It’s the battle of good versus tasty. But new age parental wisdom says your kids can have their cake and eat it too, writes Sneha May Francis
hen I was eight years old, I did not know the difference between white and brown bread. Probably because our options were limited then. But my mother would happily allow me to eat whatever I liked, simply because she wanted to avoid dealing with my tantrums. But the times have changed. Eating healthily is not just what the adults adopt to keep kids happy, but something that the tiny-tots can learn to appreciate too.
You would be amazed how 9-year-old nothings have a clear idea about their healthier preferences – it’s wholemeal bread over the white loaves. (Minus the butter, mind you!) But this doesn’t mean they are willing to give up their burgers and French fries for a portion of veggies. The kiddies are happy to take the healthy bait, only if they are allowed their occasional junk food indulgence.
Eating out = eating well
Kids love their burgers and French fries, so you need to chalk out innovative ways to make them eat well. Parents claim it’s all about striking the right balance. If you allow them to have their burgers, then you could trade in some veggies and fruits as well.
Lama Khayer stresses how kids eat out a lot more than when she was little. "I’d prefer if my son ate at home, so I can monitor his meals. When he goes out, it’s only burgers he wants and you can’t stop him from eating them. I do allow him to eat burgers because it’s important that he enjoys what kids his age do. So it’s about finding a balance."Prabha agrees that children end up eating out a lot these days. "With my son, we eat out at least three to four times a week, which is quite a bit. It’s a challenge to keep him away from McDonald’s or Burger King. So we try to do a little bit of both. There are times when he gets to choose and there are times when we get to choose. Out of the four outings, two are fast food joints and two are regular restaurants," she says.
And if they aren’t game for the balancing routine, then some parents find fun ways to lure their kids to eat well. Lisa Burrows says, "My 9-year-old daughter loves to live off carbohydrates, even though she knows about healthy eating. So I have to bribe her to eat the right portions of fruits and vegetables."
Healthier options at home
Healthy eating habits should be taught at home, with parents initiating the first step to creating awareness. Celebrated chef Giorgio Locatelli claims variety is crucial while planning kiddies meals. "Parents should use a variety of ingredients. I don’t believe it when they say he’s a lazy eater; it’s because they have been lazy planning the meal. Kids will eat anything as long as you make it exciting," he adds.
Caroline Alexander agrees with this idea. There’s more option than the "classic meat and two veg" from the childhood days she recalls. "I try to give my kids as much variety as possible, offering food from all over the world, I’d like to believe. Probably more vegetarian food than what I was given as a child," she says.
Planning school meals
Often parents find it hard to plan their kid’s meals day in and day out, and wish the schools would provide hot meals. Caroline explains how she finds it tough to make her kid’s school meals different and nutritious every time. "But I do have my good days and bad". She recalls her time in the UK, when her daughter’s school would provide her with hot meals that were cooked on-site. "It was quite well-balanced. There would be vegetables and fruits, and even a pudding. But now Laila’s school doesn’t provide that." She would prefer to get more assistance from the school. "I think parents need a bit of help. It’s a lot easier to pay and know that your child is being provided wholesome, hot meals," adds Caroline.
Lama, however, feels schools do make an effort these days to ensure their kids eat well. "Before, we could pack anything in the kid’s lunch boxes, but now they check them. Even cornflakes, if they are chocolate-coated, are not allowed. This is definitely a good change." She explains that this uniformity helps eliminate peer pressure as well. "My son doesn’t come back saying my friend is eating chips so I want some too". Schools are keen on informing kids about healthy eating options. "Kids do learn about the negative impacts of junk food. They might not say no to it, but they do realise it’s not something healthy and would feel guilty before eating it, which is definitely a sign of improvement," says Lama.
The school Lisa’s kids go to also monitors what the kids eat. "They do check their lunch boxes regularly to see if they are eating well. We have letters sent back from school saying kids shouldn’t be given a lot of chocolate." She cites the example of some schools in the city that have initiated the smart card systems for kids, where those who choose the healthiest meals get prizes, money back or vouchers. "That’s a fantastic concept," she says.
The parents’ verdict is out. They believe children need to be taught the benefits of eating well early on. An occasional burger won’t harm them, but it should be coupled with a large portion of fruits and veggies. The trick is to feed kids the best of both worlds, only then will they stay fit and healthy.
(Published in e+, gulf news April 23, 2009)