Many parents have a simple idea of what to eat: At some point, when breasts or bottles are just a side issue, babies will start on their own. Most get their porridge first, and some eat chunky food right away. And after this transition period, the whole family sits together and eats – everyone eats the same, everyone together, everyone loves it.
Lovely idea. But then, parents often quickly realize that things don’t go smoothly with the so-called family diet. Many children do not like vegetables but prefer sweets, do not want to sit at the table but play, do not eat what fills them but snack all the time. The list can be extended by many points. Parents’ thoughts swirl: Is the child getting enough nutrients? Is it healthy on this diet? Don’t you develop bad eating habits in the long run? This list can also be extended by several points.
Our experts reassure us: We parents have a great responsibility to give our children a good relationship with healthy food. Children learn from the example of adults. This is where nutrition education stands and falls apart,” says Professor Mathilde Kersting from the Department of Child Nutrition Research at the University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Health in Bochum.
But parents shouldn’t put too much pressure on themselves. “Parents do not have to count every day: ‘How much did my child eat? “It is important that the diet is varied and that children have different diets that enable them to savor good foods and enjoy meal times. The first years of life shape both tasting and eating habits,” Ensignor explains. “This is an opportunity for parents: I can tell my child what I like and how I like to prepare Meals.”
Of course, in most cases this is not possible without obstacles. Nine important questions and answers about how to deal with problems at the dinner table and how a healthy and delicious diet works in practice.
How do I know if my child is ready for the family diet?
Mr. Dr. Mathilde Kresting from the Department of Child Nutrition Research in Bochum: Young children can and are allowed to eat and chew everything they can well – that is, as soon as they can eat it. In the first three years of life, they should not be given any raw animal foods to reduce the risk of foodborne infections. This can be difficult for an immature immune system to deal with. For example, there are no raw sausages, raw milk cheese, sushi with raw fish, or dishes with raw eggs.
Care should also be taken with small, solid foods that can be easily swallowed, such as peanuts, as they can get into the windpipe. Hard vegetables, such as carrots, may need to be steamed a bit for the little ones to eat. Spicy foods are fine if you use salt and spices in moderation. It is important that you take iodized salt. Children need iodine for their development. Don’t expect your toddler to eat whatever comes on the table right away. Step by step, children get used to foods that are alien to them at first. It is often good to serve food in the form of fingers, that is, in such a way that children can hold it in their hands.
My child eats different types of fruits but does not eat any vegetables at all. what can I do?
Daniela Leder, Consultant at the Baden-Württemberg State Center for Nutrition (State Initiative for Conscious Child Nutrition), Schwäbisch Gmund: For example, start with vegetables that are sweet and light in taste. Pumpkin, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are usually the best choices for kids. Always try to spark interest and make you want to eat vegetables. Also try a different consistency. Some kids like steamed vegetables that are soft and luscious. But most people find raw food tastier. Color and shape also play a role. Perhaps the orange pepper is particularly popular. Some kids like strips and stripes better than slides. When you eat, show yourself that you love a particular vegetable.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW: Babies sometimes have to touch food up to 20 times before accepting it. It’s also okay if something is rejected. But don’t give up, show it over and over and encourage people to savor without coercion or pressure. It is also useful to involve the child in shopping, harvesting and preparation. So you see where the vegetables come from and what they look like in their natural state. All this makes you want to eat it yourself. Health-conscious parents can sometimes overestimate the amount of vegetables needed. The German Dietetic Association recommends: “five a day,” that is, three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. For children, their hands are the measure of the stake.
Unfortunately, my child rarely gets any vegetables in the nursery, but they do get sweet lunches and lots of low-nutrient white flour products often. Can I make up for it with other meals?
Daniella Leather: Yes, parents should then make sure that the food in the house is really balanced. Young children need three main meals and two snacks a day to have enough energy throughout the day. So there are multiple opportunities to eat vegetables, fruits, dairy products and whole grains. In the afternoon, you can serve colorful vegetables or fruit sliced with a little quark as a dip. And in the evening, serve a very high percentage of vegetables, such as whole pasta with vegetable sauce. In general, you can rely heavily on whole grain products at home. Many children also accept whole wheat bread with fine flour. Combined with cream cheese and a baby hand full of vegetables, this is a well-balanced evening meal.
How do I fill the kindergarten lunch box in an attractive and healthy way?
