We live in times where supermarkets in every nook and cranny are selling junk food in shapes, sizes and colours attractive enough to have us cave in to cravings. What’s more, we have apps that deliver anything that we desire to our doorstep within minutes. Is it any wonder that lifestyle diseases are on the rise, not just among us adults but in kids and young adults too?
Thanks to our frenetic lives, instant and packaged foods have become a convenient option over more wholesome, home-made foods enjoyed by previous generations who didn’t have as many choices as we do today. When convenience overrides conscious eating, an issue that parents of young kids have to constantly battle with is of how they can be more mindful of what their children eat. Lounge speaks to experts to find out how important it is to pay attention to what is on a child’s plate and the ways parents can strike a balance between their jam-packed lives and their children’s health.
“We live in an age where kitchens have become modular and the food we eat is processed,” writes Bengaluru-based clinical nutritionist Gauravi Vinay in Gut, Set, Go, a children’s journal she has written to help them form a healthy relationship with food. The journal, Vinay reveals, was the result of the innumerable queries that she kept receiving from parents on how to get their kids to eat healthy.
“I also conducted an online workshop on children’s nutrition during covid-19, for which a lot of people signed up,” she recollects. The journal hopes to educate children further about what goes into their bodies, and it does that by featuring pictorial descriptions of healthy foods, information about nutrients, and sections like ‘Know Your Food Colours’ and innovative ideas for school dabbas. Stressing that good eating habits start at home, Vinay says, “I didn’t have to make a lot of effort to get my son habituated to good food because in our house we have always placed importance on getting fresh produce. Also, he was always involved in grocery shopping where he saw us, his parents, opting for fresh food over processed food.”
The Rise of Clean Kid Food Brands
Several companies understand the widening gap between children’s nutritional requirements and the challenges faced by parents in getting kids to eat healthy. And they are trying to bridge it by bringing a host of cleaner, healthier alternatives. Mumbai-based brand Kiddoze, for instance, makes nutritional gummies for children, but to ensure their ‘target audience’ enjoys them, they offer their range of multivitamin, calcium, omega and iron gummies in tasty, fruity flavours. For Nonita Mehta, the founder of Kiddoze, the idea to create flavourful supplements for kids came from the lack of options in the market.
“The (available) options are convenient but lack essential nutrients vital for their growth and development. Additionally, busy lifestyles and the ubiquity of digital devices have contributed to a decrease in physical activity among children, further impacting their overall health,” she says. Mehta believes that today it is essential for children’s nutrition products to be inclusive and accommodate various needs. Especially because of new health challenges that our modern lifestyles have wrought such as iron deficiency, food sensitivities, malnourishment, dietary restrictions and allergies. The way she sees it, Mehta feels it is easily possible to “achieve a balance between modern living and having nutritious options that kids can enjoy”.
Vinay approves of having ‘alternative and clean packaged foods’ for kids. “Processing isn’t all that bad. It just depends on the level of it. The key lies in reading the ingredients listed on the package. Invariably, the first few ingredients are the most in quantity,” she explains.
That children are fussy eaters and averse to wholesome, nourishing foods is the biggest problem faced by most parents who consult with him, says Dr Sayed Mujahid, a pediatrician, influencer (Dr HiFive on Instagram) and co-founder of Hungry Koala, a company that makes organic food products like cereals, nut butters and pancake mixes for children.
“A growing child needs a healthy, balanced diet with the right portions of carbohydrates, proteins and other essential vitamins and minerals. But kids today crave for sugared or salty processed foods that are easily available. That’s the reason why I started Hungry Koala two years back: to manufacture clean, nutritious foods for kids that are free of artificial flavours and preservatives,” he says.
Mujahid also conducts workshops, and is known for his ‘Read Before You Feed’ campaign. “It’s absolutely essential to read the labels of all the foods that we are buying,” he says. “Parents should set an example by eating healthy, avoiding the screen while eating, and taking time out to sit together and eat as a family, at least once day,” he states.
When parents watch what their kids eat, the children form a positive relationship with food, Mehta notes. “Introducing a variety of nutritious options and encouraging mindful eating habits help children develop a healthy attitude towards food. With a few simple changes, nutrition can become a delightful experience for kids and a worry-free journey for parents.”
A few simple tips for parents
The experts give some simple tips that the parents can keep in mind while feeding their children.
1. Always read the ingredients: “The presence of harmful ingredients can cause more harm than the absence of healthy ingredients,” says
Dr Sayed Mujahid.
2. Use gadgets to make life easier: “I am all for gadgets, whether it’s an oven or a food processor. Even an idli/dosa grinder, for instance, can be used to make tasty nut butters in large batches, which are healthy and economically viable,” says Gauravi Vinay.
3. Focus on those ‘dabbas’: One third of a child’s daily requirements goes into the school tiffin box, believes Vinay. “It’s an extremely important part of their daily requirements. So consider it as one-third of the opportunities to nourish your child. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it should be balanced. With a little planning, it can easily be done,” she says.
4. Set an example: “If your kid has to follow a diet, you should follow it too,” says Vinay to which Mujahid adds, “Children copy adults. So unless you change your own habits and time table, you can’t expect children to follow suit.”
5. Eat together as a family sans gadgets: “It’s criminal to give gadgets to kids when they eat just to make our lives simpler. Eat together as a family without the screen at least once a day,” advises Mujahid.
6. Get creative: Children get attracted to the appearance of the food, so go all out and use vegetables and fruits in various shapes, sizes and textures to make the food look as colourful as possible.
Deepa Natarajan Lobo is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru.