Pediatricians and nutritionists are alarmed: In Austria it is estimated that every fifth pupil between the ages of 11 and 13 is overweight. About five percent of Vienna’s schoolchildren suffer from obesity – and the majority of the heavily overweight carry this burden throughout their lives.
However, the situation is not really surprising when one considers the nutritional and life situation of children and adolescents: Like a large part of the population, they generally eat too much, too sweet and too fat, and this is accompanied by too high a calorie intake. In addition, high-calorie snacks and soft drinks are tempting everywhere. At the same time, many children and adolescents do not exercise enough. Instead of exercising or playing outside, they spend their free time in front of the television or computer.
This has enormous consequences for their health and their psyche. Overweight children are more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. They are often teased, feel excluded and withdraw. Nutritionist Rita Kichler, health expert at the Healthy Austria Fund, gives concrete tips on how parents can support their offspring in matters of balanced nutrition.
Prohibitions bring nothing
Vegetables contribute to health, but are not popular with many children. “Whether it’s fruit, vegetables or other foods that are good for their diet, children have to find the right taste on their own,” says Kichler. A strict menu plan that “forces” children to eat healthy food is of little help. And above all, the expert knows one thing: “Bans don’t help. This only makes too much consumed food, such as sweets or French fries, more interesting. Instead, attention should be paid to balance. “With an optimised mixed diet, there is nothing wrong with occasional lemonades, burgers or a small chocolate bar. It’s all a question of quantity,” says Kichler. She also advises parents to consider the role model effect, “because if parents don’t even take the decorative fruit basket and don’t eat any vegetables, how can they expect that from the children? It would be advisable for parents to explore markets together with their children and prepare new dishes with the plant foods that appeal to them in order to find out which fruit and vegetables they like best.
A good day starts with a good breakfast
It is important for parents to set the right course at the beginning of the day: “Breakfast as an energy supplier for the morning is not only important for kindergarten and school children, but also for yourself,” advises the expert. “A combination of wholemeal bread with curd cheese spread, fresh fruit and raw vegetable food or muesli with yoghurt and fruit provides your child with valuable nutrients”. If your offspring doesn’t want to have breakfast at all, you shouldn’t force children to. Kichler: “A glass of milk or cocoa is also sufficient in the morning, if the second breakfast is then more plentiful. In this case, give your child sufficient snacks during breaks.”
A healthy snack goes to school
Curd cheese scoops, chocolate bars, cakes, sweet drinks and other sugar-rich snacks are not recommended snacks during breaks. The sugar it contains is quickly broken down and consumed by the body. This is why sweets only allow a very short-term increase in performance. “In addition to fruit and vegetables, milk, cocoa or yoghurt as well as wholemeal bread with low-fat ham or cheese are also recommended for snacks during breaks”, the expert outlines the optimal snack box.
Drink, drink, drink
Sufficient drinking is also important for optimal mental performance. “The best thirst quenchers for children are water or mineral water, diluted fruit and vegetable juices or unsweetened fruit and herbal teas,” says Kichler. “Bean coffee, black tea, cola drinks and caffeinated iced tea are not suitable for children.”
By the way: The nutrition pyramid is based on
The nutrition pyramid illustrates the quantities of certain food groups that should appear on the menu of Austrians. This means that no food is unhealthy or even forbidden. But some things should only be eaten very rarely, others should be eaten daily and abundantly, such as fruit and vegetables, of which five portions per day are recommended, and the same applies to potatoes and cereal products. These products form the basis of the pyramid. High up in the pyramid are fats and oils that should be consumed as little as possible, with small extras such as sweets, pastries and salty snacks at the top.
This is how you can make vegetables tasty for children:
Most children like vegetables that taste a little sweet, such as carrots, peas or sweet corn.
Pasta dishes with a vegetable sauce, such as tomatoes, peppers and courgettes, are often eaten by children.
Peppers, carrots, cucumbers and kohlrabi can be cut into bite-sized pieces and served with a good dip to increase children’s acceptance of these vegetables. For example, with a sauce of yoghurt and herbs or another tasty and light dip.
Step by step more fruit and vegetables
Some children eat little or no fruit and vegetables. They may be able to gradually find a taste for it:
Bring a piece of fruit to school every day: For example an apple, a banana, a pear, carrots, kohlrabi, some cocktail tomatoes or some radishes.
Fruit with yoghurt is a wholesome snack and an ideal breakfast with oatmeal muesli.
Short cooked vegetables are a crunchy dinner.
Pieces of carrot, tomato or cucumber are very suitable as a side dish to a bread meal with low-fat cheese or lean sausage or as a decoration on curd cheese loaves. These taste particularly good to children when they are used to create colourful clown faces, fish, cars or other figures and give them imaginative names.