Choosing Snacks Wisely : From One Mamma to Another

A snack can be a bag of chips, a fruit or a bowl of nuts. With more of us finding it hard to manage cooking our major meals, we have delegated the snack department to supermarkets which sport rows and rows of heavily processed snacks that are high in salt, sugar, unhealthy oils and other, far more complex ingredients, that have no business being in the food we eat! Since most of us don’t even realise the snacks we eat, it is time we pay attention to those silent fillers.

Let’s hear more about snacks and how we can choose snacks for our children from a Mamma of an adorable three-year old from Chennai.

Hi Hamsika, tell us about yourself and your family.

Hi, I am Hamsika, a working mother. I live in Chennai, India with my husband Lalith , our 3-year-old daughter Naabhya and my parents-in-law.

What are Naabhya’s meals like? Tell us a little about how you plan and prepare these meals.

Naabhya has a very regular meal pattern. I don’t prepare anything specifically for her. She eats the menu of the day at home.

Breakfast – A glass of porridge and a banana – I should mention here that the porridge powder is made from multi grains such as black urad dal, moong dal, roasted gram, wheat, sago, peanuts, almonds and cashews. When Naabhya turned two, I started adding millets such as fox tail, horse gram and pearl millet. This is prepared with milk and jaggery and is a wholesome breakfast.

Mid-Morning Snack at School – I usually pack biscuits or fruits, boiled vegetables and nuts.

Lunch – Rice with ghee and vegetable with an option of Rasam or Dal or Spinach and definitely a cup of curd.  

Evening Snack – Banana chips or Peanuts or Puffed rice or Papad with a glass of seasonal fruit juice or tender coconut. I would like to mention that in our family, we use gingelly oil for our regular cooking and prefer either groundnut oil or refined oil for fried snacks.

Dinner – I usually give her options – Roti, Dosa, Pasta or Poha and give her what she asks for. I also offer her a glass of milk before bed.

When I was a kid my grandma used to give me lunch before I rushed to school. She wouldn’t mind compromising on the last spoon of food, but not on the  ghee and curd which I believe are important to making the meal wholesome. So, I hold on to this for Naabhya. One specific thing that I have followed since she was a baby is I don’t give her white sugar. Instead, I replace with jaggery or palm sugar.

How do you define snacks and how big a role do they play in Naabhya’s daily life?

Snack for me is a simple quick  food, very easy to prepare and less messy to eat. Snacking helped me bring in the “eating by herself” habit with Naabhya. I usually choose something dry and easy to pick, so she can have it by herself. She has two parts for snacks in a day, her mid morning snack which is at school and thankfully, they have a set pattern. The evening snack is where she eats what she likes and it is between her juice and dinner.

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What kind of snacks do you offer Naabhya?

I usually buy biscuits made from a local bakery, carrot cake or banana walnut cake, homemade fries (வடகம் in Tamil, पापड़ in Hindi) masala peanuts, puffed rice, roasted gram(chickpeas gram) banana chips, peanut & jaggery chikki, rusk, popcorn or nuts.

Tell us about the snacks you definitely stay clear of and WHY?

I would say no to any snack that is vacuum sealed like chips, fries that have a lot of salt and oil and anything with artificial colour and sugar like gems, jelly etc. I also say no to aerated drinks and flavoured, colourful drinks and prefer fresh juice or tender coconut to it.

I am completely open to store-bought snacks as long as they are freshly made and have a very short shelf life.

Everywhere around us, we find heavily processed snacks that are high in corn fructose syrup, sodium and oil. How do you choose snacks from all these options? 

Snacking can be healthy if we make a little effort. My husband snacks more than me but ever since Naabhya has started eating, we both choose snacks with a lot more care. Children learn a lot from us! We always make sure to have a couple of options of what she likes (that are also healthier) at home. It is very easy to buy something off the shelf but takes a little more effort and planning to make something simple at home.

As parents, how do you create awareness in Naabhya on snacks and how to choose wisely?

