What is the ethnicity of the best food?

Eating culture and everyday family culture

The three institutions of food, kitchen and meals have both integrating and community-building functions as well as excluding and excluding. With the choice one assigns oneself to others, is (s) t like them. So one is (s) t different from others at the same time, differentiating oneself from them: the vegetarians from the meat eaters, the “ecos” from the McDonald fans, the Muslims from the Christians, etc. How serious this can become becomes clear when adherents of strict diets (e.g. vegans) find little opportunity to eat together with others.

Regional or religious food cultures dictate how meals should be handled. This in turn experiences breaks and specific implementations in the families: e.g. when parents come from different eating cultures, be it from different social milieus, different German regions, nations or religions. Changes are also caused by vacations, groups of friends, work or changed demands and expectations of the children.

Accordingly, the following rules and expectations associated with food cultures have different meanings in families:

What can men and women do?
Whether openly or covertly, there are still rules for what a “male meal” is, namely plentiful, strong, with meat, and what a “female meal” is: moderate, rather soft and tender, with more fruit and vegetables. One shouldn't be surprised if these rules work just as much for parents as they do for children.
There are also rules for food preparation: men “are allowed” to grill meat, women “should” or “can cook better” (the vast majority of men still stay out of everyday food preparation, despite positive developments) (Setzwein, 2004) .
Example: A hard-working bricklayer would understand a “real” meal to be something that is filling and has the ingredients that are important for him: usually a “filling side dish” such as potatoes, rice or noodles, but above all meat and then vegetables. He would rather label a salad with shrimp, perhaps the lunch of his boss's wife, as a starter or “rabbit food”.

What cultural ideas are there about what “real food” is?
The ideas differ not only between ethnic cultures but also between different social groups. They also have a direct meaning for when you start to feel full: only when you have eaten “properly”. The idea of ​​this is changing (Barlösius, 2011).
Example: What is or was a side dish for the fathers, e.g. the pasta, can be the core of a meal for the children and (e.g. as a spaghetti dish) it can be a main course.

Food is a foundation of cultural and social identity. This does not only apply to conscious decisions (“I pay attention to sustainability”, “I am a man and not a vegetarian”).
Example: These experiences have led to the fact that whole population groups were associated with their “typical” dishes, such as “spaghetti” or “macaroni” (Italians), “krauts” (the name for German cabbage and sauerkraut eaters), "Frogs" (for the French who eat frogs).

Since taste and feelings are closely linked, familiar food in a positively perceived atmosphere not only gives pleasure, but also security and the feeling of belonging (DRWS, 2013).
Example: After a long stay abroad, people often long for certain dishes and foods (e.g. their preferred bread).

3. What is the importance of the meal for the family?

The family meal is still a place of cultivation of community and of eating: the rhythm of common times is at the same time a rhythm of meeting and mutual communication. Family members come from different walks of life to eat together, exchange ideas and, if things go well, find each other again and again. The hormones produced by eating create positive feelings that are transferred not only to taste experiences but also to relationships (DRWS, 2013).

The importance of the meal as a meeting place and communication opportunity is still popular. The time budget studies show that the time spent preparing food was reduced, but the time spent on meals increased. Bartsch's study on youth eating culture (2011) shows that young people still sit down for a meal together when they are full. They were looking for this togetherness and communication.

The meal structures change. Social time structures have a centrifugal effect on common time structures and make it difficult to set common times. Most families, however, continue to struggle to get meals together. Lunch is increasingly being replaced by dinner as a shared meal. If older children are part of the household, a late morning brunch replaces breakfast and lunch on Sundays, thus enabling people to come together at different rhythms of the generations (Leonhäuser et al., 2009).

The so-called cultivation of food includes - supported by upbringing and education - growing into cultural structures and the adoption of rules and norms. Children learn what is eaten, when, with whom, etc. Many rules and norms have changed - also thanks to the affluence and the democratization of families: the rules of sharing today are generally based on the needs of the individual or are even superfluous in most families because there is enough food available. Children are rarely forced to eat and finish everything. Children are also allowed to speak at the table, and table manners have become more liberal (Schlegel-Matthies, 2002, 2011).

Table manners
In principle, table manners have an integrating or excluding function: they show one's social or societal position. Every culture knows rules for eating. The importance of the common rules is so great that today many people still associate eating culture with “behavior at the table”. However, the rules depend on the respective social context and partly had the task of adequately reflecting the social position.

