Childhood nutrition

Childhood nutrition

Introducing children to a wholesome and needs-based diet is certainly of great concern to all parents, because the diet influences health and well-being to a great extent. In the following article you will find recommendations for food selection for children of kindergarten and school age. The explanations are based on the current recommendations of the German Research Institute for Child Nutrition and the German Society for Nutrition.

The “optimized mixed food” – the basis of a child-friendly diet

A child-friendly diet meets the following requirements:

  • It provides sufficient nutrients, i.e. H. it is full.
  • The energy content is adapted to the child’s needs.
  • It takes into account foods that children particularly like.
  • It can be implemented without great expenditure of time and money.
  • It allows small “extras” like cakes or sweets.

In order to meet these requirements, the German Research Institute for Child Nutrition in Dortmund has developed the so-called “optimized mixed food”, in which all these aspects are taken into account. The optimized mixed food is based on the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society. It covers nutrient and energy needs and prevents nutritional diseases. Additional nutrient-enriched foods or vitamin preparations are not necessary. This diet is ideal for the whole family, because in principle these nutritional rules apply to all ages.

The recommendations of the "optimized mixed food" are based not on individual nutrients, but on food. The basis is the “Nutrition Circle” of the German Nutrition Society. The size of the segments indicates the proportion of the respective food in the daily diet.

Recommendations for children’s nutrition

recommended foods
(approx. 80% of the energy supply)


Age (years)

Potatoes, pasta, rice, cereals

sufficient or moderate:

Milk, milk products 1

Margarine, oil, butter

tolerated food (up to 20% of the energy supply)

z. B. cakes, sweets

1 100 ml of milk corresponds to about 15 g of cut cheese or 30 g of soft cheese in calcium content

Source: German Research Institute for Child Nutrition Dortmund, 1999

With the recommended foods, the children absorb about 80% of the energy they need, but already cover their entire nutritional needs. The remaining energy requirement can then be covered as desired (“tolerated” food), that is, if predominantly nutrient-rich food is consumed, there is still scope for luxury foods.

The stated quantities are guidelines. There can be big differences from child to child. For example, body size, but also liveliness and the urge to move influence demand. As a guideline: the quantities for sweets, for high-fat and for animal foods should not be exceeded; The child can eat as much of the plant foods as he wants.

Notes on food selection

Cereals, cereal products and potatoes

Grains, grain products and potatoes are important staple foods. Due to their high proportion of carbohydrates, v. a. in the form of starch, they serve the organism for energy production and well satiate. Whole grain products are particularly valuable because vitamins (e.g. B1, B6), minerals (e.g. magnesium, iron) and fiber, as well as protein and valuable unsaturated fatty acids, are found in the outer layers of the grain and in the seedling. At least half of the daily amount of grain should therefore be consumed as whole grains.

Comparison of white flour and wholemeal flour

Nutrient content per 100 grams

type of flour

Vitamin B1 (mg)

Calcium (mg)

Iron (mg)

Dietary fiber (g)

Wheat flour, type 405

Source: Federal Food Code II.3, 1999

Children often don’t like it “grainy – hearty”. Whole grain bread made from finely ground cereals, tender oatmeal or crispbread are accepted by many children. They are also “real” whole grain products.

Breakfast cereals such as "cornflakes" and similar products are usually heavily processed. They can contain a lot of sugar (sometimes over 40% by weight). Such products are not very suitable for daily breakfast.

At the main meal, potatoes, pasta or rice should become the main ingredient of the hot meal from the side dish. Because these foods are "naturally" very low in fat, but provide plenty of carbohydrates to fill you up. Potatoes also contain plenty of minerals (e.g. potassium), vitamin C and very high quality protein. Since these foods taste relatively neutral, they are very popular with most children. Many children also like whole wheat pasta and brown rice. To get used to it, you can simply mix them with the conventional “light” products. Cereals such as green corn, millet or buckwheat can also enrich the menu. High-fat types of preparation such as fried potatoes and French fries should not be on the menu too often.

fruit and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables (including legumes) occupy a top position in a wholesome diet. They are an indispensable part of the daily diet. They provide plenty of vitamins (especially vitamin C, folic acid), minerals and fiber. They also contain a large number of so-called phytochemicals, which have been the focus of research for several years because of their health-promoting effects. In addition, almost all types of fruit and vegetables are relatively low in calories.

"Five times a day fruit or vegetables" is recommended by the German Nutrition Society, which means that fruit or vegetables actually belong to every meal. Many children like mild-tasting vegetables (e.g. yellow beets, red and yellow peppers, kohlrabi). Delicious strips of vegetables with dips, fruit skewers or fruit salad often taste so good again. The majority of fruit and at least one portion of vegetables should be consumed raw. The rest can be cooked or enriched in the form of juice spritzers.

Nutrient losses due to storage can be minimized if fruits and vegetables are served on the table as freshly as possible. Frozen products (if possible without adding salt, cream, etc.) are also recommended. For ecological reasons, it is advisable to prefer seasonal vegetables and fruits.


Drinking is especially important for children because their bodies have a higher water content than adults. Children should drink at least three quarters to one and a half liters a day, and more if they are hot, strenuous or have a fever.

