American parents now have support from the federal government when they withhold cake and cookies from their tots under 2 years old. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, for the first time provided guidance for the country’s youngest consumers, recommending that infants are fed only breast milk for the first six months and children under 2 receive no added sugar. Once they blow out the candles on their second birthday, added sugar should be limited to less than 10% of calories per day.

While sweet treats may be discouraged, parents rely on baked goods to satisfy their children from the moment that first tooth breaks skin. Cereal bars, cheesy crackers, flavorful bites, pops and puffs become mainstays in car rides and lunch boxes. To differentiate in the crowded marketplace, bakers are fortifying these foods with essential nutrients for proper growth and development.

“Many children don’t get enough of key nutrients like fiber, vitamin A, calcium, vitamin D and iron,” said Nathan Pratt, nutritional scientist, Kerry. “Fortification is one way to help children get these nutrients through the foods they are already eating.”

In fact, parents are looking for fortified products that will supplement their children’s nutrition. Research shows that parents prioritize products that are nutrient-rich and natural. According to the FMCG Gurus Early Life Nutrition survey, more than 60% of parents find “improves nutritional levels” an appealing claim when shopping for their children.

When it comes to formulating these products, Mr. Pratt suggested the best place to start is with those that already have inherent health benefits: whole grains, high fiber and high protein.

“Adding vitamins and minerals to foods that have low nutritional value, such as most cakes, brownies or cookies, is usually discouraged because it can encourage children or parents to choose these foods instead of healthier foods,” he said.

Fortification is all about adding extra nutrition and is not to be confused with enrichment, a term associated with white flour. Enrichment is about adding nutrients back into a food to compensate for loss during processing. Proper nutrition is critical to a child’s development, but picky eaters can make it difficult for caregivers to get them the vitamins and minerals they need.

“With the increased focus on overall well-being and health amidst the pandemic, more and more parents are realizing how important of a role nutrition plays in kids’ physical, mental and cognitive health,” said Patrick Quinn, former educator and current parenting expert at Brainly, an online learning community headquartered in Poland.

Fortifying baked goods and other foods kids already eat can go a long way to bridging this nutrition gap.

“School meals are the most far-reaching and applicable products to enrich,” said Hanna Santoro, senior scientist-baking development and applications, ADM. “School cafeteria staples, such as pizza crust, breading on chicken nuggets, muffins, buns and breads, all provide perfect vehicles for enrichment and fortification.”

With baked goods being a favorite among children, the no-added-sugar advice poses challenges to bakers. It also presents an opportunity to get creative with products designed for the nutritional requirements of little ones. Using fruits, vegetables and sweet flavors are one way to add palatability while still following the guidelines. Another way to differentiate is to fortify baked goods with nutrients lacking in many youngsters’ diets. When parents are shooting for that “less than 10% of total calories from sugar,” a nutrient-dense product is attractive, even if it contains some sugar.

“These products are an integral part of a child’s nutrition,” said Christina Mesch, product manager, SternVitamin. “Especially picky eaters who may not consume adequate amounts of micronutrients can benefit from fortified baked goods. Bakers can use fortification to widen their product range and win new consumer groups.”

This article is an excerpt from the June 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Fortification & Enrichments, click here.