3D Food: Technology Revolutionizing Children's Nutrition

Although 3D printing is still in the development stage, we can't help but think about children's nutrition and the advantages it can bring.
3D Food: Technology Revolutionizing Children's Nutrition

Last update: 05 July, 2023

What if I told you that sooner rather than later, our children will no longer complain about eating vegetables? Well, with a new technology that prints 3D food for children, they’ll soon be able to eat what they didn’t like to eat before. To make this happen, some researchers are putting their best efforts into creating personalized foods that are printed ready-to-eat.

The goals of 3D food are to improve the acceptance of unappetizing ingredients and to meet nutritional needs. But is there any risk to a child’s health? How does it work? Where can it be found? In this article, we answer these and other questions. Keep reading to find out more about this revolutionary and gastronomic technology!

What is 3D food?

Three-dimensional (3D) printing or additive manufacturing is a breakthrough technology. It’s part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4RI), just like robotics, artificial intelligence, and wireless telecommunications, among others. Its application isn’t new, as it has been used in mechanical engineering, biotechnology, space missions, pharmaceuticals, construction, aeronautics, and in food design and development.

An article published by the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology describes 3D food as a manufacturing process that builds complex, three-dimensional, solid, or semi-solid shapes. Successive layers of material (food) are deposited on it until the desired shape is obtained.

3D food is intended to benefit health in general, as explained by some specialists in the area. According to the magazine Perm University Herald Juridical Science, it also aims to combat obesity, malnutrition, and swallowing difficulties.

Be sure to read: Picky Eating: What You Should Know

What advantages does it have in the food industry?

A group of experts pointed out in 2018 in the Journal of Food Engineering that 3D printing in food makes processes simpler and reduces storage costs. But, above all, it allows diversifying the use of food ingredients.

Another advantage is the customization of 3D food, as food is designed according to taste, shape, and texture preferences, as well as nutritional needs.

3D food.
Through 3D food, the aim is to apply aromas, flavors, coloring, and attractive designs to attract the attention of little ones.

What about 3D food for children?

3D food printing for children takes into account the manufacture of food with customized dimensions, colors, smells, and flavors. For example, they can have shapes alluding to fun characters. This allows foods that aren’t usually well accepted to become more attractive.

At the University of Chile, a project transformed seaweed by mixing it with mashed potatoes for 3D printing. In this regard, another work evidenced the good perception in school children of a 3D snack based on fruits, mushrooms, legumes, and lemon juice. In this way, the energy and nutrient requirements for children between 3 and 10 years of age were also met.

Of course, 3D foods should complement a balanced and nutritious diet. It’s not intended to completely replace natural, fresh foods. In addition, always consult with a health professional before introducing new foods or technologies into a child’s diet.

How does 3D food printing work?

3D food printers use food ingredients as if they were the printer’s ink. Therefore, they create edible three-dimensional objects. To understand a little more about how this technology works, we’ll detail some steps.

1. Preparation of the ingredients

The ingredients are processed and combined with each other to turn them into a paste or an edible gel. They’re then crushed or blended to a consistency suitable for printing. The result of this mixture is called food “ink”. This is a phase of care in the process because the viscoelastic characteristics of the ingredients can affect the mixture inside the equipment and in the output through the nozzle.

A review shared by Foods magazine in 2019 highlights that few works have conducted in-depth studies on the properties of the ingredients. On the other hand, a paper appearing in the journal Current Opinion of Food Science in 2022 concludes that more research is needed on the characteristics of ingredient mixtures to obtain 3D meals.

2. Digital design

A digital model of the meal to be printed must be created in computer-aided design software. This is when you determine the required nutritional properties, shape, size, and structure of the food. Each new product will have its own design!

3. Loading the food ink

The paste or gel is loaded into cartridges or capsules that are placed in the printer. For example, there can be several cartridges with different ingredients. In this way, varied, nutritious, and uniquely flavored foods are obtained.

4. Printing

The printer deposits successive layers of ink according to the elaborated design. A study published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science in 2020, details that the process varies according to the type of food and the printing technique used.

The most common techniques are extrusion, where the ingredients are mixed at a certain pressure and temperature inside a machine; and the ink powder technique.