Children should always be allowed to drink as much as they want. It is best to have a drink with every meal.

Recommended drinking amount for children


recommended drinking amount per day

4 – 6 years 940 ml 7 – 9 years 970 ml 10 – 12 years 1170 ml 13-14 years 1330 ml

Source: DGE et al: DACH reference values ​​for nutrient intake, 2000

Good thirst quenchers provide little or no food energy. The best drink is water, as drinking water from the tap or as mineral water from the bottle. You can find out about your water quality from your local waterworks. Unsweetened fruit or herbal tea and juice spritzer (at least half of water) are also suitable.

Sweetened drinks such as lemonade, malt beer, cola drinks, iced teas, but also fruit nectars or fruit juice drinks are not recommended because they contain a lot of sugar but only little vitamins and minerals. Drinks containing sweeteners are also not recommended, since children get used to the sweet taste too easily and then reject less sweet drinks.

Milk contains a lot of energy; it should therefore not be seen as a thirst quencher, but as a snack.

milk and milkproducts

Milk and milk products are our most important sources of calcium and are therefore essential for building healthy bones. They also contain high-quality protein, easily digestible fat (depending on the product in different amounts) and vitamins (especially vitamin B2) and also contribute to the iodine supply.

Two servings of milk or milk products per day are recommended for kindergarten children. Whole milk products (3.5% fat), low-fat milk products (1.5% fat) and cheese up to a maximum of 45% F. i. Tr. Cream, crème fraîche and butter should only be used sparingly due to their high fat content.

Children should be given pasteurized milk or UHT milk for drinking. Raw milk is not suitable for children for hygienic reasons.

Dairy products made for children and milk-based snacks (milk slices, milk bars, etc.) usually contain a high amount of sugar and fat and are to be regarded as sweets. They are not suitable as a “milk substitute”.

Meat, fish, eggs

Meat and sausage two to three times a week, a maximum of two eggs and at least one sea fish meal result in an optimal mix. All of these foods contain high quality protein. Meat also provides iron in a very usable form and makes a significant contribution to the supply of zinc and B vitamins. More frequent servings of meat or eggs would on the one hand increase the proportion of undesirable ingredients (fat, cholesterol, purines) and on the other hand lead to the displacement of plant-based foods. Schedule a meat-free meal about three times a week. Vegetable or cereal patties, potato or pasta casseroles with lots of vegetables, a vegetarian pizza or a dessert also taste good with meat as a main course.

In addition to iodized table salt, sea fish is indispensable as a source of iodine. Iodine deficiency has still not been overcome in children. A sea fish meal per week could significantly improve the iodine supply. Many children like to steam fish or hide it in a casserole. If it ever has to be fish fingers: don’t fry in the pan, but put them in the oven at around 200 ° C without adding fat!

fats and oils

Unfortunately, both children and adults eat too much fat. "Hidden" fat can be saved by using low-fat sausages and cheeses and by enjoying sweets, cakes and snacks (e.g. chips) in small quantities. But cooking and spreadable fats should also be used more sparingly. 25 to 35 grams per day for a child is appropriate. This corresponds to three tablespoons. It doesn’t always have to be butter or margarine on bread: offer the children an “alternative” spread, for example. B. from curd!

Butter or a margarine with a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids (sunflower margarine, vegetable margarine, reform margarine) are suitable as spreads. Vegetable oils should mainly be used for cooking or roasting.

Tips for parents with little time

A child-friendly healthy diet can also be achieved in a relatively short amount of time if you observe some principles:

  • Do you prefer unprocessed or little processed food, e.g. B. Whole grain bread instead of white bread, oat flakes instead of sweetened flakes, fish fillet instead of fish cakes, fruit juice instead of lemonade. Minerals, vitamins and fiber are lost in food processing. Canned and finished products also often contain a lot of sugar, fat and salt.
  • If you do not come to shopping regularly, e.g. B. frozen goods, UHT milk, cereal flakes, crispbread and brown rice suitable supplies with which you can serve a healthy meal quickly.
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits save time and often cost little more than fresh produce.
  • Complete ready meals or sandwiches with a salad or simply with raw vegetables such as kohlrabi sticks, cucumber slices or tomato slices.
  • A yogurt or a quick milk drink such as banana milk are suitable as a dessert or snack. They are preferable to “children’s milk products” such as chocolate bars, cereal bars or milk cream slices.
  • Make it a habit to wash fruit right after shopping and keep it in a bowl. So all family members can quickly access.
  • The little effort of putting a plate of fruit slices or vegetable sticks on the table instead of snacking food costs just a few minutes and attracts children to a healthy treat.
  • If there is little time in the morning, it is helpful to set the breakfast table the evening before and to provide the lunch boxes for kindergarten or school breakfast.
  • A quick morning muesli consists of a (unsweetened) muesli ready mix with milk. The fruit is eaten “from the hand”.


This article is a contribution from the state nutrition counseling service.
For example, you can find out about the local offer in your district (e.g. information sheets, lectures and practical events) in Bavaria the State Advice Center for Food and Housekeeping at the Office for Agriculture and Food.


Created and last modified on June 18, 2001.

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