Traditionally “bourgeois” rules still apply today if you don't want to embarrass yourself in a restaurant or if you don't want to offend other people for whom so-called etiquette is important. Anyone who sees through the rules can deal with them more confidently and make a selection that is felt to be sensible for their own family table - and still prepare the children for other situations.

The design of the meal influences the social climate at the table. But that doesn't have to be expressed in particularly elaborate dishes and special table decorations. The fact that the dishes are placed on the table in special crockery and not in a pot, for example, shows in the so-called bourgeois families that firstly one owned this crockery and secondly either had the time (on Sundays) or the servants to do the housework to do. Today this rule is set as an “aesthetic principle” without asking who is doing the associated work. Today, families are more likely to decide for themselves what expectations and demands they have of meal planning. They weigh up what they can and want to do for it (Barlösius, 2011; Schlegel-Matthies, 2002, 2011).

4. What is the significance of the family eating culture for learning to eat, for the upbringing and education of children? Or: How do people get a taste for it?

“We don't eat what we like, we like what we eat.” This statement by the nutritional psychologist Pudel (2002) marks the basis of learning to eat.
By nature, humans have a preference for the sweet taste (from birth), for that of meat and fat. They have to get used to salty and sour in the first years of life: Bitter is initially rejected as the “taste of the poison”. Children have to learn to accept it. With vegetables that contain bitter substances, this often requires more patience, because there is usually far less motivation for eating vegetables than for sweet bitter lemonades or - for young people - beer.

You learn to eat by eating: Even in the womb, children get used to the taste of the food that the mother eats. Mothers can use it to condition children to certain types of taste (sweetness) and aromas (fish, garlic). After the breastfeeding phase, toddlers get to know these and other tastes step by step through the dishes that are offered to them. You approach these dishes in an interplay of curiosity and neophobia (fear of new things). Both are innate and meaningful. Neophobia protects against poisons, and curiosity enables new experiences. Getting used to many different foods, dishes and the associated flavors are the best basis for later eating habits.

An important educational goal is the expansion of the acceptance of taste or food. Taste development begins in the first few weeks of life, but it accompanies people throughout their lives. Even if the taste preferences of childhood are seldom lost, they can always be expanded and new taste preferences also become more dominant.

Flavor enhancement is important in many ways and should therefore be promoted. This is especially true in view of the increasing voluntary self-restriction on a few basic dishes such as pizza, pasta, French fries (the "PiPaPo principle"), which parents often give in to in order to avoid conflicts. The broader the spectrum of accepted foods (especially vegetables) and the more intensively it is used, the more likely there is a varied, health-promoting diet and the better a person can find their way around in the internationalized world of eating (DRWS, 2013; Methfessel et al., 2016).

Taste formation at the family table

What determines that a new taste is accepted - also by young people and adults?

  • First of all through Getting to know, getting closer and positive role models - repeated several times with all your senses. Children (and adults) get used to the fact that a food “belongs to the meal”: through the sight, the smell and, above all, because they observe that the food is positively received by others. The behavior of the role models at the table is usually the deciding factor for wanting to try it out for yourself.
  • Frequent trying - not under high pressure, because that can lead to aversions. You slowly get used to the taste, it becomes familiar and at some point it can also become part of the common family meal.
  • Positive emotions - in a happy round table, at a special celebration, on vacation. So everything that has a positive connotation also makes the food and its taste appear (more) positive. It is true that you cannot fully repeat the taste that is linked to the mood (food and drinks always taste different on vacation than the same products at home), but they have at least one “positive connotation”.
  • Table community: If you like the people, then you try their food more willingly, then the good mood is transferred to the acceptance of the food.
  • Positive and “special” relationships to the people you eat with or with whom you eat. A person's appreciation carries over to the food; one is ready to try and find something good.
  • Social acceptance and role models: What people eat who are a role model or whose respect is important to children (but not only to them!) Has a great influence on the acceptance of a food. Visiting people in front of whom one does not want to embarrass oneself also contributes to the openness towards unknown dishes. Suddenly, children in other families are eating food and battles are fought over consumption at home.
  • High status: If a food is respected, it is more likely to be tried, even against taste resistance. Generations of male adolescents have become accustomed to drinking beer in order to acquire the status of adulthood and masculinity.
  • Voluntariness and independence: Eating is increasingly becoming an area of ​​struggle in families. When under pressure, children often react with resistance or use concern to advance their interests. In the long term, it is more effective to stimulate with a desire to discover and prepare things yourself or to avoid the conflict with distractions than to create a taste experience that is linked to a dispute.
  • Create relationships: What you know, you value more. A relationship with food, e.g. B. knowledge of how it is produced (sowing radishes yourself), and also a relationship with the production of the food (taking part in cooking, seasoning, designing), are a relatively safe guarantee for the willingness to accept the jointly produced dishes and thus expanding the taste.
  • Connectivity to familiar dishes: A dish that links the new to the familiar offers a “bridge” to get to the new.