We simply don’t introduce them to her in the first place. We took it as a task not to buy the heavily processed snacks, so now she knows the real taste and doesn’t like the salty or sugary stuff. There are mothers who tell me, “Oh!! Sad you are not giving her anything” but trust me she wouldn’t say no to cup of ghee dripping badam halwa from her grandmother or  freshly made murukku (twisted gram flour crisps that are popular in South India) from a local store.

A request to share with us three simple and healthy snacks that you make at home?

Puffed rice : You get plain puffed rice in the store and I just roast it in a heated pan and add salt and chilli powder to taste. You can also add a garlic pod for flavour.

Roasted Gram Laddus : You can dry roast one cup roasted gram, grind it along with one cup of jaggery in the mixer. Then, transfer the mixture to a tray and add ghee and make small laddus. They can be stored in an airtight container. This laddu works very well when Naabhya has a cold since it helps remove phlegm.

Raw banana chips : Just heat oil in a pan and fry the sliced raw banana and add salt and spice.

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Can you share a note to other Mammas on the importance of choosing healthy snacks and some tips on how  to make it possible in their busy schedules?

Snacks can actually play an important role in managing kids hunger. Always give a small quantity so that the snack does not become their meal. I find that the young kids derive great satisfaction in finishing their bowl of snack. I have also observed that avoiding artificial flavours and preservatives have a lot of impact on their behaviour. A snack can be as simple as a roasted papad from the tava and does not have to be anything fancy.

I also generally follow the traditional method when it come to food because it is already tested by our ancestors.

Shifting Positively from NO to YES

Words are a powerful human tool that have the capacity to evoke either a response or a reaction in another person. They can create a mindset that influences our approach to the world. When someone repeatedly uses negative words, we begin to look at the world through these lens and doubt ourselves, the environment and others. On the other hand, hearing positive words inspire us to act, be kind and open to the world. Yet, with such power at our disposal, how often do we truly pay attention to the words we use and wonder how they impact others in our lives? 

Babies spend the greater part of their first year soaking up life in its entirety. Since they are observant little beings, they occupy a lot of their time watching how the adults around them interact with their environment. This creates in them a fascination and an eagerness to get to know the world. So, naturally, when their bodies are finally able to match their intention, they move towards this wonderful environment they have been eyeing for months, only to hear adults say the word NO! 

What is this NO?

Initially, babies do not comprehend the meaning of this word NO. They look at our facial expressions and hand gestures and stop. When they go back to reaching for the same object and hear the same word a second time, they begin to see a pattern. The curious ones usually try and reach for the same object or a different one, yet again, only to see the adult’s reaction remains consistent for a third time. When our tones and hand gestures become stronger and firmer, some babies start crying because this is not their experience of how we usually talk to them. Some other babies find the whole thing rather amusing and do it repeatedly, much to the annoyance of many adults. Soon enough, all babies begin to understand that more things in their world are NO than YES and begin to grapple with this reality. 

Saying NO

Why is NO a Problem?

To understand this, let us look at what this word actually means. The word NO comes with a lot of power. We ideally use it when we do not wish to persist a situation any longer. It literally means Stop! End! NO! Considering that this two letter word carries so much power, it seems that we use it too casually, too loosely in circumstances that do not even require such authority or intensity. Our children hear the word NO countless times each day. By repeatedly using the word NO, not only are we crushing their spirit but also taking away the real value of this word. So, the problem with NO seems to stem from the frequency and context of usage and not the usage itself. 

According to Dan Siegel, Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, “NO leaves you feeling reactive, making it impossible to listen, make good decisions or connect with and care for another person. A focus on survival and self-defence kicks into gear, leaving you feeling guarded and shut down when it comes to interacting with the world and learning new lessons. Your nervous system initiates its reactive fight – flight, freeze or faint response : fight means lashing out, flight means escape, freeze means temporarily immobilizing yourself and faint means feeling utterly helpless.”

What NO does to a Child 

  • Since young children understand their world through exploration, repeatedly using the word NO subtly tells them that the world out there is not for them to explore and understand. Instead of letting them form their own ideas and views of the world, we are essentially passing on our prejudices and preferences.
  • Everytime we unnecessarily stop our children by using the word NO, we are feeding them this notion that the world is a place that holds many threats and dangers. This not only creates too much reliance on another person to navigate through life for them, but also curbs exploration altogether because of fear.
  • The more we throw in the word NO, the more our children begin to feel that they are incapable of handling the world. This leads to low self-confidence, self-doubt and an uncertainty about themselves. 

