Goodbye, goodbye, baby porridge! How to introduce children to healthy family food

Many parents have a simple idea of ​​what it is to eat: At a time when breasts or bottles are only a side issue, children will start on their own. Most of them get porridge first, some eat thick food right away. And after this transition period, the whole family sits together and eats – everyone eats the same, everyone, everyone likes it.

A good idea. But then mothers and fathers often quickly realize that things are not going so 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 rather play, do not eat full but instead snack all the time. The list could be expanded with many more points. And the parents’ thoughts swirl: does the child get enough nutrients? Is it healthy on this diet? Does it not get bad eating habits in the long run? This list could also be expanded with many more 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, ”says Professor Mathilde Kersting from the Department of Child Nutrition Research at the University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Health in Bochum.

But parents should not put too much pressure on themselves. Professor Regina Ensenauer, head of the Department of Child Nutrition at the Max Rubner Institute in Karlsruhe, emphasizes: “Parents should not count every day:” How much of it has my child eaten? “It is important that the diet is varied and that children have different diets to be able to taste good food and have fun at meals. For the first years of life shape both taste and eating habits, explains Ensenauer. “This is an option for parents: I can pass on to 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 on how to deal with problems at the dinner table and how a healthy, tasty diet works in practice.

How do I actually recognize that my child is ready for the family diet?

Prof. Dr. Mathilde Kersting from the Research Department for Child Nutrition, Bochum: Young children can and must eat everything they can bite and chew well – that is, as soon as they can eat it. For the first three years of life, they should not be given raw animal food to reduce the risk of foodborne infections. This can be difficult for their immature immune system to cope with. For example, no raw sausage, raw milk cheese, sushi with raw fish or dishes with raw eggs.

You also need to be careful with small, hard foods that can be easily swallowed, such as peanuts, because they can get into the trachea. Hard vegetables, such as carrots, may need to be lightly steamed in order for the little ones to eat. Spicy food is fine if you use salt and spices sparingly. It is important that you take iodized salt. Children need iodine for their development. Do not expect your toddler to eat everything that comes on the table right away. Step by step, children get used to food that is initially foreign to them. It is often good to offer food as finger food, in a way so that the children can hold it in their hands.

My child eats different types of fruit but no 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 Gmünd: Start, for example, with the sweet and mild-tasting vegetables. Pumpkin, carrot, tomato, cucumber and pepper are usually the best choices for children. Always try to arouse interest and make you want to eat the vegetables. Also try different textures. Some children like steamed vegetables, which are soft and warm. But most people find raw food more tasty. Color and shape also play a role. Perhaps the orange pepper is particularly popular. Some children like strips and rasps better than slices. When eating, show yourself that you like that particular vegetable.

Important to know: Children sometimes need to come into contact with a food up to 20 times before accepting it. It is also okay if something is rejected. But do not give up, bid again and again and encourage people to taste without being forced or pressured. It is also helpful to involve the child in shopping, harvesting and preparation. So it sees where the vegetables come from, how they look 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 company for nutrition recommends: ‘Five a day’, ie three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. For children, their own hand is the goal of a serving.


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Unfortunately, my child rarely gets vegetables in day care, but they more often get sweet lunches and lots of nutrient-poor white flour products. Can I make up for this with other meals?

Daniela Leather: Yes, parents should make sure that the food at home is really balanced. Young children need three main meals and two snacks a day so that they have enough energy during the day. So there are more options for eating vegetables, fruits, dairy products and whole grains. In the afternoon you can serve colorful vegetables or fruit cut into strips with a little quark as a dip. And in the evening, offer a very high percentage of vegetables, such as wholemeal pasta with vegetable sauce. In general, you can rely heavily on whole grain products at home. Wholemeal bread with fine flour is also accepted by many children. Along with cream cheese and a children’s hand full of vegetables, this is a balanced evening meal.

How do I fill the kindergarten lunch package in an attractive and healthy way?

