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Playfully promoting healthy eating behaviour in children - do's and don'ts

A family gathers around a table and enjoys a meal together.
Playfully promoting healthy eating behaviour in children - do's and don'ts

The nutritional behaviour of children is significantly influenced by their parents. If children are given solid food at the transition to the 2nd year of life, you should ideally give your children eggs, poultry, seafood, vegetables and fruit. 

Children are guided by the behaviour of their parents, siblings and later by other people in their immediate environment (e.g. at nursery). The experiences and observations in the child's immediate environment thus form the essential basis for eating behaviour. It is therefore important to set a good example! If you as parents take pleasure and interest in meal planning yourself, the foundation stone for child-orientated nutritional education has been laid.

Between the ages of 2 and 6, children develop a physiological food neophobia, i.e. a fear of trying new foods. Ideally, children have learnt about healthy foods such as vegetables, fish, eggs and poultry by this time. 

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Tips for a healthy diet suitable for children

  • If children show disgust for a food, they should never be forced to eat it. You should therefore never put pressure on your child to get used to new foods. This favours the development of food intolerances. Instead, it is important that your child sees that you eat it regularly. 
  • Paradoxical behaviour: You can then show your child that you think it's good that they don't eat a certain food that they refuse so that you can eat more of it yourself. 
  • Plate does not have to be finished. Do not force yourself to eat the whole plate. 
  • What constitutes healthy eating behaviour in children:
    • Learn to eat independently
    • Learning table and dining manners
    • Acquisition of eating rules and eating rituals
    • A desire to try out new dishes
    • Right to have a say in the selection and preparation of meals
    • to take responsibility for their own nutrition.
  • Curiosity: As your child enters toddlerhood, he or she becomes a permanent member of the family table and is constantly learning about new foods. Take advantage of your child's curiosity and offer new flavours and textures as often as possible! The richer the range of foods on offer, the better. It is a good idea to offer unpopular foods from time to time, as the senses of taste develop at different speeds. The last thing to develop is the perception of bitter flavours, which is why it can take time for your child to become accustomed to vegetables such as chicory. 
  • Allow active participation in cooking: It is advisable to involve your child in the preparation process as early as possible. Take advantage of the fact that children are curious and want to do everything themselves, even at an early age, by giving your child smaller kitchen tasks. Most children particularly enjoy this and at the same time it increases the likelihood that unloved dishes will be tried and accepted. Here are a few small tasks to get you started:
    • Set and decorate the table
    • Choose (healthy) food when shopping
    • Wash the vegetables, tear the lettuce or mix the yoghurt with fruit
    • Clear the crockery

 

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You grow with your tasks, so the tasks assigned should be adapted to the child's age in the long term. For example, a schoolchild can already help with shopping and cooking under your guidance. 

  • Fixed mealtimes and rituals Fixed mealtimes and rituals are part of healthy eating behaviour, even in adulthood. By having breakfast together (preferably without time pressure) or an extensive evening meal, you can help your child to eat regular meals. 
  • Self-service: Offer self-service meals so that your child can decide for themselves how much they want to eat. As a role model, parents and siblings should also do this. In this way, you can avoid any discussions about the fact that the plate has to be finished. 
  • Raising children and teaching them healthy eating behaviour can be gruelling. Nevertheless, refrain from pressurising or even punishing your child. The regular use of sweets as a reward is also not advisable. 
  • Avoid sodas, sweetened teas or fruit juices in the house.
  • Do not use the word "healthy" too often in connection with food, otherwise the child may get the impression that "healthy" means food that does not taste good.

In summary, it can be said that children adopt healthy or unhealthy eating behaviour through observation and imitation. It is therefore worth constantly expanding your own eating horizons and trying out new, tasty and healthy dishes.

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