SEARCH WEBSITE

'Fussy' kids make families Australia’s worst food wasters, but research shows scrapping bad habits starts at the supermarket

Published:11 August 2022

CQUniversity School of Business and Law academic Dr Monika Kansal.

Every Australian puts an average $965 of food in the bin every year, but new CQUniversity research shows how families could switch up grocery shopping habits to boost the family budget as grocery prices skyrocket, while also reducing food waste.

Australia’s fussy, snacky, impulsive youngest eaters are among the biggest contributors to the nation’s $19.6 billion household food waste problem, but new research from CQUniversity shows parents can shift shopping habits to save dollars, and rescue food from the scrap bucket.

The Food waste in households: Children as quiet powerhouses study found parents across culturally-diverse communities are over-purchasing, over-preparing and over-providing for their kids.

It’s those habits that make families the biggest food-wasting demographic in Australia.

Lead author Dr Monika Kansal said more than 150 participants were surveyed across 15 diverse focus groups, and “fussiness” of children was a common theme for why these families were throwing out so much food.

“We found that children’s presence influences parents to do more frequent grocery shopping, impulse buying and ‘just in case’ food purchases, compared to households without children,” Dr Kansal explained.

“We heard parents saying that their children refuse to eat food except from a particular brand, or even refuse 'less-aesthetically appearing foods, fruits and vegetables' such as 'I’m Perfect' by Coles and 'The Odd Bunch' by Woolworths.

“Families with children are also less likely to write or follow a shopping list – especially because supermarkets target children to impulse buy unnecessary and unhealthy food with their marketing promotions and shelf positioning arrangements.

“Parents often feel they are left with no choice but to meet frequently changing and fussy food demands of their children.”

Dr Kansal said parents were concerned about children's preferences for unhealthy snacks and fast food and were motivated for giving their children fresh and healthy options, while offering food kids would actually eat.

“For instance, across several cultures we heard parents say they eat leftovers but they’d never serve them to their children, because of the perception the food isn’t ‘fresh’ or appealing enough,” she explained.

“This research doesn’t aim to challenge parents’ well-intentioned plans for providing nutritious food and varied food to children…but we suggest how parents could better manage some conflicts around healthy food, to reduce food waste.”

Food waste costs Australia $36.6 billion every year, with more than half of the dumping attributed to households.

The researchers recommend reducing food waste by:

- Where possible, grocery shopping without children in tow, or ordering groceries online, to minimise demands for impulse buys,

- Initiating food-saving family traditions and rituals, like a fun 'leftovers night' to create habits around using food in the fridge,

- Encouraging the whole family to know what’s in the fridge for snacking, to ensure perishable food is eaten before expiry,

- Engaging children in creative meal planning that includes a stocktake of available ingredients, and what needs to be used.

Dr Kansal said local government should also consider food waste reduction campaigns targeted at children, while supermarket marketing should prioritise food-saving behaviour messages and stop seeing children as ‘soft targets’ for impulse buying with their appealing promotions.

Last year, CQUniversity researchers delivered Australia’s largest-ever food waste survey of household kitchens, revealing we throw out twice as much food as we think we do, with food waste costing us an average $965 per person, per year.

Last year, Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre and CQUniversity researchers delivered Australia’s largest-ever food waste survey of household kitchens, revealing we throw out twice as much food as we think we do, with food waste costing us an average $965 per person, per year.

The Fight Food Waste CRC study of more than 2800 Australians found beef, bread, cheese and salad are the most thrown out foods in Australian kitchens.

Food waste in households: Children as quiet powerhouses was co-authored by Dr Jayanath Ananda, Ann Mitsis, Dr Gamithri Gayana Karunasena and Professor David Pearson, and published in the Food Quality and Preference journal here.