Dan Siegel, in the book, The Yes Brain : How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child says, “Anything we give attention to, anything we emphasize in our experiences and interactions, creates new linking connections in the brain. Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows. And where neurons fire, they wire or join together. If you’ve been focusing a lot of attention on No! No! No! this is where neural firing flows, a No Brain reactive state.”

Shifting Positively from NO to YES 

  • Fill our children’s vicinity with more YES objects and experiences

Young children are fascinated by the interactions that adults have with their environment. This fascination stimulates action and they gravitate towards these objects. However, we constantly curb such exploration either out of fear or because we cannot manage the mess. Instead, if we rearrange the child’s environment with more objects that they can freely explore, we will make an immediate shift towards a YES environment. Instead of curtailing exploration, we will be aiding exploration and play.

  • Become Mindful of our Words 

When we begin to watch our words and reflect on them, we can take control of the environment we are creating for our children. The next time we are tempted to revert to NO, we can just pause for a moment and ask ourselves why we want to say NO. If a child is moving towards something dangerous, we need to instantly stop them. But, in most other situations, we can divert their attention to something that they can do instead of telling them what they cannot do. A moment of reflection will give us a world of perspective and inspire a more positive response to our children. 

  • Create a YES mindset! 

Our attitude matters! By overusing NO, we not only take away its power but create a NO mindset that holds our children back from the world. By shifting positively from NO to YES, we instil in children’s little minds an attitude of positivity that stimulates openness. What’s better, they begin to trust that they are capable of tackling the uncertain world out there and run towards life with josh, enthusiasm and joy!

Akanksha’s game of Hide & Seek

Here is a story of little Akanksha who lives in San Jose with her parents Akshay and Shyama and her younger brother Dhruv. Akanksha turned 6 last month and has been going to public school, or as she calls it “big girl school” for the past year. Her parents sheepishly remark that dear Aaku is quite a bossy little one who thinks it is her responsibility to boss everyone, just like she does with her brother!

Apart from bossing her brother around, little Aaku enjoys playing hide and seek. It started off as an innocent game when, as a toddler, she used to hide herself in the same spot and giggle away even before she was ‘found’. However, these days she has upgraded her games from hide and seek to just hiding and then for hours after that, her desperate parents have to seek her. Aaku’s disappearing acts are definitely not something that Shyama or Akshay or even Dhruv for that matter, look forward to.

Her father recollects a particularly nightmarish incident which happened last August when they experienced one of the hottest summers. The entire family had to regularly treat themselves to some water-play in the evenings when the dryness and heat would reach its peak! Aaku in particular had been complaining of the heat and much to her parents’ dislike, had started sneaking some water balloons indoors on those really hot days. One Saturday evening, in late August, the family had some guests over for the weekend and spent the evening relaxing in their backyard while the kids ran wild playing with water-guns, rolling on the grass and jumping on the hammock together. None of the adults slowed the hyper children down and, in fact, were quite excited that they were exhausting themselves without any help from their end, because they had all made a plan to watch a movie together later that night.

After a lot of screaming, giggling and plenty of water-play, Shyama took both the kids to the bath and after a quick shower and an unexpected second-innings of water-play in the bath, brought the kids for dinner with the family. Dhruv was dozing off at the table and made no fuss to go to sleep, but Aaku, who was overtired, decided to jump on her bed and ask her father to read not one, but three books. Akshay had obliged and finally tucked her in to sleep and joined the group for the much awaited movie-night!