The possibilities mentioned can help parents to influence the acceptance behavior of children in such a way that new dishes are tried first.

Where does flavor expansion find its limits?
There are always limits to the willingness to accept a new taste or a new food or a new dish. This is especially true if ...

  • Basic values ​​form a strong barrier: e.g. if you have previously played with the animal that is to be eaten or if you have been raised to reject certain foods, such as horse meat.
  • deep-seated aversions were developed individually.
  • cultural ideas about food have been internalized, e.g. worms are nauseating.

Not to be forgotten: people are and eat differently. Children are not only different in their courage, hungry or influenced by other influences in their eating behavior. From birth to full physical development, they have to cope with different developmental tasks and thus also learning to eat (Methfessel et al., 2016).

5. Food culture and family culture

Food culture is always part of a family culture. It is closely intertwined with other areas of dealing with oneself and others and with parts of the culture of living together, some of which are briefly mentioned or summarized below.

  • Culture of concern: The supply of food is embedded in caring for one another and for the children. The experience of “being cared for” gives children security.
  • Physical cultures: Body cultures are often associated with food cultures. For many people today, “slimness and fitness” are central goals. These goals are not (only) aimed at through exercise and healthy eating, but mostly through so-called "controlled eating behavior", in which the physical signals are no longer observed, and through diets: A diet (together with the mother) is for Girls now go to the initiation ritual to “become women”, although they don't need this diet. Children should not experience and learn a dogged fight against the body, but a happy life with the body (Methfessel et al., 2016).
  • Structures and rituals of the community: Rhythms, rules and rituals help children to fit into the life of social groups, to find their way around and to behave appropriately, also with regard to eating behavior. Many things in life are learned by people simply by doing them and getting used to them. This is very helpful and relieving - if what is learned also makes sense in the long term. Reflecting on the rhythms, rules and rituals, checking to what extent they are still useful, adapted to social development, educational tasks or age, is the responsibility of the person in charge, i.e. H. in the parents' family.
  • Culture of mutual respectinstead of wrongly understood self-determination: Food is (unfortunately) largely in the hands of women. Unfortunately, this also means that the efforts of many women to achieve a “good” diet (in their respective understanding) are not adequately appreciated. If the favorite dish is not prepared, there will be “grumbling” or self-sufficiency from the refrigerator. Men are often bad role models here, especially when their wives strive for a healthy diet. Rules such as about eating are allowed to be talked about but not complained about and the fridge and freezer are taboo before meals and for children (because they undermine the self-service of eating at family meals) are important prerequisites, also for respecting work with meals .Of course, respect also means that aversions and dislikes are respected.
  • Culture of shared sensual enjoyment and "pleasant" communication: Where food is not only gobbled down in a hurry (which is also part of everyday life), but where people sit, eat and talk together, there is space for both enjoyment and communication. Talking casually on different topics can also help children learn about the quality of food or the preparation of food. Curiosity, enjoyment and the happy use of the senses should be the guiding principles - the opposite of complaining, disgruntled comments. Food disputes, comments on school performance or other depressing issues for the people involved can spoil eating - not just now, but also in the long term. Children from families where there was regular argument at the table lose z. Sometimes not just having fun with individual dishes, but with eating in general.

All of these orientations apply not only to the family, but also to educational institutions. While it is generally the case that the responsible adults are also responsible for the children and their nutrition, in view of the still often lacking quality of daycare and school meals, it makes sense for parents to promote good nutrition and a good eating culture outside of the Use family.
Basically, it is important that and which structures determine the food in the family (as in the educational institutions). Arbitrariness in dealing with food nowadays means quickly leaving the field to other educational or socialization agents, such as television and advertising or the social environment, so to speak - and thus also relinquishing responsibility.

