July 14, 2024

Not just picky eaters

As the number of children with food allergies continues to rise, April Waterston looks at how we can best cater for them onboard...

We’ve covered food allergies extensively in Onboard Hospitality magazine in recent years, and the dangers of risky allergens to some passengers is well known. 

The good news is, a huge amount of development has gone into improving the food we serve onboard to ensure it negates as many risks as possible for those who suffer with potentially life-threatening allergies. There is still progress to be made but a growing number of caterers are now offering allergen-friendly meals, and crew training has increased to improve safety inflight.

However, we need to give equal attention to even the smallest of passengers. Shocking statistics suggest that children’s allergies have increased 300% over the past few years. Now, an estimated 8% of children in the United States, 7% in the UK and 6% in Europe are thought to have food allergies. 

This has been attributed to overly-hygienic modern upbringings resulting in less natural exposure, as well as a lack of allergen exposure during weaning, when babies first start to eat. No one is 100% sure of the reasons for the increase but experts do however expect the number of children with allergies to rise further – and with it the demand for allergen-free children’s food both on the ground and inflight.

Just for kids

Foodcase International and Niche Free-From Kitchen are two caterers partnering to tackle the issue. Together they have created Cub Food, a fun, allergen-friendly line of children’s meals designed for service inflight. Led by Cub, a friendly cartoon bear, the range aims to bring parents and carers peace of mind with dishes designed and tested to be safe against key allergens.

“The Cub Food concept truly represents the need of airlines looking for products and concepts which give an extra service experience onboard,” says Wilbert de Louw, Founder of Foodcase International. “Happy kids mean happy parents. Cub food for sure fills a gap in the market, there is a need, and it also helps us to diversify and differentiate ourselves from others in the market.”

Cub Food also provides educational and awareness messaging with children’s stories and projects linked to the range and including references to food allergies and healthy eating. 

“As an allergy-focused children’s brand we aim to help raise awareness around food allergies and promote education around the importance of safe and healthy eating habits for children with such allergies,” adds Marc Warde, founder of Niche Free-From Kitchen. “This can help to improve the overall health and well-being of children with food allergies, and help to prevent allergic reactions from occurring.”

Developing choice

Containing allergens or not, children’s food requires a different thought process to food development for adult menus. Growing children have different nutritional needs, and they have different tastes and preferences. The team behind Cub Food has tackled this through extensive testing – in their words: “By trying, failing and trying again” – and by cleverly incorporating hidden vegetables in the meals.The product range is extensive and varied, promising something for everyone. Options include plant-based or meat-based burgers in a soft, gluten-free burger bun with ‘saucy sauce’, and plant-based or meat-based hot dogs, also in a gluten-free bun with saucy sauce.

There is a breakfast muffin and, reflecting the growing diversity of cuisines eaten by children, there is also a mix of dishes drawn from global and trying again” and by cleverly incorporating hidden vegetables in the meals.

For example, there is a Chow Down chow mein with chicken balls and spring roll, an Indian chicken pie with curly fries and plant-based enchiladas, filled with vegetables and a slightly spicy sauce, topped with a plant-based cheese sauce. Choices also include a Swedish-style pasta meatballs dish featuring plant-based meatballs in a creamy gravy served with gluten-free pasta, Crispy chicken balls with a mild Vietnamese sauce with noodles and naturally creamy, tomato risotto with hidden vegetables and chicken sausage.

Despite the challenges, the product range is extensive and varied, promising something for everyone.