Along with the tremendous positive response to our first issue feature on lunch and snack box items*, came a demand from our readers, “What about other meals? We have to pander to our children’s tastes and wishes while making sure they eat healthy, wholesome foods.
Help!” So here is a handy guide to help make all the meals that your family eats healthy, tasty and interesting.
Today’s children are exposed to cuisines from across the country and the world. It is no wonder that they crave variety in meals. Also, our fast paced urban life has led to not just your children, but your selves too, battling the temptations of processed, ‘instant’ foods that are tasty and attractively packaged. But, the alarming trends of increasing childhood obesity and the higher incidence of lifestyle diseases worry you. To satisfy the family’s taste buds while keeping meals healthy, wholesome and balanced, making meals look attractive and enticing, within the constraints of time…. Tall task? Maybe not — we are here to help!
Tuning in to your child – Rethink your attitude towards meals
Our notions of nutrition are often based on what we were fed as children. Most of us grew up on traditional fare that comprised many-course meals. Today’s children may not have the patience or attention span to sit through elaborate meals. So cut them some slack. If your seven-year-old daughter loves soup, allow her to eat just that for dinner (after making sure there are enough veggies in the soup and coaxing her to eat a whole-grain dinner roll on the side). Be game to try momos for breakfast and not just idlis. It is important not to be fixated about dal-chawal or thayir sadham! Of course, this will mean that you stock your kitchen with spices and seasonings that your mother may not have done in her time.
Also be flexible to individual tastes and whims – while you cannot make different lunch or dinner items every day for each member of the family, try to ‘treat’ each of them to a dish based on their favourite food item, from time to time.
As your child grows, you will find that the issues you tackle on the meals front keep morphing! Try the life-saving ‘This too shall pass’ parenting mantra and our tips in the table below.
Getting the audience in sync – sensitising children to healthy food
Now that you are prepared to think out-of-the-box to make meals child-friendly and fun, here are some things you need to do to make children understand the ‘health’ and ‘nutrition’ part of meals.
- Talk about the need to avoid processed and packaged foods – do explain to your children about artificial colouring, flavours and preservatives that are used, and why food prepared fresh is best for the body. Teach them to read labels, so that the learning is reinforced during visits to the supermarket or grocery store.
- Involve your children in the food preparation process – starting with garnishing, grating and moving on to cutting, grinding and actual cooking. Not only will they appreciate the effort that goes into making meals but will also be sensitised to subtle flavours, tastes and smells.
- Let them try growing their own greens, tomatoes and herbs in pots in the balcony or backyard. They will be thrilled to make their own salad for dinner, after harvesting!
- With older children, discuss the science of food – how to calculate the calorific value of each meal, how the calorific requirement of an individual changes with gender, lifestyle, body weight etc. Armed with such information, your child will be able to regulate his diet himself.