Snacking preferences of primary school children as a guideline to develop a sensory acceptable snack food item enhanced with Moringa oleifera
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Introduction: South Africa, like many other developing countries, is challenged by malnutrition among children. Globally, the nutritional status of children is a cause for great concern. The nutritional shift towards diets laden with sugar, fat and salt contribute towards the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Snacking plays a pivotal role in the diets of children; however, the consumption of unhealthy snacks or ‘junk’ food poses a serious risk to a child’s nutritional well-being. Moringa oleifera was selected for snack food development in this study, as this plant is a significant source of nutrients. Aim: The aim of this study was to determine the snacking preferences of children (grades 4-7 in four schools in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, in order to develop a sensory acceptable snack enhanced with Moringa oleifera. Methodology: Two hundred primary school children between grades 4-7 were selected through stratified random sampling of schools in Verulam, KZN, South Africa through informed consent to participate in this study. In addition, ten parents/caregivers formed part of the preliminary study to determine the snacking habits of children in the selected grades. This information was reported in the form of themes. A Snack Food Frequency Questionnaire (SFFQ) was administered to children for the sole purpose of determining snacking preferences. This was supplemented by an observational study to assist with identifying the most frequent tuck shop purchases. Thereafter, once the top three snack items were identified, the main study continued with the development of a healthy snack, through three cooking trials before an appropriate product was developed. The final product was made using three different amounts of dried Moringa leaves (1g Moringa, 2g Moringa and 3g Moringa per 22g portion) in a maize chip. The developed product was then subjected to nutrient testing in order to determine the vitamin A, zinc, iron and calcium content of the three different variants. The carbohydrate, fat, energy and sodium values were calculated by using the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) International standardised methods. Microbiological and shelf life testing were also conducted to ensure the chips were safe for human consumption. Consumer acceptance sensory evaluation was conducted among the children (n=100) to determine the most preferred amount of Moringa leaf in the snack food item (either 1g of Moringa or 2g Moringa). To determine which of the two variants (sample 1 containing 1g of Moringa and sample 2 containing 2g Moringa) was preferred, two variants of the product were sampled by the participants; samples were coded in order to prevent bias. Results: Overall, the results from the focus group study revealed that children consumed snacks frequently and were given money regularly to purchase snack items from the school tuck shop. Price was a trend noted in factors that affect snack selection. The parents/caregivers responded positively towards purchasing a snack that was nutrient-rich. However, it was noted that the price should be reasonable. Results of the SFFQ indicated that the most popular snack items were chips, cold drinks and sweets; therefore these items were reviewed to determine the most viable option for further development. It was decided by the researcher and the supervisor that chips would be the snack item enhanced with three different amounts of Moringa. The consumer acceptance sensory evaluation comprised two chip samples (123 and ABC). The results of the consumer acceptance sensory evaluation showed that sample ABC (2g Moringa/22g serving) was preferred to sample 123 (1g Moringa/22g serving) for most of the sensory attributes (taste and texture). The Moringa chips (both samples) contain almost half the amount of sodium (52.8mg) when compared to a popular corn chip brand (100mg). Moringa chips contained almost less than 1 gram of fat compared to 8 grams of fat found in the corn chips children usually consume. One portion (22g) of the Moringa chips contributes a significant amount of non-haem iron (57.89%, 48.25% and 35.61% for sample 1, 2 and 3 respectively) for females aged between 9-13 years old. Conclusion: Moringa chips (2g/22g serving) received a positive response from children in the sample population. The use of indigenous plants such as Moringa, could be beneficial in food based strategies aimed at addressing malnutrition. Recommendations: This study concluded that food based strategies such as the development of the Moringa chips, should be considered as a means to create a healthy option for children in low socio-economic schools.