Feb 11, 2016

How to build awareness among kids on healthy eating

Yesterday, I went to a nearby supermarket with my 4 year old daughter. She has been insisting me to buy her a strawberry flavored breakfast cereal. Though I'm totally against such ready-to-eat packaged cereals, I do give into her demand once in a while for a smaller pack size. I don't want to completely ban such products in my home as the kid might start developing a craving and give more importance to such foods.

In the last couple of weeks, whenever we go shopping, she would ask me for the strawberry cereal but we couldn't get a smaller pack. "D, I will buy it only when we get a smaller pack", I told her.

She spotted a smaller pack yesterday and brought it to me. "Mumma, see…I found a small pack", she handed it to me with a big smile. I kept my promise and bought one. The product was made with ragi flakes and claims "deliciously healthy" (now you know which brand it is!).

This morning, she promptly remembered during breakfast and was having this cereal with milk. I was looking at the ingredients which has now become a well-ingrained habit. As suspected, many not-so-good stuff were there - hydrogenated vegetable oil, edible palm oil etc. And there was also a line - "hydrogenated vegetable oil contains transfat".

I casually remarked to her, "D, this is also junk food, you know. It has transfat".

She asked me in an innocent tone, "transfat means?"

I replied "your heart doesn't like transfat, baby. Show me where your heart is".

She pointed it correctly and thought for a second. "Mumma, it's okay. I ate very little no? So it's good food"

I was surprised that she talks about "portion control" :-)

My daughter and I have such conversations quite frequently. She loves her lollipops, kinder joy and cream biscuits, like any other child of her age. But she also understands that she cannot eat them frequently.

I strongly believe that the current generation of kids need to be educated about the food choices that they make, the good and the bad and how it impacts them. The exposure of packaged foods they get through media, billboards, supermarket shelves and through peers make it all the more important. Creating awareness at a young age helps them take the right decisions as they move into their teens and adulthood. This task of building awareness has to be owned by both teachers as well as parents. It's a sad situation that kids get to learn more about math and science but they know very little about their food, cultivation process, local produce, nutrition, healthy eating habits etc.

Sharing with you three tips that are working well for me towards building awareness on healthy eating practices for my little one.

(1) Expose them to native foods and local cuisines

My bed side table has Tamil books written by Dr. Sivaraman (a Siddha doctor based in Chennai). D loves to see the pictures in these books every night before going to bed. She now knows the names of all the pictures (fruits, veggies, grains, local foods etc). Last week, she asked me to make ragi adai (finger millet pancake), while looking at one of the books. I agreed and made it over the weekend for breakfast. She tasted, took a couple of bites but didn't like it. She was picking out the onions and curry leaves :-)

I'm perfectly okay with her reaction and I don't expect her to gobble up a portion of savory ragi adai. I might try a sweet version next with jaggery. My intent is to let her explore local cuisine, try different healthy dishes and make her own choices.

Our generation atleast had some exposure to such ancient food wisdom from our grandparents and it's our responsibility to carry it forward to our children. It's so easy to order a burger or a pizza than it is to get a ragi adai or a kambu paniyaram. That's the sad state of affairs in our urban city life!

(2) Give them enough healthy options to choose from
For Sunday lunch, I made both white rice and little millet (saamai), along with drumstick sambhar, carrot stir fry and brinjal dry curry. It came as a surprise when she said "I want millets with sambhar" and it made me so happy to see her eat millets. I never force her to eat healthy foods but I ensure there's healthy options for her to choose from.

Kids love to make decisions, so give them a few options and let them pick. It doesn't take too much time on your end if you plan ahead.

(3) Talk to them about seasonal produce
D loves almost all fruits. I make sure there's enough variety of fruits stocked up at home - mostly seasonal. A few months back, she was asking me to buy mangoes. I then talked to her about seasons, months and the fruits available in each month. When we visited a farm sometime end of Dec, she saw a mango tree that didn't have any mangoes. It helped me to reinforce the concept of seasons and now she accepts that mangoes are only available from April.

Nature is brilliant - the bounty of vegetables and fruits we get during specific seasons in our country is just amazing. Tell a story around why watermelons are good for summers and why we get oranges in winters. Kids are curious and they might ask why watermelons are also available in Dec when it is winter. Be prepared for that! :-)

Do share if you find these tips helpful and also how you talk to your children on inculcating healthy eating habits.

