Nutritionist Siegrun Samira Rengert* recommends a diet packed with a wide range of colours and types, to help children enjoy their mealtimes and get the right nutrients. In the following interview she explains why she recommends eating a rainbow every day.
What are the nutritional requirements of children?
Nutritional requirements differ by age group, but looking at schoolchildren aged between 4 and 11 years, the key nutrients are B vitamins available in meat, poultry, fish, pulses, nuts, wholegrains and green vegetables. Calcium is just as important now as earlier on in life, as your child is still growing. Zinc and vitamin A, C and E boosts a child’s immune system and his/her self-healing power. These nutrients are found in lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, red, yellow and green fruits and vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
Could you define ‘healthy eating’ for children?
Establishing the love for good food is just as important as learning your ABCs, as this will be the foundation to your child’s future health. Having a healthy relationship with food takes out a lot of struggle at mealtimes. Children need regular meals and, if possible, around the family table and not on the go or alone in front of the TV. Regular healthy meals keep the energy level balanced and helps the child to concentrate at school. A schoolchild should have three main meals and two healthy snacks per day.
How can parents ensure a balanced diet?
First of all, be a role model! Create family rituals involving foods, such as Friday morning pancake breakfast or, maybe, a day for trying new foods or cuisines. The key to a healthy diet is wholesome food – home cooked meals, lots of vegetables and fruits and plenty of water.
How important is a diet rich in fruits and vegetables?
My recommendation is to eat a rainbow every day. Food packed with phytonutrients fruit and vegetables are appealing and crucial for health. Eat a wide range of colours and types each day. Each colour gives different nutrients – so the greater the mix the more goodness you will get.
How can parents protect their children against the growing occurrence of childhood obesity?
The crucial fact is that children these days take in more energy than they release – so daily exercise and outdoor play have to be encouraged. This can be another daily family ritual – a walk to the playground or an hour at the beach before sunset. Sugar and fast food should be limited to a minimum, and each family should have strict rules in terms of treats such as sweets, crisps or sodas, whether the child is overweight or not. In order to avoid the daily trip to the corner shop after school, parents should have healthy after school snacks ready to eat, such as cut fruits and vegetables, yoghurts or homemade oat cookies.
Another misconception in child nutrition are portion sizes. The measuring tool for your child’s portions are her hands – but not yours. So just let your child measure his/her portions with his/her own hands.
What is your recommendation for a family meal?
A family meal should consist of the right mix of protein in the form of meat, fish, poultry or pulses, as well as carbs such as brown rice, potatoes or whole grain pasta plus a good selection of fresh or cooked vegetables in the form of a salad or stew. Each child should be allowed to pick what they want and only the quantity should be restricted by the parents. The kids can help setting the table and serve drinks. The table atmosphere is also very important, as well as showing appreciation for what is available and the people who prepared it. In order to give your child the best confidence in public, make sure to introduce basic table manners and etiquette.
How can parents involve children in the kitchen?
It can start by hands-on experiences with certain ingredients and by just exploring textures, smells and flavours through play. My son loves cars, so he would ask for a heap of flour, salt or lentils to play with. While watching me, he wants to join in and help…so it comes very naturally. At an older age you may give them little tasks to do and praise them in front of the family for it. It could be something simple like grating, mixing, blending, juicing or even making pancakes or just letting them experiment with different ingredients on their own.
What are the 3 important things to consider when feeding kids?
- Make food a pleasure not torture, create family rituals evolving around food and eat wholesome foods, not processed.
- Provide plenty of water or diluted fruit juices to keep the kids hydrated at all times.
- Stay away from sugar as much as possible and remember that you are their role model.