Oct 4, 2018

3 reasons why I would choose idli over healthy pizza

Last week, we celebrated D's birthday and hosted a small party for a group of her friends (aged 3-8 years). As always, I stuck to my no-junk-food rule. I had taken the help of a friend who cooks amazing North Indian food to prepare snacks for the birthday party.  She gave me a wide variety of options and I selected
Pooris and aloo gravy
Veg cutlet
Dahi bhalla

Ofcourse, birthday cake was also there!

What's the one food that unites all urban kids? The answer is pizza. It is the default item in all birthday parties. I so wanted to change that. Why can't it be pooris or dahi vadas? Or for that matter any other Indian food? Why are our kids crazy about pizza, noodles and pasta? I tried to see if an Indian snack menu like the above would appeal to young kids of this generation.

Although the food was yummy and tasty (adults devoured it), the kids hardly ate anything. Except for the cake and lemonade, they just nibbled a few bites of poori.

Wrong judgment call from my side. But I just cannot compromise on my food beliefs. One might ask, it is just one birthday party, why can't the kids eat what they want? Kids go to atleast 2-3 parties a month and the menu is the same - junk food, pizza, sandwiches or noodles. They eat the same during weekends too. Maathi yosikkalaame! (let's think differently). D ate a couple of pooris and half a dahi vada. I guess I should just feel happy about that and not worry too much. But I couldn't.

I had posted this on Instagram to let out my thoughts but I couldn't sleep that night. My mind was extremely active, thinking about how this problem can be solved.

There were a couple of constructive comments to this Insta post of mine, that got me thinking even more. 

" I dont think it should be about Western (pizza and pasta) vs Indian (Samosa and chat). Even pizza can be healthy if it is made from sourdough or ragi gluten free base."

"I don't see any harm in making your own whole what pizza dough at home or buying organic whole grain pasta or Millet noodles.... Its of course not in a daily basis...it depends on each one what you want to eat and how healthy u wanna make it.simple. There's nothing wrong in healthyfying non Indian dishes..and as a foodie, the challenge is to make all the non Indian dishes as healthy and as tasty as possible."

I respect these alternative perspectives but here are my reasons why I would want my child to love and eat Indian foods rather than a healthy pizza.

What's the need?
Why do we need to pick pizza/pasta/noodles and take the effort (and/or pay a premium) to healthify it when we have inherently healthy dishes like idli, poha, kichdi, paratha and more? It is okay to indulge in non-Indian foods once in a while, irrespective of whether they are healthified or not. But the more I observe, I notice that kids are overly becoming dependent on such popular foods. Any party you go to, you find these dishes. You go to a restaurant, kids would like to order them. You find them in a school lunch caterer menu. I wouldn't be surprised if a traditional wedding menu will start to include these items (maybe, it is already happening)

Are we losing our identity?
One might argue, "What's wrong? We have to adapt to the modern times". My point is "Isn't it our responsibility to pass on our food traditions and values to our children?". Food, clothing and language are all part of one's identity. Shouldn't we be worried that we are losing our identity from all directions? As parents, it is our responsibility to pass on the food wisdom to our kids. People who are born in the 70s and 80s are what I call "bridge generation". They have had exposure to traditional foods, recipes and food customs from their parents/grandparents while growing up. The current generation of kids don't seem to get this knowledge from parents or grandparents. Globalization, media, availability of junk food, peer pressure etc have pushed native Indian cuisines out of their selection criteria. I find it scary to know that if I don't teach my daughter her "mother cuisine", she would no longer have that connection to her local food. 

Dependency on market:
Even if you don't agree to the above two reasons, I hope you can relate to this important point.

In order to healthify these non-Indian popular dishes, most people are dependent on the market
  • millet noodles
  • whole wheat pasta
  • whole wheat / multigrain bread
Firstly, the market dictates the price and position such products in the premium category because of the health tag. Not everyone can afford such products.

Second, such products tagged under "health" category are marketed heavily but if you carefully look into the ingredients and nutrition table, you'd realize it is just a eye-wash tweaking the ingredients a little bit but they aren't really as healthy as they claim to be. Someone recently shared with me the ingredients list of "quinoa pasta", which had just around 35% quinoa and the rest was durum wheat semolina. 

The brand Cornitos Nacho Crisps has launched a "Quinoa" nachos with the tagline "the healthy nachos" but if you look at the ingredients, it has ONLY 10% quinoa. 

I had earlier written about brown bread and why it isn't healthy as many believe.

As long as we take charge of the healthification process (that's not even a word but hope the meaning is clear) and not depend on the market to do it for us, it is okay. But people who make such preparations from scratch are an exception. The majority of the affluent population end up buying premium looking packs of noodles and pasta from Nature's Basket, thinking they are buying something healthy but without realizing what's in the ingredients list. 

To prepare any non-Indian dishes, a range of packaged products are lined up on the supermarket shelves. I wrote a separate post on this recently, please check it out if you haven't.

In conclusion, I would like to make sure that 80-90% of my daughter's daily menu includes dishes that I have eaten while growing up. I strongly believe that eating local, seasonal and traditional is the ONLY way to good health.

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