New Delhi: Feeding children with nutritious food has been a challenge that most mothers seem to be familiar with. Chefs and food experts, however suggest that simple alterations can make a regular meal more attractive to fussy eaters.
"When your serve a meal with words like 'healthy', people tend to reject it, be it an adult or a child. They hear the word healthy and they refuse to eat. What I do is alter one part of it. You cannot force food on Indians; it's a part of their legacy," said the Michelin Starred Indian chef and restaurateur, Vikas Khanna.
Khanna says that children should not be stopped from doing anything. All we need to do is engage with them more and provide substitutes for their favourite food.
"If they love Maggi, let them have it. Just replace it with atta (wheat) noodles. Do you know that in Ladakh people have been eating whole wheat pasta as their meal since a long time? The regular pasta should be changed with the wheat one, that's all," says Khanna, who has also hosted the popular television show 'Master Chef'.
Smita Gyan Srivastava, author of "Fun Food for Fussy Little Eaters" says that children get scared when they see a plate full of pulses, veggies and roti. Their meal should be divided and sometimes innovated to help them consume the nutrients with a dish that looks tasty.
Srivastava shared her most trusted kids' recipe that she calls 'roti noodle'. The recipe calls for chappatis to be cut into thin slices, even the stale ones would do, and then cooked like noodles adding veggies, ketchup and other spices.
Srivastava suggests boiling and pureeing well bottle gourd and gourd- two vegetables that children dislike the most and then kneading them with wheat to fashion chappatis or parathas.
"Instead of the staple dal and roti, make kebabs out of dal, wrap it up in a roti, add different veggies and present it in form of veg kebab roll. Make the regular sandwiches funky and colourful by using veggies to make funny faces. Food for kids should be a little creative because they eat only what attracts their eyes," says Srivastava, who also hosts a blog 'Little Food Junction'.
Involving children while cooking fun food for them also helps them understand more about their nutritive food. A mother can help her child learn about the importance of vegetables and healthy food in a playful manner.
Chef Khanna's book for young cooks, 'Young Chefs', includes healthy and quick dishes that children can rustle up.
"Eight and a half thousand books were sold of Young Chefs when it was launched," says Khanna, who has authored more than 20 cook books.
Khanna reminisced about his childhood. He says he used used to cook cakes on coal and his grandmother always told his parents to never stop him, seeing his passion for cooking.
"It's very important to involve kids. Food has actually become a comfort now, in olden days we used to worship it. So if you start teaching them how to respect food from a tender age and make them understand the importance of 'colourful' food, it will make a difference. Food should tell stories so that children start enjoying it," said Srivastava who has been associated with Quaker Oats for their recipe development.
Srivastava shared her experience of how her daughter, as a toddler, used to come home with her tiffin untouched and then she started making smiley faces on the parathas that made her daughter eat it. "The idea of authoring a book for children's food came from there," she said.
Sensitizing children about how their not-so-favourite meal could be a blessing for an underprivileged can also them understand the value of food according to Shantanu Mishra, co-founder and executive trustee of Smile Foundation.
The foundation runs the 'Child for a child' programme where he says they "tell the children how privileged they are and what would have happened had they been born in a slum". An unprivileged child interacts with a privilege one in this programme.
Mishra feels that nutrition is the right of every child but their food must be made interesting and not served porridge every day, in the name of nutrition.
"We started mid day meals in some schools and every day we had some dessert to attract children. They used to be inquisitive to know that after finishing their meal what dessert they will get. Some day we used to give jalebis and some days rasgullas. So we used a little incentive to provide nutrition to the underprivileged," says Mishra.
Presentation is also an important part of the meal, says chefs.
"If you hide it somewhere, children get more attracted. There's a book called Sneaky Chef; it teaches you how to hide nutrients through good presentation," said Khanna.
Srivastava agrees with Khanna.
"Presentation not only attracts children but also adults. When it comes to kids, they recognize the things they see. So presentation is important," says Srivastava.