is arguably the most adventurous with its offering, which includes Cambodian fish and coconut curry as well as a chermoula chicken Moroccan stew with dates.
There’s a clear desire in parents for more innovative options, but there is a danger of becoming too exotic and putting the actual eaters off their food.
“We know from conversations in our forum that fussy eating is a big issue in many homes, and not all toddlers are adventurous when it comes to mealtimes,” says Boon. “Indeed, food can be one of the first areas where toddlers start flexing their newfound skill of saying ‘no.’
“We've seen over the past couple of years more adventurous and unusual toddler ready meals come onto the market, which is great to see. But while the parent market is keen, the younger audience can be more suspicious. And there's only so many meals on the floor/in the bin/in the dog that a parent will experience before returning to the old favourites."