Written by Team ParentCircle and published on 31 May 2021.
Guinness record holder and veteran culinary expert, Chef K Damodharan talks about developing healthy eating habits in children and why traditional dishes pack a punch
As a parent, what worries you the most about your child's eating habits? Usually, your concern will be about his affinity for junk food and lack of interest in traditional foods. However, culinary expert, Chef K Damodharan or Chef Damu as he is popularly called, feels that children can be easily initiated into trying traditional dishes that are tasty as well as nutritious. For this, though, you need to first veer your child away from unhealthy fried foods that are low in nutrients but high in calories and saturated fats.
A Lifetime Achievement award winner from the South India Culinary Association and a Guinness record holder for the longest cooking marathon, Chef Damu talks to ParentCircle about feeding children the right food at the right age. He also gives tips on how you can cleverly include proteins and vegetables in your child's diet and encourage her to eat traditional foods for a healthier lifestyle.
Q: How can parents adopt healthy feeding practices for infants and toddlers?
A: Parents often make the mistake of feeding infants and toddlers food they cannot easily digest. For example, children who are six months to a year old, are often given full-fat cow's milk to make them healthy. But, children may, at times, throw up because they are not able to digest the milk. Hence, it is advisable to dilute it so the little ones can have it easily.
I believe more toddlers should be given healthy foods such as satthu maavu (health mix). But parents must dilute it as much as possible first. Also, avoid adding sugar to your child's food till she turns five years of age.
Q: Can parents do more to prevent unhealthy eating habits in children?
A: These days the trend is to frequent fast-food joints with the family. That means even young children are exposed to unhealthy foods from outside the home. As parents, if you take your child to junk food joints, then you are responsible for her wrong food habits. This unhealthy trend has led to many children developing a taste for fried foods with zero nutrient value. It also means that children eventually dislike the taste of healthy, home-cooked food.
Q: What kind of diet would you recommend for young girls?
A: After puberty, girls need extra nutrition because of their monthly menstrual cycle. Hence, it is a good idea to include high protein items such as rajma, urad dal and chana in the daily diet. There are many traditional recipes for urad dal laddus and porridge are some of the most common ones. Rajma can be used to make a simple and tasty gravy. Add chicken to make these recipes even more child-friendly. These dishes are not only tasty but also beneficial to health.
Also, teenagers these days are always dieting and very weight-conscious. But eating less only makes them anemic. I have noticed children who faint during school examinations, because of their unhealthy eating habits. At that age, it is good to include egg and milk in their daily diet."God has blessed us with diverse vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods that are ideal for the healthy growth and development of your children. But, give these foods to them in the healthiest way possible. So, they eat well and live well," says Chef Damu.
Q: What herbs and spices can we include in a child's diet?
A: Traditional herbs like sukku (dry ginger), melagu (pepper) and thippili (Indian long pepper) are natural ingredients that help cure phlegm and flu. Rasam is a traditional South Indian recipe, made with such herbs and spices. Kandathippili rasam is a favorite traditional recipe from the South. These are all excellent remedies for cold, phlegm, fever and cough. Do add these herbs and spices in your child's regular diet.
Q: How can parents encourage children to eat home-cooked food?
A good way of doing this is to make home-cooked food more interesting and appetizing. Junk food contains excess coloring agents and hence children find them very appealing. But food coloring can be harmful. Instead, use safer and healthier alternatives such as natural vegetables that give beautiful stains such as carrot, beetroot and spinach. These veggies and greens can be thoroughly cleaned, blended and mixed with chapati dough or dosa batter to give natural and attractive colors to your child's food.
Q: Can you share some easy methods to feed children vegetables?
A: One of the easiest ways of giving your child healthy foods is by blending vegetables and fruits as juice. A healthy blend of one part carrot juice, one part orange juice, a few tulsi leaves and a hint of honey, makes for a perfect health drink. Children will love the orangey flavor of the juice! Some similar blends are grape with beetroot and tender coconut with sweet lime. This is a smart way of adding vegetables too children often avoid vegetables but are more open to having colorful and nutritious juices!
Now, doesn't all this sound oh-so-simple? Take note of Chef Damus's easy-to-follow advice and practical tips. and watch your child fall in love with nutritious and nourishing foods. Here's to healthy eating and healthier childhoods!
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