Daniela Leather: Make the snack colorful with vegetables and fruits, play with shapes and bring in a lot of variety. Offer fruits and vegetables in different ways, sometimes in strips, sometimes in slices. For example, cut a folded piece of bread with a vegetable spread in diamonds or small squares. Muesli is also well received, for example oatmeal, natural yoghurt and also separately chopped fruit. Children often prefer it when everything is not yet mixed together. Bread boxes with partitions are good for this.

But do not try everything at once: very young children become easily overwhelmed when they find too many different and new things in one box. Combine new foods with familiar ones. And: For children, for example, the same bread baked in a different form resembles a different product. A bread box is always a connection with the family. The children then look into day care: My parents thought of me. Love does not have to be about sweets. For example, it could be your favorite vegetable or a smiley painted on the banana. Sweets or food with a childish look do not belong in the food package.

My child does not stay seated at the table, but often gets up again after just a few bites. It is not really full and would like to eat something again shortly after.

Prof. Dr. Katja Kröller, Nutritional Psychologist at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, Bernburg: You may ask, ‘Won’t you sit down and eat something?’ If so: wonderful. If the child does not want to, it can go. But: until there is something to eat again, it is best to let your offspring wait a bit. This means: of course, do not let them go hungry under any circumstances, but also do not offer a snack without being asked. And always increase the interval between meals.

In general, long meals or those where the type of food is monotonous are difficult for many children. Soup is often a disaster. It takes a long time to eat, it happens monotonously, and each spoonful tastes the same. Different components such as potatoes or noodles and vegetables are better: the children are physically challenged when they prick them and can choose between different flavors. Don’t expect too much: If small children stay at the table for ten minutes, it’s great.

We often meet my daughter’s best daycare friend in the afternoon. He gets press bags and such all the time. So will my daughter. Otherwise, she screams from the heart.

Katja Kroeller: Sometimes it can turn out that the child eats their own snacks without paying attention to the other children. But once these are noticed as particularly attractive, the offspring will probably not be able to do without sadness or anger. One should still not completely ban squeeze bags and the like from playmates. It would only contribute to the appeal. Sometimes parents are simply powerless: when children change food. Do not stop, but think to yourself: Now I have done something good for the other child.

With the grandparents, my child eats unhealthily and everything is wildly mixed – how should I deal with it?

Katja Kroeller: It depends on how often the child eats dinner with the grandparents. If they only eat there every other week or even less often, then it’s totally okay that the menu is not that great. Then the following applies: other environment, other rules. Many grandparents enjoy pampering their grandchildren – and that’s nice for both parties. However, if the child eats more often with grandma and grandpa, you should try to find compromises with your parents or in-laws when it comes to nutrition.

When my child has to eat dinner, I am often not even hungry. Is that enough if I’m just sitting there?

Katja Kroeller: no You should eat something too. Children notice when you just look and lose the urge to eat. In addition, they have no role model in relation to healthy food choices. But children do not count the bites. You can put them together with a plate of some vegetables or half a slice of bread. How to eat, but do not ignore your own feelings of hunger and satiety.

Daniela Leather: No one should feel compelled to eat when they are not hungry, including parents. But be aware that your child is learning from you as a role model. Eating is not just about eating, it is also about sharing and relating. Children get closer to a food when mom and dad eat it too. The child also expands their vocabulary when you name things. What is the name of this cheese or dish? You can also get your baby to feed you if you yourself are not particularly hungry. Fellowship and undivided attention are important. That means: Please do not watch on your mobile phone or television. But like to talk about the food: ‘Hear how the peppers crack when you chew them.’ It makes you want to try it for yourself.

Our family is vegetarian, in fact preferably vegan. Is it ok for my little child?

Prof. Dr. Regina Ensenauer from the Department of Child Nutrition, Karlsruhe: I advise against a pure vegan diet for young children, just like the German Society for Nutrition (DGE). The risk of nutrient deficiency is too great. Vegetarian diet is more possible, but requires sufficient knowledge and competent advice. So far, there are hardly any studies on the long-term effects of these diets. Vegetarians – and especially vegans – should, for example, take vitamin B 12, which is found mainly in meat and other animal products, in the form of supplements. However, it is unclear whether supplements are as effective for development as the nutrients and vitamins found in animal products. The more diverse the children’s diet is, the better.

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