Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Marathon weekend

Alert: Wrapping up old drafts. So you might hear stories that happened long time ago (okay, not so long! A few months back to be precise)

I love to travel more often that I actually do. When the opportunity presented itself, we planned a nice trip and it was fun and memorable. Hubby dear is into some serious running this year and one of his goals was to run the 10K in Cauvery Trail Marathon in Srirangapatna. Since the run was scheduled on a Saturday, we decided to leave from Bangalore on a Friday afternoon and return on Sunday - ah, a perfect weekend !!

We got a good deal in Ginger Hotels, Mysore through Cleartrip and we grabbed a 2 night stay. Hubby entrusted me to come up with a plan for 2 days in and around Mysore. Trip planning is something I just love to do for hours - browsing through blogs and websites.

We started off from our home around 3 PM and hit Mysore road quickly. Stopped for a snack break in Kamat near Channapatna and then continued on our drive. The rains started to lash heavily and it became quite dark. We reached Mysore around 7ish and checked in. Loved our room at Ginger - clean and cozy. The bed was neat and there was a TV too. Having disconnected DTH at home 5 months back, I was so happy to watch an episode of Castle and Big Bang Theory after a long time.

The next morning, hubby went for the run while my 3 year old daughter D and I stayed back at our room. The complimentary breakfast was very good and they also offered room service as requested. After hubby returned, we decided to go to the zoo, hoping D would have fun. We took the electric vehicle ride and went around. The weather was good for a while before it became sunny.

By the time we left the zoo, we were extremely hungry and had a good lunch at Hotel Sandesh. Though it was expensive, the quality of the food and service were excellent. We then went to Mall of Mysore to while away some time as it was too early to go anywhere else. D was excited to see the small play area where she happily played for an hour. After a quick coffee break, we headed towards Chamundi hills. The view enroute was just awesome and D took a short nap to regain her energy :-) The temple wasn't crowded and we had a good darshan.

The next morning, we checked out after breakfast and headed towards Melkote. Though we have been to Mysore and Srirangapatna multiple times, we have never visited Melkote before. The route from Srirangapatna to Melkote was scenic, with many villages and sugarcane fields on either side of the road. The drive was so lovely and pleasant. Even if you are not into temples, you should visit this place just for the scenic route.

We visited the Cheluva Narayanaswamy temple and Narasimhaswamy temple, which is located on a beautiful hill. The view is just breath-taking and the breeze felt soothing in the afternoon. Thanks to this travelogue, we found Subbanna mess for lunch. The meal on a banana leaf was so sumptuous - puliogare and sweet pongal in particular. They charge a nominal rate of Rs.75.  Absolutely worth it!

One of my motivations to visit Melkote is to visit the Raya Gopura. Having seen this place in so many thalaivar movies, I know I had to visit it. As I climbed up, I can hear that melancholic background score when Shobana bids adieu to Rajni in Thalapathy.

Though the Gopura is marked as a historic monument, it's sad to see plastic and garbage strewn around everywhere. After spending some time walking around, we returned to our car and headed back home. The short day trip to Melkote was really good and I highly recommend you add it to your itinerary, when you visit Mysore next.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Introducing Solids to infants

I felt extremely happy and grateful when one of my friends asked me if I had written a blog post on "Introduction to solids". I'm neither a pediatrician nor a dietitian but I have been sharing my experiences related to child nutrition in the past 2 years. One of my goals is to ensure that every Indian mother has the right information/knowledge about child nutrition and the packaged foods industry wouldn't be able to influence us in the wrong direction. These blogposts are just a fraction of efforts towards that goal.

I started off this series by talking about the importance of breastfeeding your baby in the first six months of his/her life.

This is the second post in this series where I want to talk about how to introduce solids in a phased manner. This is applicable for babies in the 6-8 month range.

"Solids" may not be the appropriate word since you start off with liquids (other than milk) and pureed/mashed foods. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to them as "baby foods".

How do you know when your baby is ready?
Around the age of 5-6 months, check for the following signs.

  1. Your baby is able to hold her head steadily
  2. She jumps onto you when she sees you eating from your plate
  3. She shows interest in your food

When should you start?
Ideally, after completion of 6 months. But please do check with your pediatrician. If your baby's weight hasn't been increasing steadily, the doctor might ask you to start earlier (around 5 months).

How should you start?
  • Choose a time frame preferably in the morning hours and on a weekday. If your child reacts to any food, it would be easier for you to take her to a doctor.
  • Avoid introducing a new food when your child is extremely hungry OR when your child has just had a milk feed. Choose a time frame between that. Let's say, your child nurses once every 2 hours and had milk at 10 AM. Then 11 - 11:30 AM would be a better time to feed baby foods.
  • Introduce one food at a time. Monitor the reactions for 3 days. 
  • After 15 days, once you see your child is comfortable with certain foods, make the "baby foods' timings into 2 phases - once in the morning and once in the evening. Continue introducing new foods in the morning (remember the 3 day rule). Serve the foods that your child has become comfortable with in the evenings (around 4-5 PM).
Maintain a food log. This is extremely important to track your child's reactions and/or any allergies. I used a spreadsheet in Google Drive and used to update it every night. I religiously followed it until my daughter was a year old.
Note down the following:
  • Date
  • Time
  • Food given
  • Quantity
  • Reaction while eating (did she eat well / spit it out?)
  • Reaction after eating (did she cry in the evening / did she pass stools? / loose stools/constipated?)
  • Other Comments
What should you start?
I started her off with rice gruel water. My daughter's initial reaction was to cry and spit it out. I tried it for 3 consecutive days, same reaction. I felt disappointed and depressed. The only suggestion that came my way was to start her off with Cerelac. I bought a pack and prepared as per instructions. I tasted a little and my reaction was "this tastes like milk payasam and it's so sweet". While I fed it to my daughter, she loved it and ate well. I was happy but very concerned. In the night, she felt uncomfortable and cried a lot. After 2 days, she had loose stools and my pediatrician asked me to stop Cerelac. In retrospect, I'm glad this incident happened or else I might have taken the easy route of feeding her packaged foods on a daily basis. The following days (and nights) were spent reading and noting down home made recipes that would suit her tummy. I had to depend on the Internet to get the "motherly" advice and am glad it didn't disappoint me.

Slowly, I started her off with fruits and vegetable purees. Sharing a few simple recipes below:

Recipes for 6-7 months

Carrot juice:
Wash the carrots. Peel them. Chop into pieces and boil them in pressure cooker for 3 whistles, cool, puree and strain it.
Same procedure for apple / pear juice.

Carrot Puree:
Once she accepts the juice form, try giving the puree without straining. Ensure it's really smooth and doesn't have any lumps.
Follow the same procedure for potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Banana Puree:
Chop banana and puree them in a mixer into a smooth puree. You can add some water if required.
Same procedure for muskmelon.

Rice porridge (kanji):
Clean the rice for 3-4 times. Drain the water, spread it on a plate and dry it under fan for 2 hours.
Powder this rice in a mixer finely
Store this powder in a air-tight container and keep it in the fridge. Can use upto a week.
While preparing kanji, take a tsp of this rice powder in a bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of water and mix well.
Boil this mixture till it thickens and the rice powder is well cooked.
It has to be runny and in liquid form.

If your baby drinks formula milk, you can add a few drops of it to the prepared porridge. If not, you can add few drops of breast milk.

No need to add salt or sugar. Doctors advise that sugar must be avoided until 1 year of age. Salt can be introduced in very little quantities after 8-9 months.

Recipes for 7-8 months

Yellow pumpkin / Beans / Peas puree:
same procedure as given above for carrot puree.

Mango puree:
Peel and cut the ripe mango into cubes. Puree and serve.

Moong dal water:
Cook yellow moong dal for 4-5 whistles in a pressure cooker.
Strain and give the dal water
Once adjusted to the taste of dal water, puree the dal and give

Simple kichdi:
Cook 2 tsp of rice and 1 tsp of moong dal in a pressure cooker for 4 whistles.
Let it cool.
Puree and serve with a drop of ghee.

Veg kichdi:
Cook 2 tsp of rice, 1 tsp of moong dal, a few pieces of carrots+potatoes+beans in a pressure cooker for 4 whistles.
Let it cool.
Puree and serve with a drop of ghee.

Mixed veg soup:
Pressure cook 1 baby potato, 1/2 carrot, 2-3 beans for 4 whistles.
Let it cool.
Puree and give.

Ragi malt:
Clean ragi grains, soak overnight.
Place the soaked ragi in a casserole or a sprouts maker.
The grains will sprout in 2 days.
Dry roast the ragi sprouts in a thick bottomed vessel in medium flame. Make sure it doesn't get burnt.
Once it's roasted well, it gives a nice aroma.
Let it cool.
Powder it in mixer.
Store this powder in a air-tight container and keep it in the fridge. Can use upto 2 weeks.

While preparing kanji, take a tsp of this ragi powder in a bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of water and mix well.
Boil this mixture till it thickens and the ragi powder is well cooked.
It has to be runny and in liquid form.

If your baby drinks formula milk, you can add a few drops of it to the prepared porridge. If not, you can add few drops of breast milk.

Idli soaked in dal water / apple puree:
Mash idli nicely and then add dal water / apple puree to make it a little gooey.

As you notice the recipes above, these are extremely simple, easy and quick to prepare. Just a little planning can ensure your child eats safe, home-cooked food that's healthy and nutritious.
Backup option
When we were traveling for a short distance or when my daughter wasn't eating much during the day, I used to give her Nestum plain rice cereal. Compared to Cerelac, I found this to be very mild, less sweet and doesn't taste artificial.

Hope these pointers were helpful. Please do share any other ideas/recipes/questions/comments below.

In the third post of this series, I will talk about introducing spices, textures and how to eventually transition your child to regular foods by the time he/she turns one.

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.