People who publicly argue that children already know “what's good for them” ignore that the preference for sweet and fat is innate. They also ignore the fact that some children eat more than they need (which can also be genetic: “precautionary food”). In addition, they underestimate the seductiveness of today's nutritional conditions, the ubiquitous access to less recommendable foods that contain a lot of sugar, fat, flavors, flavor enhancers, etc. Children may have already come to know and love the latter through their mother's diet during pregnancy. As long as only health-promoting foods and dishes are available and children naturally and incidentally learn that these are “good and edible food”, children can largely be left with the choice of food. Then hunger and the respective physical development regulate the choice.

6. Implications for the family eating culture

What is the significance of the family food culture? What do you have to pay attention to?
Since taste and acceptance are determined early on by experience and people are first of all taste conservative and eat, i. In other words, if they usually prefer a familiar, security-giving taste, it is not surprising when children reach for the familiar. In small children up to the age of 3 or 4, phases of habituation due to the desire for repetition are normal. One taste (dish) after the other should slowly be introduced and first become familiar, new things should alternate with known ones. Not all children can be expected to expand their taste spectrum on their own initiative. Some do, especially when they want their parents' food. Others need their impulses.

In earlier, less rich and liberal times, this arose less of a problem: What was eaten was eaten (and not always, at least not from the beginning, with enthusiasm), and hunger, the unquestioned table rules and / or the strictness of the parents suppressed the resistance that is common today. Today there is less hunger and a more liberal upbringing. The parents' concern even leads the children to discover the dining table as a place where they can manipulate the mother or parents. It is (too) often the case that it is not the children who are grateful when they get something to eat, but the parents when the children eat what is on offer. This creates a vicious circle of interactions that give food a “crazy” place, somewhere between power struggle, therapy and resignation. No advice can guarantee how to avoid this entirely. But better conditions can be created to prevent such vicious circles, as the Danish family therapist Jesper Juul (2002) impressively describes. However, the following rules would have to be adapted to the individual household and family context.

Seven central rules for a successful family dining culture

  1. Creating your own family eating culture: Your own eating culture needs structures, including:
    • Times. Fixed common meal times, everyday and holiday times, typical dishes for certain situations and occasions and much more. a. m. Time structures are the central basis of a food culture.
    • Spaces. Times are often linked to spaces: spaces of commonality (dining table) or of retreat (own room, etc.).
    • Food. Typical family dishes and eating styles are an unmistakable piece of a (eating) biography. This creates identity and community. If they are used in a creative and not limiting way, then they can be an enriching “legacy”.
    • Meals. Meals connect times, foods and people. A "family meal culture" with meal rhythms (also with guests) are important components for socialization (introduction to the community) and enculturation (introduction to culture).
    • Table manners. Table manners are not an end in themselves, but rules that make sense of mutual respect and the safe handling of different eating situations. They are first practiced and then "filled with meaning" with increasing age and thus also shapeable and adaptable to the family development. The aim should not be to “train” the children, but rather to practice routines that enable them to deal with eating situations safely and confidently.
    • values. Appreciations and norms derived from them provide stability and can radiate into other areas: The values ​​conveyed through food relate to the individual and the community, the relationship to housework, the importance of health, money, status and symbolic consumption and, last but not least, the relationship between people . There is hardly any other area where they can be practiced as naturally as when eating.
    • Structures. Structures are a prerequisite for the development of a family food culture and for the introduction to the surrounding food culture. That does not mean that this has to be the same for everyone and always - and certainly not that this family eating culture educates to limit. A family culture that is curious and open, but also critical of new impulses, provides children with important prerequisites for dealing with change in a world of constant and rapid change.

