Jul 29, 2019

How to plan for Nutritional Variety?


This post has been lying in the draft mode for a year now. Finally, I made the time to complete it, along with a personal reflection.
Two incidents triggered me to work on this topic.

(1) Last July, I was delivering a talk on child nutrition to a group of young mothers. While discussing the topic of including more vegetables, I mentioned about the sheer variety of the native, local veggies available in India and how we could easily rotate the intake of vegetables once every 15-20 days. A couple of moms wondered if that is even possible. One of them told me that she usually ends up cooking the usual carrots, beans and potatoes.

(2) D seems to have taken a fascination towards buffet restaurants. Two of our family's favorite buffet places in Bangalore are Chutney Chang and Mango Greens (JP Nagar). Whenever we go to such buffet places, D knows exactly what she wants - pasta. She would have 2 servings of pasta, a bowl of cucumber/carrot slices and then head onto dessert section (mostly icecream, sometimes she would also eat chocolate mousse served in dessert spoons). She is happy at the end of her meal.

What do we adults do whenever we hit buffet restaurants for lunch? Not generalizing, but this is what happens mostly (including yours truly!)
First and foremost, we skip breakfast ;-)
We load up our plates with all possible foods (chaats, starters, soups, Indian main course, Western main course, Indian desserts, Western desserts and fruits in the end)
We tend to overeat, as we want to "receive maximum value" for the money we paid (Usually buffet meal is anywhere between Rs.500-Rs.800 in these places).
We might even order that tall glass of fruit juice (at an additional cost) that the waiters carry around the tables.
We come home and feel exhausted, maybe have a short (or a long) nap.
We wake up feeling groggy and intoxicated in the late evening.
We skip dinner, as our stomachs clearly scream, "no more food please, let me finish processing this load first"


Anyone can relate to this series of events? ;-)

After we experienced this cycle a few times, my husband and I decided that we will restrict our buffet restaurant outings to once in 6 months. On days we go for buffet lunch, we consciously make sure that we don't overeat.

How are these two incidents inter-connected?

Variety is the spice of life. We crave for variety in our foods. Given the easy availability of different kinds of cuisine, we would like to explore all of them. Depending on the food we eat, our digestive system secretes the required digestive enzymes to break down the food. Wrong food combinations and overloading the system with too many varieties in a single go can mess up the digestive process, resulting in bloating, acidity, constipation etc.

The current reality is - "We are overeating calories, but deficit on nutrients". Nutrient deficiency often leads to unwanted food cravings and various other health issues. 

The typical banana leaf meal served in South Indian cuisine is often made at home ONLY during special occasions. In Kerala, sadya meal is often prepared ONLY for Vishu and Onam. In Tamilnadu, the elaborate meal is made usually for Diwali and Pongal. In such meals, there will always be a special dish that helps in digestion (Inji puli, Diwali legiyam, rasam, spiced buttermilk). 

I have realized that the more variety I eat in a single meal, I find it difficult to digest and I end up feeling lethargic and drowsy after such a meal. We don't need to overdo variety in a single meal.

At the same time, our nutritional requirements (especially the micro-nutrients) can be met ONLY if we include a variety of vegetables, fruits, cereals and pulses in our diet. I don't prefer to take any vitamin/mineral supplements whatsoever.

So to ensure I get all the adequate nutrients, I've been planning my meals in such a way that 


"we eat less variety in a meal and more variety in a month"


The diligent tracker in me prepared this spreadsheet to track the variety of vegetables, fruits, greens, cereals and pulses in my meals this month (July 2019). The ones highlighted in blue indicate that I have included them in my meals in some way or the other.


As you can see, it is quite easy to rotate vegetable intake once every 15-20 days. Keep this list handy. You don't have to stock up all of them in one go. Whenever you go for weekly shopping, make sure you are buying a different set of veggies.

I'm consciously avoiding green leafy vegetables in monsoon season and will resume eating them once the rains subside.
Conscious meal planning helps us bring variety to our meals and makes cooking an interesting activity. Do you agree? :-)



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