Anupama Menon is a nutritionist and writer who has spent 14 years learning, discovering and experiencing the nuances of food, and the art of creating platforms for people to imbibe a better and fitter way of life. Menon runs ‘Right Living’, a consultancy that endorses healthy eating and disseminates nutrition education, through counselling, implementation of lifestyle management programmes for individuals, and the planning and implementation of syllabus oriented nutrition programmes for schools.
What are the different aspects that parents should pay attention to in order to ensure that children have a ‘healthy lifestyle’?
There are three aspects which, if considered carefully, will ensure that your child adopts a healthy lifestyle. The first is the food a child eats, which must necessarily be wholesome and well balanced – but more about this later.The second aspect is one of the most important but compromised areas in a child’s life today. With the influx of ‘children’s media’, playtime is being replaced by TV watching and gaming. Children lead a sedentary lifestyle. Encourage your children to play in the evenings, to participate in sports or other physical activities they enjoy for at least 45 minutes to an hour daily.The third is the emotional development of the child. Parents today want their children to develop all the skill sets possible. So it’s dance and music and drama and craft and drawing…..put a brake on this anxiety to build too many activities into your child’s life! You may do more harm than good. Children need some time to themselves to do what they want and explore on their own without either their parents or teachers telling them what to do. Parents, in turn, must understand the nature of their child, what he likes doing, and nurture that.
What should the ideal diet of an urban child be? What do you consider the key issues in children’s diet patterns today, and how can these be addressed?
Well, this is an extremely broad subject that cannot really be covered in one short conversation! Basically, the parent has to be knowledgeable about what the child’s body requires. While most of the information is available on the net, I would encourage each parent to visit a nutritionist to understand her child’s needs and the food pyramid, and then analyse whether her child is eating right.
There are five food groups – carbohydrates – cereals like bread, rice and wheat; proteins – beans, eggs, meat, fish; milk and milk products; fruits and vegetables, and fats and sugars – besides cooking oils, ghee, butter, sugar, these must include good fats like walnuts, almonds and olive oil.A child’s diet must include a good mix of foods from these groups. If he is eating from the different groups regularly, then individual preferences for different foods in a particular group and small variations in quantities do not really matter. Parents need to be aware of how many servings of each per week the child requires. This is specific to each child – his body structure, appetite and metabolism. Most kids will decide for themselves how much and what they want to eat, and we should allow this since their body knows best what it needs.The main issue today is that a lot of children are not eating balanced meals; while one child is picky about vegetables, another maybe fussy about milk while yet another may just not want fruits. They probably eat too much of one food group, and not enough of another. At the same time, as parents, we also need to recognise that the food pyramid allows for a lot of flexibility, more options than that you can imagine. Let me give you an example. Children are generally fussy about eating fruits and vegetables and often have strong likes and dislikes. Did you know that fruits and vegetables can be categorised into five different colours, depending on the kind of anti-oxidants they have? These colours are yellow/orange, red, white, purple/blue and green. If a child likes and chooses at least two fruits or vegetables from each colour category, then he will be fine! If a child does not like tomatoes, but likes red bell peppers, and is also eating pomegranate, then that’s enough. Instead of forcing spinach on him, try okra, beans, methi or broccoli.