You are what you eat. A simple and popular thought that holds true across age groups, but especially in the first five years of life, when children are growing at a phenomenal rate. It is believed children learn at their fastest before the age of five, so it is really important to teach them to eat right, for their growth, their brain development, and how they start to engage with the world and its experiences. Our initial experiences with food tend to establish our eating patterns for the rest of our lives, so the best time to inculcate good dietary habits in kids is during the early years.
The world over, a startling number of children is developing health problems, allergies and lifestyle disorders as a result of an unhealthy diet. Childhood obesity is increasingly becoming a concern, and it can profoundly affect not just physical health, but social and emotional well-being. Our patterns of eating and the nutrition content of our meals have dramatically changed, adversely affecting not just our health, but also the health of our little ones and the planet.
To solve this, we must start by addressing the daily food choices that shape our children’s eating behaviour positively:
Introduce children to diverse foods
Adding a variety of foods to your menu at home is important, especially for children, because when kids eat the same kind of food every day, they may not get all the necessary nutrients needed for optimal growth and development – and they will get bored and associate food with boredom. Introducing unfamiliar textures, colours and flavours to your little ones will help them create a pattern of being open to trying new foods and developing a healthy relationship with food. And giving your child the experience of this diversity early on, is key to making sure they grow up appreciating whatever is on their plate.
Pro tip: Introduce a diverse range of superfoods. A variety of nutrient dense ingredients like finger millet (ragi), sorghum (jowar), foxtail millet, lentils, oats, amaranth and more can be presented in the form of chapatis, bread, porridge, even snacks.
Savour food and teach by example
Eating with delight is the greatest gift of life. It is important to teach children to have a healthy and happy relationship with food, and appreciate good quality food, and they will learn that by watching how you enjoy your meals.
Pro tip: Encourage kids to help you in the kitchen. This will not only familiarise them with the ingredients, but they’ll have a lot of fun, too. Getting them involved is also an opportunity to discuss nutrition that may open up conversations on other important topics such as farming, farm-to-table foods, food cultures and a lot more.
Say no to junk in everyday foods
Present the same food by replacing unhealthy ingredients in the food with their healthier and nutritious counterparts. There is no dearth of food hacks out there that are equally tasty.
Pro tip: Replace refined sugar with real fruit, such as mashed banana or in its powder form while baking muffins/ breads etc. You can also substitute refined sugar with natural sweeteners like jaggery and honey in milkshakes, smoothies, puddings, halwa, etc. Replace maida (all-purpose flour) with ragi (finger millet) when baking cakes, chapatis, etc.
Read food labels carefully
Do schedule in that extra 10 minutes into your online grocery shopping time to read the nutrition labels and figure out which products are worth putting in your shopping cart. We spend hours researching the brand and features of our technology gadgets and automobiles, but an inadequate amount of time on what is actually going into our bodies.
Pro tip: Here's a list that we hope comes handy when you are at the grocery/neighborhood store next time!
Part of the mantra to make sure you are providing the right nutrition for kids:
- Three proper meals along with snacks in between
- More fibre and protein, less salt in the diet
- Include all kinds of fruit and vegetables in the diet. Real fruit is far healthier than juices as it maintains the right sugar level in the body
- Intake of 2-3 litres of water daily
- Healthy and natural snacking alternatives instead of junk food should be a priority. Snacks made of nutrient-dense superfoods are healthier and equally tasty substitutes for junk food that have refined wheat flour, trans fats, excess sugar and salt
Co-authored by Meghana Narayan and Shauravi Malik, Co-founders, Slurrp Farm: As parents they found there was a real lack of tasty, healthy, and convenient kids’ food options in the market – so they decided to make their own.
Since Slurrp Farm was set up in 2016, it has grown into a food brand that serves more than 700,000 happy families. Slurrp Farm sells across several leading online and retail platforms in India and abroad.