Tips for healthy weekend foods

It’s natural that the family heads out in search of entertainment and food during the weekends. But won't it be better if you could eat healthy as well? We help you choose your weekend foods wisely.

By Smitha Suresh

Tips for healthy weekend foods

Weekends, those heavenly days of freedom, often mean escape from the drudgery of cooking and clearing up. Many families opt to take a break from home-cooked food for those two precious days. But it’s important to recognise that eating out, ordering takeaways and making junk food at home will all deliver blows to our children’s health. Their growing bodies need good nutritious food every day of the week. Weekends are no exception!

Why do children need a healthy weekend?

During the hectic school week, your child may or may not be eating balanced, nutrient-dense packed meals every day. The latter is a term used for foods that give the nourishing substances required for wellness. Will five days of healthy meals, and two ‘cheat days,’ with salt/sugar/fat-filled diets help a child develop true wellness? The answer is obvious. It is very important to see that every day, all meals meet the nutritional needs for growth – physically and mentally.

Is eating out the only weekend option?

Not at all! True, the person in charge of cooking needs a break. But whoever said the kitchen is the exclusive domain of only one spouse? Both homemakers and office-going mums need help in the kitchen. Ideally, weekends, if not every day, should see the entire family in the kitchen. Get the kids off their gadgets and start teaching them the invaluable life skill which will come to their aid when they are living on their own, away from home. Did I mention Dad? Well, fathers, the kitchen is your responsibility too! You must take joint ownership of your family’s nutrition and well-being.

Fun ways to eat healthy food on weekends:

  • Discover a great organic restaurant/café. Order sensibly, as even these outlets can serve unhealthy (high fat/sugar/salt) foods or have refined grains on the menu.
  • Make a nutritious, wholesome meal together and then go for a picnic.
  • Organise an organic millet-themed pot-luck meal with friends or family.
  • If you’re planning to go for a movie, eat a healthy meal beforehand.
  • Plan a trip to an organic farm and let the children see how their food is grown without chemicals. Show them how their eating habits can tremendously benefit our Planet Earth. Let them see how wasteful fast food is and explain the harm it does to their bodies.
  • Start an organic garden on your terrace or in the yard. Devote quality family time to tending the plants. Compost and segregate waste together. Such time is highly educative and connects the kids to Mother Earth and the circle of life.
  • Take them to millet festivals, farmers’ markets, organic melas (fairs), wellness seminars, etc., to observe and absorb.

Benefits of ‘family kitchen’ time

  • For mums, it teaches you that it’s OK to share and delegate responsibilities and adopt the role of teacher, instilling a love for making food and the importance of a healthy diet from an early age. Initially, it may seem like even more work. Stick with it though, and you’ll reap rich rewards.
  • For dads, it teaches you that it takes hard labour to serve your family healthy food to eat and to get a decent meal on the table, something that you’ve probably taken for granted. It also builds your ability to focus, plan and execute, skills which are never out of style at the workplace.
  • Sometimes it’s dad who oversees the kitchen regularly. In that case, the above points can be used interchangeably. If you already practice ‘family kitchen’, then hats off to you!
  • For children, it teaches gender equality and responsibility (thereby enhancing self-worth). It gives them opportunities for being generous, sharing, connected and loving. By participating in cooking and related activities they develop eye-hand coordination, hand strength and control, and increased ability to focus and concentrate. Doing anything for real builds new neural pathways and you are setting them up for a lifetime of loving to cook.

In addition, talk to children about why we need to eat well and how to nourish our bodies. Have them guess ingredients, smell different spices, gauge how much salt is needed, measure liquids, pour them out, roll, knead, pound, cut and flip to name some activities. I have seen Montessori children as young as two or three years old chop with a knife and wield other supposedly dangerous tools. It blew my mind to see that this kind of exercise brings so much focus and care to their other activities.

Create an inspiring ambience

  • Sit down at the table or on the floor as a family, never in front of the television/tablet.
  • Bring out the best silverware or use expensive crockery on week nights and not just on weekends! Your family is more special than occasional guests. Neatness and beauty in the dining space give children true pleasure. Remove clutter, dust, brighten with flowers and watch your kids’ faces light up.
  • Let your children learn how to set the table and encourage them to do it for every family meal. Carrying dishes to and from the dining area builds their strength and balance. (Of course, this is an age-appropriate exercise). Cleaning up tasks should also be divided among all members of the family.
  • Keep any conversation light so that the focus is on the dining. Talk about what they are eating, how it grows and nourishes them.
  • Let them eat with their hands as far as possible. They absorb information mainly through touch, especially before the age of six.

What we mean by ‘healthy’

  • Organic wholegrain cereals. Shift from mainly rice and wheat to daily use of millets, barley, buckwheat, etc.
  • Organic whole pulses and legumes. Use less dal and more whole-grams like rajma, channa and moong. Use sprouts regularly too
  • Organic fruits and vegetables, with a lot of variety. Consciously buy different ones each time apart from staples like tomatoes, carrots, etc.
  • Nuts, seeds and organic dried fruit make the best snack
  • Switch to cold-pressed organic oils (sesame/groundnut/coconut/mustard) immediately. Use in moderation, half a litre per person over 14 years of age per month
  • Organic meat, poultry and fish. Non-organic versions may contain antibiotics, growth hormones and contaminants
  • Organic dairy – milk/curds/cheese/butter/ghee
  • Organic and natural sweeteners such as dark jaggery/brown sugar/palm or coconut sugar
  • Pink salt or unrefined sea salt – instead of normal salt which has been bleached and contains additives like anti-caking agents
  • Organic masalas, spices and condiments – either bought or home-made

Get your children to crave HEALTHY!

  • Educate children on the health benefits of food. For example, tell them carrots make eyes bright, leafy greens enrich our blood with iron, milk builds muscles, etc.
  • Link healthy eating habits to real-life goals. For example, fruits, veggies, nuts and other brain-building foods can be linked to learning-based goals. My niece and nephew love their athletics classes. They have learnt to connect the types of food that they eat to specific outcomes like speed and stamina. Thus, they are motivated to eat to nourish their bodies.
  • Create new healthy favourites (this will take some work initially). Find recipes on the Internet, and experiment with spices and flavour combinations that you know they already like. Just add in healthy ingredients!
  • Reduce deep fried foods both from outside and at home. Switch to shallow frying, roasting, grilling or baking. Don’t go oil-free either, since young bodies need lots of fat to grow.
  • Use healthy garnishes – fresh coriander, curry leaves, mint, etc. Lemon juice adds beneficial plant nutrients too.

Ultimately, eliminate processed foods. This means - no fizzy drinks, chips or sweets. And, no biscuits or bread either. Chemical additives such as artificial colours, flavour, preservatives, etc., are not needed. They are very harmful for health. It is possible to have a home free of all these unhealthy, zero-nutrition foods. Do it now if you want to create real wellness in your home. Junk-proof your family today. 

About the expert:

Written by Smitha Suresh on 25 November 2016.

Smitha Suresh is a renowned nutritionist and child specialist from Chennai.

Join our Circles to share, discuss and learn from fellow parents and experts!

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube