How do I feed my child properly

By Petra Kühne, October 2012

It is held today that children should not just be fed in the right way but that ecological, regional and social conditions should also be taken into account when buying food. What a task for parents who are not, after all, nutritional experts and keep being told by the food industry how good and tailor-made its products are! So it would be a good thing if this article explained the appropriate foods for a child. But you’ve already guessed it: there is no “right” way to feed a child which fits all of them. It is, however, possible is to set out some basic guidelines.

Eating connects us with life

Eating keeps us alive, not eating means dying of starvation. Refusing to eat is a withdrawal from life. Meals connect us with life. If we want to give our children a happy life, then food should also be connected with fun and not coercion. In previous ages children were sometimes forced out of necessity to eat certain foods. Not a few adults still refuse to eat those dishes to the present day. Nutrition penetrates deep into the soul and is by no means just a physical process. Coercion should not be part of eating. No healthy child suffers any deficiency if it misses an occasional meal. Neither is there any lack of vitamins if certain fruits or vegetables are not eaten.

Take care: myths

In the 1950s and 1960s the focus of nutritionists was on minerals and vitamins. Thus ensuring that children had enough iron became a hot topic. As a result, children were regularly fed spinach – which some of them refused to eat. Then it turned out that the iron content of spinach had been specified as too high – a laboratory error. Children could have been saved unpleasant nutritional experiences, some of which determined a lifetime of eating habits. Such cases are referred to as “nutritional myths”. Our time is not free from them either. We should also react cautiously when precise quantities are recommended. Today they concern the amount we should drink or the number of portions of fruit and vegetables that should be eaten daily. Many parents worry if their children drink too little or refuse to touch any vegetables. We should remain relaxed in those situations. Fluids are not just obtained from drinks but also soups, fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, it is important to differentiate between an active child who might sweat a lot and therefore require a greater quantity of fluids and a quiet “stay-at-home”. This leads us to a central tenet of anthroposophically-oriented nutrition: recommendations are precisely that; the requirement is always individual.

Requirements are individual

Nutrition serves a person to sustain body, soul and spirit and each person is an individual. Hence the quantity of food as well as likes and dislikes are also individual. Eating habits let us see the balance of a child’s constitution, what temperaments are at work. That is why we should observe our children: they show what they need and what they dislike. Our little choleric likes to chew, to test his or her will on the food while the little phlegmatic rejects precisely that and instead likes to eat soft foods. So phlegmatic children like to eat fruit if it is cut up and presented in an appetising way. They will not want to bite into a whole apple – something which the choleric will, however, like to do. Thus individual nutrition does not mean cooking separately for each family member but an alert perception and acceptance that different children will eat more of one food and less of another.

We need rules

Now it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the child should eat what it wants. But that, precisely, has become the problem today. As early as infancy, mealtimes at home become a power struggle. The child refuses the “good” foods until, finally, he or she has his or her way and one-sided eating habits develop, such as “only noodles with sauce” or mainly sweet things. But not forcing a child to eat does not mean allowing everything. That can also lead to unbalanced nutrition. It is important to have certain rules regarding food such as exist in every community and many families. There are general outlines about what is bought in which quality, what is generally not bought and what is bought occasionally. Such rules should then be adhered to because they give the child a sense of security. That does not mean that there cannot be well-founded exceptions – life is not just stolid and pedantic.

The “mere exposure effect”

Our attitude to food is a lot more instinctive than we generally think. Advertising psychology has recognised that for a long time. Thus preferences often only develop after repeated eating. Eating a dish once will not generate any great excitement (but not rejection either!). The important thing is to offer certain dishes more frequently. This is called the “mere exposure effect”. It can be found in many staple foods such as bread or standard dishes. But if a food is offered too frequently – this even applies to chocolate – “overeating” occurs. If we are only ever given our favourite dish we will, at some point, not want that either for a longer period of time. This is called “sensory-specific satiety”. This means that food does not become too one-sided and new foods are accepted. Dislikes of certain foods often arise as the result of a linkage which occurs between eating the food and a negative experience, for example vomiting after the meal. There need not be any connection between the two but that is how it is experienced and can lead to years of rejection. Dislikes can also be caused by physical intolerances which remain undiscovered. Thus fructose malabsorption can lead to the instinctive rejection of fruit. It has only been possible to test for this in recent years. Rare blood disorders can lead to the avoidance of meat without the connection being recognised. These examples show that the individual situation should be the determinant and not the implementation of general recommendations.

How do I feed myself properly?

There are three main nutritional substances contained in food: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are needed most. They are important for nervous and brain activity as well as for the muscles and metabolism. The carbohydrates include sugar, starch (white flour) and the complex carbohydrates (wholemeal flour) which additionally contain ballast and other associated substances. Sugar gets into the body very quickly which gives a rush of energy but also means that the blood is overloaded with sugar and only provides short-term satiety. That is why it is recommended that a majority of carbohydrates should be obtained through the complex ones. That means wholemeal bread, cereals such as bulgar, wholemeal noodles, millet or rice. Light flours contain few vitamins and minerals and should therefore only be eaten to a lesser extent: i.e. not white rolls every day!

Protein is important for growth and maintenance of the body. It is contained in plant and animal foods. Cereals and wholemeal bread provide a basic supply of protein which is supplemented by milk, milk products and cheese. Meat and sausage should not be eaten in too great quantities. The protein-rich pulses are mostly too little represented, although children often like to eat lentils, peas and beans; they are also easily tolerated if well prepared and seasoned. Good fats are also part of “proper” child nutrition: they supply warmth, energy and contentment. Here native – cold pressed, not refined – vegetable oils such as sunflower seed, rape or olive oil should be used primarily. What type to use is a matter of taste. Milk fat in reasonable quantities – such as in whole milk – is fine and is one of the best tolerated fats. Less desirable are the “hidden” fats in ready-made products, sweets or ready-made desserts. Some have lost in value due to heating. Vitamins, minerals and so-called secondary plant substances do not carry energy but are required as active ingredients and activators. They are contained in fruit and vegetables including salads. Great value should therefore be placed on including these foods daily in meals. Fresh, ripe products are appropriate here.

The quality produced through breeding, cultivation and processing are of increasing importance today. Here research has provided a lot of new information. Thus milk quality improves if the animals have received their feed on pastures or through green fodder. Biodynamic agriculture can be recommended here which goes beyond organic agriculture in using biodynamic preparations to make the earth and plants receptive for the cosmic forces coming from the sun and planets. The products are sold under the “Demeter” label. Organic foods from other associations (Bioland, Naturland) are also to be recommended. It is nice for children to experience where and how their foods grow. So visiting and buying from local farms is a great thing to do.

Ripening seasons for fruit and vegetables should be observed – if we take account of the fact that some product are naturally not available we not only reduce energy consumption caused by long transport routes or storage but also get into the habit of sometimes having to wait for something – like the first strawberries – and, as we know, half the pleasure is in the anticipation. In this way we can establish an “appropriate” nutritional regime which gives pleasure, is satisfying and tastes good.

About the author: Dr. Petra Kühne is a dietician and director of the Arbeitskreis für Ernährungsforschung e.V., she gives lectures and hold courses and has published books. Arbeitskreis für Ernährungsforschung e.V., Niddastr. 14, D-61118 Bad Vilbel. Tel. 0 61 01/52 18 75, Fax 0 61 01/52 18 86, E-Mail: info(at) | Link: