Monday, July 07, 2014

The mystery of the snack box

D has been going to a play school for more than a year now. Since she wakes up quite late, she usually drinks a little milk or a tiny portion of her breakfast. I usually pack her breakfast for her mid-morning snack break and she has been eating without a fuss so far (touchwood!). I used to wonder what her friends/classmates bring in their snack boxes. When I ask D, she usually says "biscuits" or "grapes" :-)

Early April, we enrolled D in a new school for a summer camp programme. Being a new school, I accompanied her for 3 days and sat next to her, to get her settled in the new place. During the 10:30 AM break, it was so cute to see all the tiny kids open their snack boxes and eat together. Snack breaks are a perfect time to bond and get to know each other. Yes, it applies to 3 year olds as well. I quickly glanced around to check out the various snacks that kids have brought along. Some of them were the usuals like parathas, cheese sandwiches and bread+jam.

A 3 year old sitting next to us was eating dosa with sugar. The teacher asked him, "Do you like to eat your dosa with sugar?". The boy replied in an innocent tone, "No, I only like sugar". What a cute response!

There were a few snack boxes with store-bought cookies, banana chips and most enticing of them all, Lotto Choco-Pie. The kid with the paratha was staring longingly at the Choco Pie in a colorful pack. He wasn't too keen in eating the rest of the paratha. I was thinking about his mom who would have spent time making a healthy home-made paratha in the morning.

Kids can be easily influenced. They observe their peers, brands, logos, ads, messages etc etc. Food industry is well aware of this fact.

I'm not completely against packaged food products but I believe they should be consumed in moderation. Would I have my meals everyday in a restaurant because it is convenient? No! I apply the same rationale when it comes to giving packaged foods to my daughter.

The goal of big corporations is to make profit. They are not concerned about making healthy choices for their consumers. To get higher margins, they would cut their costs in numerous ways than we could imagine. They not only want you to consume their packaged foods but they want you to consume more of it. A ketchup or a jam bottle is readily available in most of the urban households in India but the food industry want you to consume 3 bottles in a month instead of one. No wonder, they advertise their products by advocating a generous spread of ketchup on a chapati to feed a fussy kid.

The West has woken up to the fact that these packaged foods are destroying their health and creating obesity related disorders. So now the food corporations are extending their wings to target consumers in developing countries like India.

Taste enhancers, preservatives, artificial flavors, loaded sugar and salt - all are awaiting yours' as well as your kids' attention in the aisles of the supermarket.

My intention of this post is that you be "aware" of your food choices. Read the nutrition labels and ingredients. Ensure moderation of processed foods.

I believe in following the 7 rules of eating by Michael Pollan. Out of these rules, the following 2 are my favorites

"Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food"
"Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce"


In the next post, I plan to share a few healthy and quick snack box ideas so we don't have to send a "Choco Pie" in our kids' snack box when we are short of time.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Inspirations

A couple of days back, my husband asked me an interesting question "Who inspires you the most?". No one has ever asked me this question before. Top-of-the-mind recall led me to answering "Sachin, AR Rahman, Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam". But the question was still lingering in my mind.

While I was going for a walk around a nearby lake a few days back, the answers started flashing in front of my eyes. I saw an elderly couple, walking around the lake. They must be 60+ and looked fit and healthy. I noticed another elderly man, jogging at a brisk pace. There were several such senior citizens who were walking and I felt inspired at that very moment. I had initially planned for a single round, but I ended up finishing two rounds. I pushed myself further in the second round, with a slow paced jog.

During the jog, this phrase emerged from my cluttered thoughts. I feel inspired by "People who don't feel constrained by their age, gender or life situation and go onto accomplish amazing things for themselves and for others".
Active senior citizens are one of the interesting set of people I admire. They don't believe that they have achieved a certain state in life that they can now just plonk themselves in front of the TV all day long. They continue to strive in improving their physical wellbeing, exercising, eating right etc. They keep themselves updated with what's happening in the world and continue to keep up with their curiosity. They also contribute to the society in whatever way they could - sharing their wisdom with youngsters, participating in social causes and engaging themselves in community events. When I reach that stage in my life, I want to imbibe these qualities and stay active. I have started taking steps in the right direction by first putting an end to TV a month back.

The second set of inspirations come from people who break stereotypes and not feel constrained by their gender. Sanjeev Kapoor, my favorite chef is a classic example. There is so much love and care while he prepares a dish. When he made a choice to be a chef, I'm sure he must have faced a whole lot of questions from the society. Recently, I came across a woman Shivya who loves to travel on her own. While I was reading her blog about her various experiences, I felt so inspired. Though I love to travel, I have never traveled by myself for a leisure trip. Also, I have mostly stuck to the touristy places when traveling with my family. Her blog has expanded my view on travel.

I believe in the concept of life long learning. There's never an end to learning something new or expanding your current knowledge. It doesn't matter if you are a CEO, a super rich person or a 55+ senior citizen. Learning should never stop, even if you have completed your formal education. One of my friends' father finished a post-graduate degree in Yoga and Spirituality when he turned 60. How amazing is that! If we keep up the curiosity, learning happens automatically. Continuous learners are such interesting and inspiring people that they can talk about a multitude of topics.

The fourth set of people from whom I draw a lot of inspiration from are those who care about the environment, those who manage to implement the principles of reduce-reuse-recycle, the minimalist consumers. I'm so glad to see that this community is growing. Over the past 10 years, I have taken baby steps towards being a minimalist and avoiding unnecessary purchases, home composting wet waste, reducing paper consumption and overall, reducing my carbon footprint. I know I have a long way to go. But with such motivating people taking the right steps towards preserving our environment, I know I can emulate a lot of their best practices.

Does this list resonate with you? Do think about your inspirations. It helps you to understand yourself a bit more.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

9 tips to make your toddlers love fruits

After posting my earlier article on 10 ways to make your toddlers love vegetables, a few of my friends suggested that I write a similar article on fruits. I was surprised, thinking, "Don't kids love fruits? They taste sweet!". While talking to my neighbor, she mentioned how her 5 year old daughter doesn't eat any fruits, except oranges. So this seems to be a problem as well, though not as big as feeding veggies.

Most of the principles from my earlier article still holds true when it comes to fruits. A few more which I would like to highlight:

1) Start early
Home made Fruit purees are one of the best weaning foods when you start introducing solids. Please avoid the ready-to-eat jars. They cost a bomb, imported ages back and tastes so artificial. It's very easy to make fruit purees at home. When D was around 6 months, I started her off with apple puree. She loved it and ate without a fuss. The recipe is very simple.
     - Wash the apples, peel them and chop them into chunks.
     - Place them in a bowl with little water. Pressure cook for 3 whistles.
     - After taking it out, puree in mixer.
     - For the initial few days, strain the pulp and give the juice.
     - Slowly introduce the mashed pulp.
Follow the same recipe for pear puree.

Around the same time, I also introduced banana purees. You don't have to cook them. Chop the banana into small pieces and puree it in mixer. I introduced the small yellow variety which is a healthier version as compared to the long ones.

2) Be consistent
Ensure you follow a routine for fruits - either as a mid-morning or an evening snack or both. Based upon how your child prefers to eat (pureed, mashed, cut up fine), serve them appropriately. You can try small pieces around 9-10 months to check if he/she is ready to chew. Try placing a small bowl with fine pieces in front of your kid. They are perfect finger foods for your child to start self-feeding. Please make sure you don't cut them into round shapes, as a safety precaution to avoid choking.

From the time D was 6 months until now, I ensure she eats some fruits every evening. It has become a routine for her that she should have fruits for her evening snack. Once she started to chew (around 9 months), I used to chop up raw apples into tiny pieces. She would pick and eat on her own. After a couple of months, she insisted she wanted bigger pieces from my bowl. She wanted to chew bigger pieces with only two tiny bottom teeth :-) I'm reiterating the point again - babies can chew with their hard gums, so try giving mashed up or finely chopped pieces. They would learn to chew eventually.

3) Introduce variety, focus on seasonal fruits
It was peak summer when D was around 8 months old. So we used to buy a lot of melons and mangoes. She loved purees of mangoes and muskmelons. After she started chewing, she went crazy over grapes. I used to chop grapes in half and give her in a bowl. She loved to pick and eat on her own. We did the same when it was strawberry season. As we have been continuing this habit for nearly 3 years, she has tasted almost all fruits available in Bangalore - guavas, custard apples, oranges, watermelon and pomegranates.

4) Stock up plenty
Before D was born, my snack section in my pantry was filled with junk, ready-to-eat foods such as chips, biscuits, cookies, packaged juice etc. As a family, we started to focus more on nutrition and eating right. We have cut down on all the junk and have increased our weekly expenditure towards fruits. There will always be 3-4 varieties of fruits at home. D observes all the fruits arranged in the fruit basket and she would ask what she wants.

5) Have no fear
Some moms might fear that fruits might cause cold and congestion. No, they don't. Make sure you don't feed them immediately after taking it out of the fridge. In case of bananas, the small yellow variety ones are perfectly fine. I have given oranges when D was having a slight cold. It didn't cause any problems.

6) Expand your horizon
Your kids might surprise you with the kind of fruits they like. D loved custard apples (though I hate it!) when they were in season. She also loves tangy oranges and grapes. Go beyond bananas and apples. Reduce the imported ones like Washington apples and kiwis which have traveled a long distance and have lost all their nutrition before it reaches your hands. Pick the local ones like guavas, grapes, papayas and chikoos (sapota).

7) Make something
If your kid loves milk, mash some bananas, chikoos or mangoes and serve a yummy milkshake. Or whip them up with some curd and offer a thick smoothie or flavored yoghurt. Bananas can be easily incorporated into cakes, muffins and pancakes. Make a delicious fruit salad with some vanilla custard. Try these options if your kid doesn't eat fruits or you want to include some variety. First preference should always be towards fresh raw fruits.

8) Carry it along
Fruits are your best friend when you are traveling with a toddler. You can easily carry some bananas, pomegranate seeds, grapes, chopped guavas or pears. Carry the chopped pieces in an airtight container, so it stays fresh during the journey.

9) Juice as a treat
If your kid prefers to drink fruit juice, make it at home. The packaged drinks are loaded with sugar and preservatives, with just a little fruit. Yes, even the ones that claim "100% fruit". You don't need an expensive juicer to make juices at home. Your regular mixer will do. A whole fruit is healthier as compared to the juice with added sugar. So try offering juice only as a treat at home.

Do share your thoughts on how you incorporate fruits into your child's diet.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Summer moments

I just returned after enquiring about a summer camp for my 2.5 year old daughter. The summer camp is in the morning hours. A teacher in the school mentioned that she offers a different summer camp in the afternoon from her home too and I can enroll my daughter if interested. I decided that a couple of hours in the morning is more than enough to keep her engaged at this age.

While pondering about these various summer camps, memories of my childhood summers started to appear before my eyes. There wasn't any concept of "summer camps" back then. The 2 months were filled with soaking in the sunshine, sweating and running around with neighbors, cousins and friends.

Sneaking out of the house to get a stick of flavored ice bar ("kuchi" ice) in a nearby ice factory in the afternoon when the elders were taking their afternoon nap.
Climbing the terrace to pluck juicy guavas from the trees
Sipping cool and refreshing lemon juice made from water stored in a mud pot
Learning the basics of embroidery and sewing from my aunt
Copying different patterns of kolams (rangoli designs) from various books and magazines
Sleeping on the terrace in the nights, when the much needed cool breeze blows gently
Eagerly awaiting the week-long tour to different places in the country
Playing ice-boys (hide-and-seek) till midnight or till elderly neighbors start to yell, whichever is earlier
Playing board games (monopoly, ludo, snake and ladder) and card games (including WWF trump cards)
Visiting the nearby temple in the night to collect prasaadam during the 10 day Ramanavami festival
Walks to the paddy fields, hill temple and playground
Eating round balls of curd rice in the afternoon, fed patiently by my grandma

Unstructured play, no agenda, just fun and laughter. Growing up in a village and then in a sub-urban locality gave me the time and space to explore and enjoy the summer vacation each year. Ofcourse, the childhood companions played an important role in all these memories. Times have changed so much, so does the activities and gadgets available to kids these days. But every summer, my vacation memories will bring a big smile in my face always.

Turns out I had written a similar post in 2005 as well :-) Memories are powerful, I say. They love to come back every now and then to bring a smile or a tear.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

10 ways to make your toddler eat vegetables

The most common complaint from any mother is that their children don't eat vegetables, especially those who have kids in the age range of 3 - 4 years. My 2.5 year old daughter D is an exception in this case. She would rather eat vegetables than a few spoons of rice. I hope she continues to love eating vegetables the way she is now (touchwood!!). Let me share with you the 10 ways that have worked for me to incorporate vegetables in my toddler's diet.

1) Start early, be consistent
When D was ready for solid foods (around 6 months), I introduced her to the taste of carrots - boiled carrots pureed and strained. Her first reaction was to spit it out. I tried the same for 3 days and then she slowly accepted a couple of teaspoons. Then I introduced sweet potatoes (boiled, pureed). After few days, she liked the taste of it. When she was 8 months old, I gave her a piece of sautéed ladiesfinger. Her first reaction was again, to spit it out. Even after many trials, she just didn't like it. Now would you believe me if I told you that ladiesfinger is her favorite vegetable? :-)

Instead of picking up a packaged baby cereal as soon as your baby turns 6 months, I would highly recommend that you introduce vegetable purees - carrots, peas, sweet potatoes or pumpkin. Don't add sugar or salt to make it palatable for the baby. Remember, your baby doesn't know what sweet or salty taste means yet. Let the natural flavors of the vegetables remain in the purees.

Ofcourse, your baby would spit it out the first time, second time and more. It's a new taste and a new texture. So there will be resistance initially but don't give up. I read somewhere that a baby takes at least 15 times before he/she accept a new food. So keep trying.

2) Introduce different textures
Around 8 months, I stopped pureeing vegetables and started mashing them with my hands. Luckily, D had also started to chew with her gums around that time. Some babies might still prefer purees and might start to gag if the food is not very smooth. Try what works for your baby but keep trying a different texture now and then to check if your baby is ready.

Mimic the chewing action and explain how to chew. Believe me, babies can understand :-) I used to say "num num num" to D, whenever I fed her a small piece of vegetable or a fruit. She understood that it means that she needs to chew. Also, babies do not need teeth to chew their foods. Their gums are hard enough that they can easily chew boiled veggies or fruits.

Once they are comfortable with chewing, try a variety of textures - shredded, grated, finely chopped, small chunks etc. Identify which texture is preferred by your child. For example, D loves small chunks of carrots or beetroots which she can eat on her own. She doesn't like if I grate or shred them.

3) Give vegetables as finger foods
The high chair is extremely useful to make the kids sit in one place and eat. It also helps to introduce finger foods to the baby. D started to pick and eat when she was around 10 months. During lunch time, I would make her sit on the high chair and place few pieces of boiled veggies on the tray. While she picks and eats the veggies on her own, I would feed her few spoons of rice. Sometimes, she would get playful and start throwing the vegetable pieces on the floor. It would get messy but I was glad atleast a few pieces went into her mouth :-)

Babies love to pick and explore on their own. They see and feel how each piece looks like and then when they put it in their mouth, they get the taste. It gives them a sense of discovery. And vegetables provide a perfect opportunity to introduce self feeding.

4) Spice it up
I'm not referring to chillies :-) After the initial 2 - 3 months of introducing different pureed/mashed vegetables, start adding more flavors in the form of cumin powder, pepper powder, turmeric powder etc. Prepare vegetables the way you prepare for others in the family, excluding the chillies. Around 1 year, your kid will start to accept regular home foods, if you were able to accomplish the first 3 tips mentioned above.

5) Expand your horizon
Until now, your kid would have got used to carrots, beans, peas, pumpkin, potatoes etc.
Image Courtesy: akarakingdoms / freedigitalphotos.net

After 1 year, slowly introduce other vegetables such as plantain, beetroot, snake gourd, ash gourd, broad beans, brinjal, radish, cabbage, cauliflower etc. D loved radish from the very first day. I usually add radish to sambhar and she would happily pick and eat the pieces. Though she was hesitant towards brinjal, she now likes it, if it is nicely spiced with curry powder :-)

6) Use favorite veggie as "anchor"
Identify your kid's favorite vegetable and use that as a base to add other veggies to his/her food. For example, D loves tomatoes. I add a lot of tomatoes in upma / poha / oothappam along with few pieces of carrots and beans. Though D eats most of her veggies, she is never a fan of potatoes. So I prepare a dry curry of potatoes, either with brinjals or broad beans as the base. After a few attempts, she has accepted potatoes now, though not completely.

7) Allow them to meet vegetables elsewhere, apart from their plate
This strategy has worked beautifully with D. We got her a big picture book of vegetables.
http://www.flipkart.com/my-big-book-picture-fruits-nuts-vegetables/p/itmd5yprb6z7sxyz
Image downloaded from flipkart.com

She loves to turn the pages around and listen to us saying the names of each vegetable. Now she can recognize all the vegetables in this book. It also helped her to learn different colors.

Whenever we take her to the supermarket to get groceries, we let her explore the vegetable section. She would point to each of them and tell their name. She even carries a bag around and starts throwing in different vegetables just like me :-)

Exposure to vegetables through these other interactions help immensely in familiarizing with them.

8) Don't hide or blackmail
Our objective is to let our kids like and eat vegetables and continue this habit for their lifetime. Hiding (read - pureeing) them into their regular foods is not a long term solution. So is blackmailing them - "Eat your vegetables first and then I will give you a piece of chocolate or whatever". They should know what they are eating, in order to decide their preference. I understand it's easier said than done.

Try to explain to them what vegetables are present in their dish and how it helps them, if your child is older and can understand. Link the benefit to what they like to do. For example, if your kid loves to play basketball, you can tell them "cabbage has lots of vitamin C, it will make sure you don't fall sick and miss basketball" OR "beetroot has lots of iron, it will help you to play basketball for long hours without getting tired".

For a younger kid, even a simple sentence "this is good for your health" reinforced multiple times might work.

9) Play with variety and color
I love visiting the vegetables section of the supermarket. The sheer variety, color and freshness give me such a positive vibe.
Image courtesy: porbital / freedigitalphotos.net

I always stock up a wide variety of vegetables in my fridge. When I plan my menu for a day, I try to make sure D gets atleast 2 - 3 different vegetables in a day. For instance, if I make broad beans stir fry for lunch, I would make either carrots/beetroots for dinner. Mix and match among these different categories:
- greens (spinach, methi, amaranth leaves etc)
- root vegetables (carrot, beetroot, potato, sweet potato etc)
- green vegetables (different kinds of beans like French beans, broad beans, cluster beans etc, ladiesfinger)
- gourd vegetables (pumpkin, ash gourd, ridge gourd, bottlegourd etc)
- exotic ones (capsicum/bell peppers, baby corn, zucchini, purple cabbage etc)

10) Set an example
Kids like to imitate elders. I have realized this early on and I make sure I don't eat junk or processed foods as much as I can. I don't stock up on chips, crackers or cream biscuits in my pantry. I have increased my intake of salads and D also observes what I eat. She loves to pick and eat from my bowl. That's how she has also started to eat raw cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots.

If you want your kids to eat vegetables, do ensure your plate is filled with them too. Let them observe and learn that their parents love to eat veggies and so they should too.

Hope these 10 tips were useful to you. Do share your comments if there's anything else that has worked for you.

P.S. Please do share tips on how to feed milk to a toddler. D hates milk in any form - plain, flavored, milkshakes or even kheer :-(