Feb 24, 2017

The most important child nutrition tip for parents

Hibiscus tea
My little one teaches me something new about parenting and child nutrition almost every single day. Having grown up in a traditional South Indian household, I have noticed that the default food that is fed to toddlers and pre-schoolers is “dal rice” (paruppu saadham). It is nothing but rice and boiled thuar dal mashed together with ghee. I tried giving the same to my daughter from the time she was around a year old. She hated it completely and would make funny faces. I had tried multiple times for around a year or so but no luck. Though she is not a fussy eater, she just didn’t like it. I didn’t worry much since she was getting proteins from curd, cheese and other lentils.

When she turned 5 years, I served her the dal rice for lunch one day. She devoured it and said, “it’s yummy”. After that, it has become a regular now and dal rice features once every 3-4 days.

The lesson that this experience taught me is "Don't give up on healthy and nutritious foods. Keep trying”.

My daughter loves all kinds of fruits and when some of my friends notice it, they say “My son(or daughter) doesn’t eat any fruits. Maybe, an orange occasionally. Good to see D is eating papaya/pineapple”. I hear the same kind of response for foods like ragi idli - “My son wouldn’t like the colour”. Most of the times, we just assume that our children wouldn’t like healthy foods. Maybe, we might have tried 3-4 times and then just gave up. My only suggestion is “Don’t give up. Keep trying”.

The foods that children love when they are 2-3 years old would be completely different than the foods they love when they are 5-6 years old. For instance, D used to love ladiesfinger sabzi when she was a toddler. I remember making it almost 2-3 times a week. But now she just refuses to eat it. She used to hate potato earlier but now she loves it. Their taste patterns and preferences keep changing as they grow up and it is up to us as parents to continue to feed healthy meals as a conscious activity.

There are two ways by which you can implement this important principle of "Don’t give up. Keep trying".

Methodical approach:
1) Keep a log and track your child’s meals for a couple of weeks. Try serving different kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains and lentils. Note down which ones they loved (and asked for a second helping), the foods that they hated.
2) For the foods they hated, schedule a calendar entry to try the same after a month or so. Note down their reactions. Are there any changes in preferences? Has the acceptance rate increased? Maybe, they don’t mind trying a bite or two.

I know it sounds like a lot of work but believe me, it is not. A little extra effort goes a long way in inculcating healthy eating habits in young children.

Benefits approach:
Talking to children about the benefits of healthy foods really helps in increasing their acceptance. I remember telling D that hibiscus tea is good for the heart. Now whenever she sees a hibiscus blossomed in our balcony, she plucks it and asks me to make tea for her.

When my husband had severe cough a few months back, she advised him, "pineapple is good for your throat, abba. Eat pineapple”
When her teacher had throat infection, it seems she asked her to take “tulsi concoction” :-)

Involve children in meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Talk to them about different foods and their benefits in a language they can understand. Young children may not understand vitamins and minerals but will be able to relate to the body parts - “papaya is good for your eyes, dal will help you get muscles, watermelon will keep your body cool” etc.  Last but not the least, set an example by avoiding/reducing packaged, ready-to-eat foods yourself.

We are living in times where attractive packaging and advertisements of processed junk foods are luring our children away from healthy eating habits. Let’s take charge.

Hope you would try these two ways. If it works/helps a teeny tiny way, I would be thrilled to hear. Do share your experiences/comments below.

Feb 6, 2017

Will you give up choice for convenience?

A couple of days back, I was at a supermarket, shopping for groceries, when a new promotional coffee stand inside the premises caught my attention. There were 2 guys standing, along with few coffee packs lined up in front of them. Curiosity caught the better of me and I asked them what it is.

The tallest among the two (Let’s call him A) quickly responded, “Ma'am, this is Nescafe Latte. You can quickly prepare coffee when you come back from work or when you have guests. Please taste it”. Being a coffee lover, I thought why not and said, “Just a sample”.

A instructed the other person(Let’s call him B) to make one for me. B promptly emptied a sachet of coffee mix and added hot water till it reached half a cup. When I said “enough”, he stopped but A instructed him in a low voice that the coffee will taste sweet and that he needs to add more hot water for one sachet. B followed the instruction and he handed me a full cup of hot coffee.

Meanwhile, my little girl who accompanied me started moving to the other side of the store. So holding my coffee, I followed her. When I had my first sip, it tasted so sweet and bad. I couldn’t drink it anymore. I emptied in a garbage can and continued to proceed with my shopping.

This experience made me ponder over a few questions on “convenience”.
How far can the food brands take “convenience” as a promise and come up with a new line of products?
Are we ready to compromise on “choice” and give up control, just because something is quick and easy to make?
Are our taste buds so attuned to sugar (and salt) that we can eat any rubbish if it is sweet (or salty)?

Each of us prefers coffee in a certain way - strong / light, less sugar / more sugar. When you want to unwind after a long day of work, you would prepare coffee the way you like it and then sit back and relax. Even when we have guests, we ask a couple of questions before serving them - “How much sugar do you like in your coffee?”, “Do you prefer a strong or light one?”.

We would like to be in control of certain parameters, especially on beverages and foods we love. Just because something is quick to prepare, are we okay with giving up control over small but important criteria to us?

This experience also led me to think how a sample promotion campaign should be executed. If a potential customer is interested in trying out, all they need is a sample. In this case, a few sips of good coffee is all it takes to make a purchase decision. The organizers could have kept a jar of coffee mix and added, say 1/4 tsp of it to prepare 1/4 cup. Instead, they wanted to show me the sachet and emptied it completely into a cup. The experience left a bad after-taste and I walked away.

Though the marketer spoke about the “benefits”, the demonstration and the product experience failed to meet expectations. It would have helped if they had given attention to little details, from the customer point of view - what's the quantity of sample coffee to serve, how to display the sachets, how to help customers to dispose of the empty / partially empty coffee cups?

More than that, the fundamental question still lingers in my mind - Are we ready to give up our personal preferences for the sake of convenience? Are we “that” rushed for time or is it a perception that marketers try to create on us and that we willingly accept?

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