Being a Mother and a Nutritionist, how do you balance the two when it comes to your daughter?

My real practice as a Nutritionist started with the birth of my daughter. I soon discovered the truth behind the “Practice What you preach”.

I tell all my clients “You need to be a role model, if you want your kids to eat healthy you better be eating healthy too.”. My daughter readily followed what I practiced rather than what I asked her to do.

This was demonstrated in the following incident: My daughter had gone on an outing with a family friend. At lunchtime, my friend laid out the food and was surprised to hear the comment from my 3-year daughter “Aunty you have forgotten the Salad”. At our next meeting my friend mentioned “seeing your daughter enjoy the salad and veggies, my son started to eat veggies, which he earlier avoided.”

My daughter checks with me before eating any packaged food for it’s nutritional quality. I was taken a back on her conclusion in regards to some of the packaged food when she commented while seeing an advertisement, “Advertisements are for our money but the food they talk about is really not healthy”.

I am glad that my child has associated food not only with hunger but also with health.

This does not mean that she does not have temptation for eating junk food. I allow her to indulge in junk food once a week. On this day the mother in me wins over the nutritionist. 🙂

Can you share some tips with us to help parents develop healthy eating habits?

1. We should respect our child’s hunger.

A child will eat as per their hunger. If you remember when the child was born, he/she would only feed as much as required to fulfil their hunger. When a child grows up, he/she does not forget this instinct.

There may be days when a child doesn’t feel like eating much and other days eat more than normal. I tell all my clients please do not force-feed your child; it does not help as the meal times remain no longer happy times for the child. Let the child decide how much he wants to eat. It helps them in understanding the relation between food & hunger & refraining from overeating in later years.

2. Most of Children need to try new food up to 10-15 times before they develop taste for it.

This does not mean you need to force feed your child a particular food 10-15 times to develop liking for it. Give the child the food in different forms may as a vegetable, a soup or part of sandwich for 2-3 weeks for him/her to become familiar with the food.

3. Make each Calorie your Child consumes count.

Try and give your children nourishment packed foods such as nuts, eggs, dates or healthy finger foods, which he/she can grab & eat quickly. At young age the child’s focus is more on playing than eating so try and give them food they can eat quickly.

4. Offer Food to your child at the same time every day so that they develop a regular eating habit.

This is important to get the child to have regular meal pattern. Keep the kitchen closed at other hours so that he/she understands that they will get food only at the times it is offered.

5. Recruit Nutrition Hand.

Take your little ones along with you to pick up vegetables and fruits and allow them to choose. Also involve them in the cooking process such as rinsing the veggies or stirring the batter. This will give them a sense of ownership and will ensure that they will try these veggies since they chose it.

6. Limit liquid foods such as juices & milk before meal.

This will ensure that the children are hungry enough to eat the main meal served to them whole heartedly.

7. Avoid distractions such as TV & IPADs while eating meal.

There is increasing trend among parents wherein child’s favourite show or movie is switched at the mealtime with the belief that he/she will eat complete meal without any fuss. Focusing on the food while eating plays an important role in understanding the relation between food & hunger.

Instead of distracting the child by external means such as TV, try and make the food more interesting by taking about different shapes and colours such as apple moons, broccoli trees, banana wheels, cucu Os, carrot swords etc. The mealtime should be an interesting time for the child rather than a chore.

What are common beliefs that parents carry about healthy food & healthy eating?

Juices are healthy.

Sugar content is very high in a juice. When we give a fruit to a child, a child can’t eat more than one fruit for example he won’t have more than one orange at a time. However when it comes to juices, we need to squeeze atleast 4-5 fruits to get a glass of juice so the sugar content in juice is higher and seeing the rise in obesity in kids we should try and avoid juices.

Juices are not a good choice on a daily basis. Freshly pressed juice can be given to your child once in a while but avoid package juices unless it’s during a travel when it’s not possible to carry fresh fruit juice. But we should by and large stick to whole fruit, because during the process of juicing there is a nutrient loss, as the fibre is strained and vitamins get destroyed. We should concentrate more on developing the habit of eating a fruit.

Breakfast Cereals & Brown Breads are healthy.

Cereals aren’t healthy, I suggest parents to read the nutrient label printed on the package rather than buying it based on the bold marketing buzz words like ‘Protein Rich’ or ‘Calcium Rich’, they should actually see what is there on the nutrition label on the back of the package. That is where the realty lies. For example, A very popular kids cereal brand has mentioned all the carbohydrates, proteins and fat details when the cereal is consumed with milk. However if you remove the milk then there is only Sugar in that product. So that’s how company trick us to assume its a healthy cereal.

Same applies to brown bread, which many mothers assume is whole wheat bread – but in reality if you check the label the first ingredient will be wheat flour which is nothing but maida. Mothers should always check if Whole Wheat flour is mentioned as the first ingredient followed by other ingredients. As per the processed food standards the Ingredients are printed based on their quantity, so if whole wheat flour is the first ingredient that means the percentage of this flour is maximum %, and if maida or Wheat Flour or Refined Wheat Flour is mentioned first that means then Maida is present in highest proportion if that’s the case then the bread can’t be healthy.

Kids can eat anything.

Homemade Ghee/Butter is healthy, cheese is good source of protein & calcium. However this does not mean you can feed your child with the same in any quantity. If the child is on a higher side of the scale then feeding the child with more fat will result in obesity but if a kid is underweight or in the normal weight category then you can top their food with homemade ghee, butter or cheese in controlled portions. It all depends upon the weight parameter of the kid.

Do you see health issues in kids, which were earlier found mostly in adults?

There is an increase in hyperactivity in young children and increased occurrence of PCOD in teenage girls. Also, obesity is now quite common in kids, which earlier, was rare. I believe that increased consumption of packaged foods have a big role to play in this. Packagedfood usually contains artificial colors, flavours, preservatives and chemicals. Parents are not aware of the connection between these health issues and increased consumption of packaged food.

Parents are mostly concerned about their kids not eating enough if they are underweight and if overweight then they are lost as to what is causing the weight gain. They don’t know the how to control the overeating. Parents need to realise that they are responsible for wrong eating habits of their children.

Easy availability, variety & strong marketing of packaged food as the best product for your child, has increased the consumption of packaged foods.

If you go through food consumed by large number of urban families, mornings start with cereals & bread, short break box is packaged food, either a cake or biscuits and the evening snack is biscuits with milk. Chocolates and aerated drinks are always there at home. If we control our purchase of packaged food then consumption can be reduced.

A Recipe from Nutritionist Uma Narula you can try with your kids.

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