If you liked this post, you might also like
10 ways to deal with junk food consumption in children
9 tips to make your toddler love fruits
10 ways to make your toddler eat vegetables

Feb 9, 2016

How to be a good finisher

Image Source: https://thebonablog.com/2016/02/22/top-5-a-race-to-the-finish-line/
 On my farewell day at Oracle in 2006, one of my senior colleagues said to me "You are a good finisher". It struck me and I was glad that someone else was able to spot something about my personality that I wasn't even aware of.

A finisher is someone who takes initiatives to completion and persists at them for long enough. In today's distracted world, we start multiple new initiatives at work, at home, as part of our continuous learning process, new hobbies etc. But the steam dies down after a few days, weeks or months. The opportunities are aplenty and there's no reason to stick to one thing if it doesn't work out. But persisting, keeping at it and taking it to completion has numerous advantages.

It helps us to proceed down the road of mastery. As we practice a skill long enough, we become exponentially better, it gives us tremendous confidence and boosts our self-esteem. Even if we started out as novice, we can progress step by step and reach the pinnacle if we persist.

Having said that, I don't think I'm the perfect finisher yet. There have been many new projects and initiatives that I had started but dropped mid-way. But there have been instances where I'm carrying through without losing interest. These provided me opportunities to learn what it takes to be a good finisher. In short, it requires these 6 steps.

(1) Be a great starter
Yes, that's right. You ought to be a great starter to become a good finisher. A starter is someone who is curious, willing to learn and explore new avenues and ready to step out of his/her comfort zone. I'm a firm believer that learning is an ongoing process and the moment you stop learning, you become dull and boring. Read up on new topics, research about experts in those areas, listen to their talks, be curious.

(2) Address niggling, resistance-inducing excuses
After you begin a new initiative - be it learning a new skill, practicing a new hobby or starting a positive habit, the initial few weeks are extremely important. This time period can be exciting but can also make you anxious and feel overwhelmed. We start to look for excuses that will make us eventually quit. Ever tried starting a new form of physical exercise? The number of excuses our mind throws up is just unbelievable - "Oh, the gym is too far", "my shoes are not comfortable", "the instructor pushes me too much", "I'm tired" etc etc. Be conscious of these excuses and try addressing atleast a few of them to quieten your excuse-spewing mind.

(3) Give yourself time
I started with blogging way back in 2004. It was jittery and I was struggling with getting the right words. The thoughts weren't free flowing as I wanted them to be. But I kept at it for more than 10 years. There have been weeks (and sometimes months) when I hadn't written a single word but the slump didn't push me out of the track. After 10+ years, I'm more confident with my writing abilities. Words flow much more faster and easier. And most importantly, I enjoy the process of writing. It's one such activity where I experience "flow" most of the times in a week. Many of my friends who started along with me and who were better writers than me blogged for a couple of years with some interesting, creative work but unfortunately they dropped out.

(4) Accept your current skill level
My colleague had commented about me being a good finisher, seeing my persistence at Toastmasters for nearly 4 years. Public speaking didn't come naturally to me. I was struggling a lot. Stage fear, excess use of filler words, lack of clear structure and many such areas that I needed to improve upon. There were wonderful speakers who spoke with clarity and conviction during my initial few Toastmasters sessions. It was easy to just give up, looking at their performance levels. But I decided to accept that I needed to climb a tall ladder to address many of my shortcomings. At the end of 4 years of Toastmasters, I became a confident speaker, learnt a lot and made many friends.

Just like writing, public speaking has become an activity that I started to enjoy and look forward to. With every speaking opportunity, I learn more about my abilities - what works and what doesn't. Acceptance is a critical requirement towards mastery. Accept yourself for who you are and where you are currently.  Do not criticize or loathe yourself. Most importantly, do not compare yourself with others who might be better.

(5) Don't let the steam blow out
When we start learning any new skill, there's the initial novelty period where we go full steam and try to learn as much as we can. But the steam dies out after a few weeks, either naturally or due to some obstacles on the way. It's better to take it slow and admit that roadblocks are bound to happen. In 2012, I started learning Python (the programming language) and was progressing nicely with full enthusiasm for a couple of months. But as I started stepping into more advanced concepts, I hit some roadblocks and then eventually quit learning Python.

(6) Set intermediate, tangible milestones
The power of goals cannot be undermined when you seek mastery. They motivate us and keep us on our toes, specifically those with timelines. As we set out to master a new skill or a new hobby, plan and setup a few intermediate milestones that are tangible. Create a roadmap for yourself. Keep them realistic and at the same time, a little challenging to push your limits. Celebrate when you hit those intermediate checkpoints. If you are unable to, don't fret too much. Do course correction and keep moving.

Are you a good finisher? What other steps do you take to keep up your motivation and persist with the initiative/skill/hobby? How do you handle obstacles along the way? Do share your thoughts. Would love to hear from you.

Feb 2, 2016

8 ways to reduce dry waste

Dry waste collection happens in our apartment complex every Sunday. We have a separate bag in our utility balcony where we dump dry waste (plastic, paper) on an ongoing basis and on Sunday morning, we keep this bag outside for collection.

Last Sunday, when I peeped into our bag, there was hardly anything. And then I realized that this had been the case for the last few Sundays -  the bag hadn't reached its full capacity for the past several weeks. This made me feel happy and gave a sense of satisfaction that I'm contributing a teeny tiny bit towards reducing waste and garbage.

Our bag that day had plastic milk packets, a few plastic covers and some torn paper bills and receipts. Over time, we have made many changes to our lifestyle that has resulted in a positive impact towards reduction of garbage going to the landfills. I'm sharing those changes here, hoping that you might get a few ideas.

1) Kitchen DIY - I had already written a detailed post on it. Yoghurt boxes, ready-to-eat processed food packets and idli/dosa batter pouches are all made of plastic. They are neither good for your bodies nor for the environment. Try to be self-sufficient in certain practices - set curd at home, make idli/dosa batters and replace processed foods with fresh home-made foods, fruits and nuts.

2) Shop vegetables from a local vendor - I can't digest the fact that we bring in loads of plastic covers along with vegetables whenever we go for weekly grocery shopping to a supermarket or a large retail chain. I don't understand the convenience claim. It's such a stupid practice, if you ask me. Take a cloth bag or a jute bag to your local vegetable vendor. Buy vegetables of your choice and carry them home in a single bag. Sort them at home, wrap in thin wet cotton towels and keep them in fridge. Believe me, it stays fresh for atleast 3-4 days. If you need to wrap in plastic bags, reuse the ones that you get from grocery products like dals, grains or flours.

3) Reduce consumption - I firmly believe that reducing consumption yields 10x better results than recycling or upcycling when it comes to conservation or sustenance of environmental resources. Though the e-commerce boom is helping us in many ways - be it convenience, price or accessibility, the packaging material is creating a huge damage to the environment. Even if you order a single book, the amount of packaging that comes along with it is mind boggling - a thin plastic wrap, a bubble wrap and an outer cardboard box / a thick plastic cover with sealed tapes. Before you hit the "Order" button, think twice and ask yourself whether you really need to buy that specific product. 

4) Make time to cook your food - The proliferation of food tech startups indicate that home cooking is on the decline. The food you order mostly comes in cheap quality packaging made of plastic. Regular consumption of food in cheap plastic containers can be harmful in the long run, leading to diseases like cancer. If reducing packaging waste is not a good enough motivating factor to cook your own food, what if I tell you that cooking can be one of those activities that keep your creative juices flowing? It can keep you healthy and fit too.

5) Reuse paper - Whether it be bills/hand-outs/print-out sheets, check if you can reuse it before you throw it in the trash. One-sided papers can be handy for shopping lists, random to-dos, brainstorming, mind-mapping or even letting your kid scribble with crayons.

6) Carry your own water bottle - Whenever we step out, we always carry a water bottle each for all three of us. We don't buy packaged water unless we are traveling long-distance and we run out of water from our bottles.

7) Carry some bags - In my handbag, I carry a few cloth bags of different sizes. If I need to shop for a few items, I use one of these cloth bags to carry the items home. In our car, we always have 3-4 large sized jute bags that we carry for shopping. We have almost completely stopped taking plastic bags from the vendors.

8) Reduce tissue papers - When I used to work for an MNC, I have noticed many times that people take a bunch of tissue papers along with their lunch trays. I used to wonder why one tissue paper wasn't enough. Then I observed how they were using a tissue paper for every 2-3 mouthfuls of rice/roti. Western practice adopted for Indian eating habit, I presume. Anyway, my point here is that the usage of tissue papers has gone up so much in India in the last 10 years. Our parents eat using their hands or a spoon. They then wash their hands with water and wipe their hands using a handkerchief. Isn't that a better practice? I don't use tissue papers at home but I do see a stand with premium kitchen rolls in every modern kitchen counter. Honestly speaking, I'm unaware of its use but if it's for wiping your hands, try to use a simple cotton towel.

Some of you might wonder if these ideas are practical to implement. My answer is a resounding YES if you can make time for it and care about the future of our children and ofcourse, our Mother Nature.

I'll continue to write more on how I try to reduce waste further. If you have any other ideas, please do share. Would love to hear your experiences.

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