How do you get kids used to vegetables? How do they learn balanced nutrition and healthy eating? Why is the family table important for children? And why do children belong in the kitchen? Answers from child nutrition expert Mariann Buglar.
Ms. Buglar, you are a food engineer and have seven children. As an expert: Where do you see the main challenges in child nutrition?
Children go through different stages that present different problems to parents. The time between the ages of two and five, when the children say “no” to everything, especially vegetables, is particularly difficult. Parents run the risk of losing patience far too quickly. What many people don’t know is that children have to try unfamiliar foods 10 to 15 times before they get the hang of it. Studies have also shown that children regard the food they are regularly given as normal. Giving in and the attitude that you don’t have to do that to your child can later have undesirable consequences such as unbalanced eating habits.
Children often copy their parents’ eating habits.
First Walkers – Baby’s First Steps
Is there a trick to getting kids used to vegetables?
From an evolutionary point of view, children prefer fast-filling foods such as carbohydrates and fats. This provides the energy they need to grow. Heartier combinations also work with vegetables. So add breadcrumbs and gratinate them or wrap them in a pastry shell. Children also prefer raw vegetables to cooked ones. For example in the form of colorful dips.
Besides vegetables, are there other problem areas?
Yes, there are still some. A central problem, however, is that today the traditional family table at lunchtime and in the evening often hardly takes place anymore due to time constraints. This is wrong from a nutritional point of view, because up until puberty, children are by far the most strongly oriented towards their parents, who are their closest attachment figures. They usually copy their eating habits. If the family table only takes place at the weekend, this is missing on the one hand. On the other hand, the children learn that cooking and eating together is not appreciated. Power struggles and food theater at the family table is an unpopular consequence of this.
They have written their family experiences and recipes in a new book “Eating, cooking and enjoying with children”. They also call it my survival cook and bake book…
Yeah right. I developed it in my kitchen, always alongside cooking. It contains recipes and ideas for many everyday situations, such as which vegetable recipes go down better with children. I also wrote the book a bit for myself, so that it would make my life easier and my recipes would no longer fly around in my kitchen as little bits of paper.
The initial extra effort when cooking together with children pays off in the end.
How important is it to involve children in menu planning and cooking?
It is important that the parents decide what to eat. If the child determines the menu plan, there are only chicken nuggets and french fries. At birthdays, children should wish. But otherwise you should put foods on the table that the child does not like from the start. So that it gets the chance to get to know the unknown. Children should be involved in cooking as much as possible, as this is also time spent together. Children learn a lot in the kitchen, not only the names of the food and how to prepare it, but also fine motor skills. They often try things in the kitchen that they would not eat at the table. And they are proud because they can contribute a part to the meal and are praised for it at the family table in front of everyone.
Doesn’t cooking with children make cooking slower and more time-consuming?
But already. There’s more cleaning to do, more patience is needed, and things don’t turn out the way the parents imagined. When a child starts helping, they can’t do everything exactly and have to train their fine motor skills first. But I think the extra effort pays off in the end. Children are better eaters, they spend more time with their parents. When the children are older, they also take on a lot of the work and can sometimes cook simpler recipes on their own. My fourteen year old can bake a braid from A to Z by herself. My 12-year-old can already cook herb-crusted fish and bring it to the table.
Are there foods that children should not eat?
The more children are forbidden, the more exciting it gets! But I would generally omit alcohol because too little of the alcohol is lost during the cooking process. Children do not like bitter, very sour and very pungent. I would take that into account, because children have even more taste buds on their tongues than adults. I myself find ice tea very harmful, because sugar and acid attack the teeth badly. In addition, the tea can put a child under a lot of stress and make them fidgety. Studies have also shown that a number of E-numbers, coloring agents present in M&Ms and some ice creams can make children restless
Children are also more picky because they have many more taste buds on their tongues than adults.
Hyperactivity and ADD are a big problem today. Can you do something with the diet and if so, what?
Yes, you can do a lot with nutrition. However, it is certainly not useful in every case or is not efficient enough. Parents who don’t want to take Ritalin immediately should try their diet first. Omitting certain E numbers would be my first step. Then the child should be examined for iron deficiency. Because studies today show that iron deficiency can make you hyperactive and unfocused. There is also the assumption that certain allergies are associated with hyperactivity. In addition, the blood sugar level can be controlled with the diet, so that it no longer has such high ups and downs throughout the day. In addition, I would give such a child fish several times a week because of the positive influence of the omega-3 fatty acids on the nerves.
Can a restricted diet such as a vegetarian diet adversely affect children?
Yes, because with such a diet it is possible for a child to develop nutrient deficiencies more quickly. It is also a question of whether the child will participate at all, or whether it will not reach for the things forbidden at home in the class and with school friends. Diets such as vegetarian or vegan are not suitable for children. Iron deficiency and growth disorders could be consequences.
Four out of five people actually know the principles of healthy eating, but there is still a bit of a problem with the implementation. From your point of view: why is that?
Various factors play a role here. Many people today can no longer cook well and no recipes come to their mind. Anyone who only learns to cook when a family has been founded and the baby is already here doesn’t have much time for it. This makes learning to cook more difficult. In addition, many families in Switzerland really don’t have enough money to make an effort to eat healthily. And finally there is the factor that you don’t want to forgo the enjoyment and associate healthy nutrition with the forgoing of enjoyment. But that is not the case at all. In my book, I have therefore placed particular emphasis on simple, fine and healthy recipes that are well received by children. For me and my family it really is a survival cook and bake book.
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