Daniella Leather: Make the snack colorful with vegetables and fruits, play with shapes and bring in lots of variety. Serve fruits and vegetables in different ways, sometimes in slices, sometimes in slices. For example, cut a piece of folded bread with vegetables spread across diamonds or small squares. Muesli is also well received, for example, oatmeal, natural yogurt, as well as separately cut fruit. It is often preferred by children when not everything is mixed together. Bread boxes with dividers are great for this.
But don’t try everything at once: very young children easily get bogged down when they find a lot of different and new things in one box. Combine new foods with familiar foods. And: for children, for example, the same bread baked in a different form looks like a different product. The bread box is always a connection to the family. Then he sees the children in the nursery: My parents thought of me. Love doesn’t have to be about candy. For example, it can be your favorite vegetable or a smile drawn on a banana. Sweets or baby-looking foods don’t belong in the lunch box.
My baby doesn’t stay seated at the table, but often gets up again after a few bites. He’s not really full and wants to eat something again after a short time.
Mr. Dr. Katja Kroller, Nutrition Psychologist at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, Berenberg: You can ask: “Don’t you like to sit down and eat something?” If so: awesome. If the child does not want to, he can leave. But: until something comes to eat again, you’d better let your offspring wait a bit. This means: Of course, don’t let them go hungry under any circumstances, but don’t give them a snack without asking them too. And always increase the interval between meals.
In general, long meals or those where the type of food is monotonous is difficult for many children. Soup is often a disaster. It takes a long time to eat, it is eaten monotonously, and every spoonful tastes the same. Different ingredients like potatoes or pasta and vegetables are better: Babies face physical challenges when pricked and can choose between different flavours. Don’t expect too much: If little kids stay at the table for ten minutes, that’s great.
We often meet my daughter’s daycare best friend in the afternoon. He gets zip bags and candy all the time. My daughter wants that too. Otherwise, she would scream her heart out.
Katya Kroller: Sometimes it can be helpful for a child to eat their own snacks without paying attention to other children. But once you notice that these are particularly attractive, the offspring will likely not be able to do without sadness or anger. You shouldn’t completely ban compression bags and the like from your playmates anyway. This would only add to the appeal. Sometimes parents are simply helpless: when children exchange food. You should not stop it, but think to yourself: You did something good for the other child.
When grandparents eat my child unhealthily and everything is mixed up too much – how do I deal with that?
Katya Kroller: It depends on how often the child has dinner with the grandparents. If they only eat there every two weeks or even less then it’s okay the menu isn’t that great. Then the following applies: different environment, different rules. Many grandparents enjoy pampering their grandchildren – and that’s a good thing for both parties. However, if the child eats a lot with grandma and grandpa, you should try to find compromises with your parents or your parents when it comes to feeding.
When my child is supposed to eat dinner, I often don’t feel hungry. Is it enough if I sit there?
Katya Kroller: No. You should eat something, too. Babies notice when you only watch and lose their desire to eat. Additionally, they do not have a role model in terms of healthy food choices. But children do not count the bites. You can join them with a plate of some vegetables or half a slice of bread. This is how you eat, but don’t ignore your feelings of hunger and fullness.
Daniella Leather: No one should feel compelled to eat when they are not hungry, including parents. But know that your child is learning from you as a role model. Eating is not just about eating, it’s also about sharing and bonding. Babies become closer to food when the father and mother eat it, too. The child also expands his vocabulary when naming things. What is the name of this cheese or dish? You can also have your baby feed you if you yourself are not very hungry. Community and undivided attention are important. This means: Please don’t look at your cell phone or TV. But I’m happy to talk about food: “Listen to how the pepper breaks when you chew it.” This makes you want to try it out for yourself.
Our family is vegetarian, preferably vegetarian. Is this ok for my little one?
Mr. Dr. Regina Ensenoer from the Institute of Child Nutrition in Karlsruhe: I would advise against a purely vegetarian diet for young children, as the German Dietetic Association (DGE) does. The risk of nutrient deficiencies is very high. A vegetarian diet is more possible, but it requires sufficient knowledge and competent advice. To date, there are hardly any studies on the long-term effects of these forms of nutrition. Vegetarians – especially vegans – should take vitamin B12, which is mainly found in meat and other animal products, in supplement form. However, it is unclear whether supplements are as effective for development as the nutrients and vitamins found in animal products. The more varied the children’s diet, the better.