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Make lunch matter

health-and-fitness Updated: Jun 24, 2010 14:35 IST
Karina Pandya
Karina Pandya
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

An anonymous blogger and public school teacher called Mrs Q recently embarked on a mission to draw attention to what children are eating at school in the States. She called her blog ‘Fed up with Lunch: the School Lunch Project’ and vowed to eat what children in public schools did, for every day in 2010.

Predictably enough, Mrs Q has had more than her share of fast food like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chicken nuggets. “It’s very challenging to teach students when they are eating school lunches that don’t give them the nutrition they need and deserve,” she says.

Meals in school
With obesity on the rise, ensuring that children have nutritious meals in school is just as much of a concern in India. Steering your children to healthy eating habits should begin early on in childhood. Fried and fatty foods like wafers, samosas, vada pav and noodles are quick to whip up — and more likely to be popular with kids — but they have poor nutritive value and can lead to health consequences in the long run. So, it’s important to include healthy foods that are also appetising in your child’s lunch box.

According to dietician Jyoti Lalwani, “Nutrition for children is top priority as it enables proper physical and mental development. Any nutritional deficiencies in this period do affect the child in the long run.”

Lunchtime plays an important role in shaping a child’s eating habits and socialisation process. If a child makes healthy eating choices in childhood, chances are that he/ she will make similarly wise choices in adolescence and adulthood.

Healthy adults
Unhealthy eating habits could lead to the early onset of disorders like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and hormonal imbalances.

“The first six years is when the maximum growth of the brain takes place. Milk, fruits and vegetables, eggs, dals, vegetables and cereals are essential in a child’s diet”, says Dr Sushmita Gupta, paediatrician at Apollo Clinic and Fortis Hospital. “Biscuits should be avoided in infancy as they contain soda and white flour.”

Nishtha Waghela, mother of five-year-old Nirvan, tells us how she makes sure her child is eating right. “Being a vegetarian, I have to ensure he gets sufficient nutritional intake,” she says. “In order to make his lunch box more palatable, I usually grate either some vegetables, soya granules or even paneer in the chapati dough to ensure that at least one of his meals is nutritious. Once, in a while I pamper him with his favourite junk food.”

Popular cookbook author Tarla Dalal, whose latest cookbook is called Tiffin Treat for Children, says, “On all the five school days, each meal should be different. Planning should be done beforehand, so that early morning preparations are quick and easy.”

Nutritionist Jyoti Lalwani shares some tips on how to get your kids to eat right:
* Replace chapatis and vegetables with stuffed vegetable, dal or paneer paranthas.
* Modify plain rice and dal to vegetable biryani and add some whole pulses like moong dal, chana and sprouts.
* Ensure that protein-rich foods like pulses, milk, soya or non-vegetarian food are included in meals.
* Children love snacking. Habituate your child to eat fruits and replace chiwda and wafers with low calorie, nutritious snacks or sandwiches made using brown bread.