Do children really need specific kinds of food, or are the foods that adults consume good enough for them?
If adults are eating sensible foods themselves, then children can safely eat the food that adults eat. But if adults at home are on salads, soups and copious amounts of greens then kids are better off with dal chawal, poha, paratha—the more wholesome stuff. Kids, in general, should stay with the basics, eating wholesome, home-cooked meals at regulated intervals.
How can we make what we call 'good food' interesting for children and young adults?
Good food is the other side of the coin of good habits—those of sleeping early, not watching TV while eating and playing a sport every day. Children imibibe these from us as parents, so there’s an additional responsibility to adopt good habits once you have kids. Taking children to farms instead of malls, taking trekking trips instead of shopping trips, allows children to understand more about food, history, culture, politics and its influence on food. The best part is that it happens organically, so kids don’t feel that they are being taught or lectured, instead they are allowed to watch and learn and that’s the most liebrating experience a young adult can have.
In today's age of over-promotion, children and young adults are continuously exposed to a wide variety of food products, most of which may not be particularly healthy for them. But the packaging wins them over. How can parents break through this stranglehold and ensure children choose better foods? Does the presentation of foods/meals play any role in ensuring better choice?
No, homemade fresh wholesome food looks beautiful, you don’t need to dress it up. It’s like your grandmom looks beautiful, but not quite like the girl on the magazine cover, but that doesn’t mean anything. However, if you dress your grandmom and get her to pout for the camera, she would look ridiculous— same goes with food. We have to allow children to understand that good healthy food looks beautiful and not dressed up (like a pastry with a mint leaf on top and chocolate sauce streaks over it). Parents have the responsibility of buying and patronising local, seasonal food and cook it using regional recipes. Nothing makes food more gorgeous than family involvement.
Is it possible to give a makeover to junk foods, turn them into healthier versions of a food which looks and tastes the same, but does not leave behind unhealthy footprints?
Like eating French fries that are baked or honey instead of sugar? No. Junk foods have a place too in the order of things. The healthiest thing that you can do with junk food is eat it without the guilt. We can't shame our kids into not eating; we need to educate them about it. Once children learn that it takes 5–7 litres of groundwater to make a litre of cola, they may have a change of heart about the fizzy drink. The key here is education: as we expose children more to food systems—farmer, trader, consumer—they are able to take more intelligent food decisions. Children are perfectly capable of understanding economics and are very sensitive to ecological issues. What is missing is a voice which speaks to them regarding these issues in the same breath as health and food.