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Part 3: Feeding Infants, Young Children and Adolescents  >  Healthy Food Habits


Guest Article – Ms. Karen Anand

Healthy food need not be boring food, writes Karen Anand, gourmet and chef

Humans are a difficult lot. We do not like to be told what to eat and when to eat it. This is because we do not eat prescriptively but by taste. Taste ultimately rules everything. We hear of the great benefits of the Mediterranean and Chinese diets with their large intake of fruits, vegetables and fibre and small amounts of dairy and processed (junk) food. But do people in these countries eat their vegetables and pasta, or steamed fish and rice, and proudly shout from the rooftops about how much fibre they’ve consumed that day? Hell no! They eat their fruit and noodles and stir-fries because they taste good and because that’s what they have always eaten. Our traditional Indian diets have, on the whole, been pretty healthy, with a good amount of vegetables and natural fibre. Prosperity has ruined everything, similar to the case of Europe in the 18th century; we are now eating more refined sugar, oil (in the form of fried foods) and junk. Even the simple thali has been transformed to include less fresh vegetables and fruit and more fried, refined cereal-based snacks, spice and sweets.

If you are exercising for 2 hours a day or walking to work, your body can probably cope with the excesses. Even a fit person has to change her diet once she gets into a sedentary mode of living, as is the case with pregnancy. You need to be aware of what you take in, and when. Just as important as your diet is also your mental well-being. Most of the time, you can’t physically rush around anyway because of nausea. And that is part of the role of nausea. If you are vomiting, toxins are being thrown out of your body. Take sickness as a sign. Eat small amounts of food every 2 hours. This way, it is easy to balance your diet between things that are good for you (fresh fruits, raw vegetables, vegetable juice, dry fruits, sprouts, nuts, seeds, coconut milk-based dishes) and the junk you might crave.

Bringing up healthy babies is another matter. Be calm and be brave. Listen to your convictions and to common sense. Breastfeed as much as you can and add solids at 6 months, beginning with mashed banana and then graduating to steamed apple, mashed potato and cereals such as nachni. I not only followed this but also prevented my boys from having any chocolate, sweets and soft drinks until it was time to go to birthday parties. Then you have very little control. People called me cruel. I am proud to say that I have two big, healthy hunks now who go out and ask for nimboo pani instead of cola, because they like it. A soft drink here, a hamburger there surely can’t cause irreparable damage, you might say. And you would be right. Anything in moderation usually doesn’t. But with kids, junk tends to become a habit that even adults enforce upon them. How often have you heard people say, “The kids can have pizza while we eat dinner”? Let’s not underestimate our children. We owe them a healthy start to make their lives richer, more aware and more vital than many of our own. And the first step is to try and change our own eating habits. There is no point depriving children of cola if they see you drinking it every evening.

Feeding children healthy food can be a frustrating experience. So what are concerned, even nutritionally  conscious parents to do? Firstly, don’t panic, because you’re not alone. Picky eating habits; like many quirks of childhood, usually don’t last long. Understanding the origins of finicky behaviour may be helpful. It may be that children are simply not hungry at mealtimes. This usually gets ironed out when you start cutting down their snacking. Or, they may associate mealtimes with parental pressure. Insisting that Johnny cleans his plate or else he’ll have the same thing for dinner, almost invariably results in resistance. Food, especially for a child, cannot be forced. Unfortunately, many of us have to learn the hard way. Keep your perspective. It’s a lot more important in the long run for your child to regard mealtimes as potentially pleasant than to eat two more chapatis.

On the other hand, giving in too much to fussy children by readily offering alternatives may avert an imminent battle, but it won’t broaden their food acceptance. Perhaps the best route for parents is to provide a wide variety of wholesome foods and to encourage, but not force, your children to try them. Just because your daughter says she doesn’t like peas today doesn’t mean she won’t like them next week, next month or next year, or in some other dish. I found our little boy lapping up leftover spinach (yes spinach!) soup one day. It may have been that he was genuinely hungry, or maybe the soft leaves appealed to him more than a mashed-up vegetable. I was so overjoyed that I didn’t really bother to stop and analyse. Parents of fussy kids — and let’s face it, most of them are fussy, at one time or another — have to learn to develop patience, fortitude and creativity.

Bringing children up is hard enough. Feeding them has to be worse. Should you let them be? Should you force them to eat what we eat? How do we, without endless guilt pangs, ensure that they get a ‘balanced diet’? Rational verbal persuasion usually gets you nowhere with little monsters. They sit there, listen and then do just the opposite. Sounds familiar? Why not take advantage of a child’s natural curiosity by focusing it on food? Many parents I’ve met have learnt that even the most reluctant eater will eat something prepared by himself — a clear case of pride. Even if they peel their own cucumber or half attempt to roll a roti, it’s their own achievement. There is nothing quite like watching your formerly disdainful vegetable pusher proudly announce, “I made the salad today”. 

Even the most reluctant eater may eat something prepared by himself
Even the most reluctant eater may eat something prepared by himself

Although it may seem like a lot of trouble to have your kids participate in this way, it does seem to work. You may even want to go one step further and let your child suggest or even plan a couple of meals each week. This may mean that you have to initially swallow a lot of pizza and macaroni, but it’s worth it in the long run. They are much more likely to then accept what you suggest. Conversely, young diners will take in a wide variety of foods and flavours if that is the norm in their homes.

Presentation influences children’s receptivity to certain foods. Nicely cut (preferably raw) vegetables, lots of fresh fruit, jellies made from fresh juice, animal-shaped breads, dry fruits, nuts and pumpkin seeds made into an alternative TV munch to wafers, all make for good, clean, healthy fun foods. For those foods that remain stubbornly on your child’s “yucky” list, try sneaking them into popular dishes. Add finely chopped vegetables to the tomato sauce in pizzas, or blend a little bean curd or paneer into cheese spreads. The more you cook for kids, the more you’ll come up with your own little nutrient-packed “secret weapons”.

But the best ingredient of all may be your own sense of adventure, mixed with liberal doses of tolerance and humour. No matter how guilt-ridden we may be, remember children are great imitators. They may not eat what you do initially, but they will soon learn. I remember being tapped on the back (for a change) by another mother outside my son’s school one day, with the words, “My son tells me that you give yours brown bread sandwiches and he eats them. You’re so lucky!”, I smiled but didn’t tell her that he had no choice. If your children see you tucking into unhealthy, soft white bread all day long, why should he or she be expected to eat brown? However if they see you enthusiastically preparing and eating everyday meals, and enjoying the experience, rather than rushing through the whole thing like a dreaded chore, don’t be surprised to find future healthy gourmets in your midst.

7 March, 2016

Part 3
Feeding Infants, Young Children and Adolescents
Feeding the Newborn
Feeding Young Children
Food for Adolescents
The Food Pyramid
Healthy Food Habits
Guide to Child Care
1 Pregnancy, Childbirth ...
2 The Growing Years
3 Feeding Infants, ...
4 Keeping Your Child Healthy
5 Keeping Your Child Happy
About Dr. R. K. Anand

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