  2. Take responsibility and create a “good” family dining culture
    I agree with Juul (2002) when he emphasizes that parents are responsible for their children's nutrition and are not allowed to hand it over: neither to grandma, nor to the children, and certainly not to advertising. A justification for your own decision or the general respect for the wishes and interests of the children are important and also helpful in conveying your own rules. In the context of what one can be responsible for, it is important to take into account the interests of the children and to enable alternative courses of action. Children notice very quickly whether and how parents take on their responsibility - and despite all the resistance they generally respect it more than the parents are aware of.
  3. Practice taking things for granted instead of waging power struggles
    With the assumption of responsibility, there is the possibility and the obligation to practice “things that are taken for granted”. This can include eating and when together, only being allowed to "nibble" raw vegetables or fruit before eating, trying what is on the table, welcoming new things with curiosity, filling up on them, what is offered (even if not to the same extent of everything) and much more a. m. The more such things are taken for granted that determine the food culture in families, the fewer fights there are. Self-evident things can also be changed under changing conditions, but they should not be replaced by arbitrariness. It is also "normal" for young people to attempt to cut the cord while confronting these things that are taken for granted and that they are given increasing freedom. According to current studies, there is no need to fear that they will turn their backs on the family - and certainly not on the family dining table (Albert, Hurrelmann & Quenzel, 2015; Bartsch, 2008).
  4. Creating relationships instead of suing for behavior
    Anyone who wants to develop a family dining culture should also design the framework accordingly. The desired must be made easier, the undesirable excluded or made more difficult: • If the consumption of sweets or lemonades is to be restricted, then these foods and drinks should not be available in the household. • What is desired should be available and tempting: Fruits and raw vegetables are more likely to be taken if they are in the focus and play area (the more manageable and bite-sized, the more often). • If family meals are important, parents must also adhere to them. • Values ​​should be based on practice and exemplary behavior and not be conveyed through teachings.
  5. Convincing happiness and shared enjoyment
    "Training the senses" is an important part of the ability to enjoy. It takes place while eating together. A happy group is the best prerequisite for developing a good relationship with food and family. Depressing problems and arguments do not belong at the dining table, serious conversations and discussions do. If you manage to combine pleasant memories of (shared) meals with positive emotions through a successful table atmosphere, then this is a significant achievement for the education of food culture. When parents eat with pleasure, this entices children more than when parents are obsessed with diets or poke around in a bad mood at the food and insist on the children that they should “eat sensibly”.
    If the “good” food is also beneficial to health, then there is no contrast between “healthy” and “tasty”. If what is meaningful is practiced with fun, there is no need for teaching.
  6. Living the value of a “good” meal together - contradictions are a challenge
    Culture involves conveying values. Too often there is a peculiar conflict of values: So-called unhealthy things, such as high-fat and sugary desserts, cakes, fatty roasts, sweets or cola, are given as consolation or in situations that are rated as "special" such as Sundays and public holidays or when eating out. This comes from a time when foods that were not very healthy were still rare. This contradiction that a cultural “festival food” such as B. cake, is also rated as not beneficial to health, is not easy to dissolve. Family food culture demands a successful balancing act between the values ​​that apply to everyday life and the equally obvious exceptions to them. This also makes a contribution to reflecting on cultural habits. It is certainly a relief when good alternatives are found in the family culture, such as joint activities that change the usual process from meal to meal. It is also important to find a good alternative to "comfort food". It is not necessary to generally reject food as an element of celebration or as a consolation if it is possible to use it consciously, e.g. B. is not the only or primary consolation.
  7. Appreciating the quality of the food and respecting and sharing the work for the food
    The consumer and "fun society" conveys an image of food that obscures the view of the associated performance: Good food costs money, time and work. Investing in this presupposes that you have the necessary appreciation and respect for it. And this should be part of the eating culture and the education associated with it. If the oil in the car is more important and "more expensive" than that in the salad, if the rarely used drill is more natural than the regularly used kitchen knife, it is difficult to claim To understand something about quality-led eating culture. Access to a meal that tastes good and is health-promoting can be achieved together in the family: on Sunday excursions to the farm, in discussions in the health food store about the different quality of the products and, last but not least, when they are together Cooking: Integrating children into everyday life is an important part of the familial “image ungsprogramm ”and not to be replaced by any special funding; Joint actions are an important basis for families that has yet to be developed.
    Working together in the kitchen is becoming more important because it is becoming less common. The proportion of out-of-home catering is increasing for all family members. Through a longer stay in day care centers and schools, children increasingly experience "gastronomy situations", i. H. the food is served to them or at least presented ready-made. As a result, they have fewer and fewer opportunities to experience the preparation of meals and to participate in it (Rößler-Hartmann, 2007). Creating these opportunities becomes an educational task.


The “family table” is a “microcosm”. It is worth maintaining and designing it as a place for education, enjoyment and community (Methfessel, 2011). Everyday familial culture is also reflected in the familial eating culture, in the importance of eating together, the commitment to it in everyday life - and in the importance of those who care. When it comes to the latter, there is still a lot to discover and catch up in German families.


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All photos: © B.Methfessel


Prof. retired Dr. Barbara Methfessel
until 2013: Heidelberg University of Education
Fac. III, Dept. Everyday Culture and Health



Created on May 7th, 2004, last changed in January 2016