Chubby babies and children are so cute, but are we ignoring the first signs of obesity. In today's world, children are exposed to advertisements and peer pressure very early in life. Additionally, nuclear families with both parents working, leaves little time for family meals or home cooked meals. Ordering out or compensating with junk food is a common practice. Excessive screen time, no physical activity are also on the rise. This is resulting in increased obesity among children. The prevalence is at 15% in India and among the higher income groups - almost 35%. Obesity at an early age can have serious consequences with an increased risk of heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension etc.
Prevention is better than cure. Childhood is a phase of learning, it is important to teach the child healthy eating right from the start.
- Walk the talk: You cannot lecture children and eat unhealthy yourself. As a parent you need to start eating healthy so that your child develops a sense of good food.
- Cook at home with fresh ingredients. Exposing children to high salt, sugar and fat foods early in life sets a blue print for their taste centre. Once used to artificial flavours and high sugar foods like packaged juices, candies, fast foods and junk snacks, they will never accept the more subtle flavours of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Fruits and vegetables need to be introduced early. Vegetables can be pureed and added to gravies and soups to start with. A bowl of fresh seasonal fruits on the table along with dried nuts will help them snack healthy.
- Hydration is of key importance for children. Water, fresh coconut water, traditional kanji, aam panna , ragi kanji, made at home with less sugar will work in developing a liking for natural flavours versus sugar laden hydration drinks and sodas. Milk, lassi, chaas is also a healthy drink.
- While picking up your child post school, you could carry snacks like nuts, home-made energy bars like peanut and jaggery bar, almond, cashew and figs mixtures, Bhelpuri with nuts, steamed corn, makhana with chana, fruits with nut butter dips instead of HFSS snacks on the go.
- Limit screen time; for this you also need to reduce yours. Content monitoring is also important. Children pick up habits from audio visual media very quickly.
- A dedicated exercise time, ideally you should also accompany them. Family holidays can include treks, cycling and walking expedition
If your child is becoming overweight or obese, then start with all the above immediately. Keep the following in mind to
- Do not put your child on a "DIET". Childhood is a period of rapid growth, it is crucial that a child get all the nutrients needed for healthy organs, brain and body development.
- Focus on overall balanced meals rather than specific nutrients. Each meal should have all the major food groups.
- Breakfast is a must, make sure your child eats a good breakfast.
- Whole grains like oats, wheat, unmilled rice along with millets like sama, ragi, kuttu should be used more often.
- Adequate healthy protein packages should be available. Legumes, sprouted dals, egg, chicken, fish can be cooked to create delicious meals.
- Milk is essential for children, use skimmed milk to make desserts like kheer, custard, homemade ice creams with less sugar.
- Make some fruit popsicles or freeze fresh fruit juice
- Saute rather than deep fry. Use an air fryer to cook. Grill, bake to limit the oil intake.
- Keep the pantry free of junk like biscuits, namkeens, chips and ready to cook meals. Take your child shopping to the fresh fruit/vegetable markets away from malls and stores.
- Eat together so that you can monitor the portion sizes. It is also an opportunity for interacting with your child and will teach them social skills.
- Meal timings should be fixed and the kitchen must close by 9pm
- Fast food, candy can be allowed occasionally in limited amounts, but do not make it a prize.
- Structured exercise program like zumba, dancing, is also good for them.
Here are some healthy tiffin ideas. A lot of these can be prepared over the weekend and used to save time.
Whole wheat tacos with bell peppers, paneer/chicken and lassi
Whole wheat chappati rolls with rajmah stuffing, green chutney and fruit milk shake
Whole wheat/multigrain burger bun+ fresh grilled paneer/chana dal/ chicken pattie, tomato and onion with fresh fruit juice.
Chana dal pulao/chicken or mutton biryani+mint raita+ fruit
Multigrain bagel+peanut butter+fruit
Corn+tomato+paneer tikka/chicken tikka+fruit
Dealing with obesity in children is a sensitive issue. We need to target holistic health and ensure overall development while keeping the child away from body shaming and physiological stress.