5. Post-processing

Some 3D foods may require additional processing, such as cooking, refrigeration, or drying, in order to obtain the desired sensory properties. For example, in the case of cookies, they may be baked after printing.

A plate of food made the look like an underwater scene.
3D food allows innovative ingredients to be combined, so new shapes, textures, and flavors can be experimented with in dishes.

Is 3D food accessible?

The accessibility of 3D food is limited, as it’s at an early stage of development. However, there are some 3D printers available on the market for use by individuals, food companies, and restaurants.

Currently, 3D meals are obtained from experimental trials, in high-end restaurants, or by companies providing service for special celebrations. As the technology expands to other environments, costs will become more affordable, making it feasible to apply in the home.

What do we know about the risks of 3D food for children?

If handled correctly, 3D food isn’t a hazard in itself. However, certain factors must be taken into account:

  • Cleaning working equipment
  • Using good quality ingredients
  • Using the correct temperatures to avoid contamination of the printed food
  • Including all the ingredients of the 3D food on the label

Particularly in children, as with any type of food, it’s important to ensure that 3D food is nutritious and also that it’s free of allergens or ingredients that may cause health problems.

Another aspect to consider is to ensure that the 3D-printed food has the appropriate texture and size. That way, children will be able to chew and swallow safely.

How long do we have to wait for 3D food in our kitchens?

Technology is increasingly embracing us and, as mothers, we know that proper nutrition for our children ensures good growth and development. The choice of 3D food adapted to the requirements and preferences of children is a trump card. However, more research is needed on the properties of the ingredients. In addition, 3D food isn’t a substitute for regular meals but is treated as a supplement in the diet.

Just as other 3D technologies have diversified, food isn’t far behind. In the meantime, offer a healthy diet and put on your chef’s cap to devise the best preparations with original and attractive ways to offer those foods that your little ones like the least. This way, you’ll be able to take advantage of their nutritional benefits.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bogdanov (2019) 3D printing technology as a trigger for the fourth industrial revolution: new challenges to the legal system. Perm U. Herald Jurid. Sci., 44, p. 238, 10.17072/1995-4190-2019-44-238-260
  • Derossi, Antonio & Caporizzi, Rossella & Azzollini, Domenico & Severini, Carla. (2017). Application of 3D printing for customized food. A case on the development of a fruit-based snack for children. Journal of Food Engineering. 220. 10.1016/j.jfoodeng.2017.05.015.
  • El País. Cómo la impresión de alimentos puede revolucionar nuestro modo de comer. Actualizado el 12 de agosto del 2020. Disponible en: https://elpais.com/elpais/2020/08/07/planeta_futuro/1596787428_315193.html
  • Holland, Sonia & Foster, Tim & MacNaughtan, William & Tuck, Christopher. (2017). Design and characterisation of food grade powders and inks for microstructure control using 3D printing. Journal of Food Engineering. 220. 10.1016/j.jfoodeng.2017.06.008.
  • Ma, Yizhou & Zhang, Lu. (2022). Formulated food inks for extrusion-based 3D printing of personalized foods: A mini review. Current Opinion in Food Science. 44. 10.1016/j.cofs.2021.12.012.
  • Mantihal, Sylvester & Kobun, Rovina & Lee, Boon-Beng. (2020). 3D food printing of as the new way of preparing food: A review. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. 22. 100260. 10.1016/j.ijgfs.2020.100260.
  • Singhal, S., Rasane, P., Kaur, S., Garba, U., Bankar, A., Singh, J., & Gupta, N. (2020). 3D food printing: paving way towards novel foods. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias92(3), e20180737. https://doi.org/10.1590/0001-3765202020180737
  • Tejada-Ortigoza, V., & Cuan-Urquizo, E. (2022). Towards the Development of 3D-Printed Food: A Rheological and Mechanical Approach. Foods (Basel, Switzerland)11(9), 1191. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11091191
  • Wegrzyn, Teresa & Golding, Matt & Archer, Richard. (2012). Food Layered Manufacture: A new process for constructing solid foods. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 27. 66–72. 10.1016/j.tifs.2012.04.006.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.