The movie was so gripping that all of them were completely engrossed in it and had not realised how late it had become. After the movie, Shyama decided to check in on the kids while Akshay attended to their guests. As Shyama took a quick peek into the kids’ room, she saw Dhruv sleeping soundly on his bed, but Aaku was missing. Shyama immediately checked the bathroom and also took a look under the bed and on the side, incase she had fallen down, but Aaku was nowhere to be seen. She panicked and immediately came outside and informed Akshay. They checked the kitchen and every other room, including all her favourite hiding spots – behind the blinds, under her parents bed, in the bathtub and even in the pantry, but Aaku was no where to be seen. At this point, Shyama was hysterical and the whole house had been woken up, including a half-asleep Dhruv who separately went to each room shouting “Aakshu akka, Aakshu akka” (akka for big sister)  without understanding fully what all the noise was about. Akshay was ready to call 911 for help, when Shyama suddenly remembered to check in the backyard. And there on the hammock, sleeping quite soundly despite all the noise, was little Aaku. On being woken up and asked why she even came outside the house and if she wasn’t scared, little Aaku cooly replied that her room was too hot!! They realised that their naughty little first born had gone out through the kitchen door into the backyard and since all of them were pretty engrossed in the thrilling movie, they hadn’t noticed.

Well, on one side, the parents were relieved on finding Aaku but reprimanded her and put a little fear into her about coyotes and bats in the dark. However, Akshay wearily says that knowing his daughter, he wouldn’t be surprised if she decides to make another disappearing act. Saying thus, he recollects another traumatising incident back in India, when Aaku had accompanied her grandpa to the vendor selling watermelons and while her grandpa was picking the watermelon, had climbed into a random school bus.  He also mentions another incident when Aaku had gone and hidden herself in a dog’s kennel in their neighbour’s house while the entire family was searching for her. He yawns and says he will reserve those stories for another day!

 

 

Play with the Natural Environment : From One Mamma to Another

Today, we live in a society where children and adults are increasingly cut off from and deprived of time with nature. How can we expand our understanding of outdoor play and understand the importance of children playing with nature?

We have a Montessori Mamma of an 18 month old from Bangalore, India sharing how children can explore the outdoors and develop a sense of belonging with the natural world.

Hi Karuna, tell us about yourself and your family.

Thank you for having me on Srishti. I am from Hyderabad, India and currently settled in Bangalore with my husband and our daughter, Urvi. My mother was a Montessori guide and that inspired me to become a certified Montessori teacher. Being aware of the Montessori philosophy, my husband and I chose to adopt it at home. It is a way of life and has empowered us as parents in so many ways. 

Can you describe Urvi’s home environment with some details about different parts of her home such as the living room, bedroom, bath, kitchen and dining?

Living Room : At the foyer, we have a child-sized chair set up for her to be able to sit down, put on or take off her socks and shoes. We keep two pairs of shoes tucked under the chair and the socks come from her wardrobe. Adjacent to the living room, we have an entertainment room with a few age-appropriate activities and an indoor slide set up for her. 

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Bedroom : Although we co-sleep, ever since she was mobile, we moved her onto a floor bed to facilitate independence. We have a small area set up with books and 2-3 activities for her to choose from while she is getting ready to tuck in for the night. We also have a changing station that includes a child-sized chair, a laundry basket, dustbin and a table with all the necessary supplies for her to access. At the dressing area, she has access to her comb, tissues to wipe herself, bindis and a few  hair bands if she wishes to wear one. 

Bathroom : Our bathroom setup is still a work-in-progress. At the moment, we are in the toilet learning phase and the door is always open for her to access. We have a floor potty chair, if she chooses to sit on it. As she has been showing interest in the water closet, we have a training seat on it as well. We are yet to set up a stool for her to be able to wash her hands independently. Meanwhile. we help her up at the wash basin to wash her hands. We’ve also kept a small towel for her to dry her hands once she is done. 

Kitchen & Dining : We converted an old step-stool into a kitchen helper in order to facilitate independence in the kitchen. Few of her utensils such as plates, glasses and spoons and snacks are arranged in an IKEA play kitchen. We also have a few cleaning utensils like a dustpan, brush, mop cloth and mopping stick handy for her to use when there is a spill. 

At mealtime, she has a choice between eating at her child-sized table and chair or at our table. She sits on the high chair or bar stool when she is at the table. 

Tell us a little about Urvi’s daily routine.

On a typical day, Urvi’s day starts between 6 and 7 am. Changing her diaper, offering to sit on the toilet and brushing her teeth are the three things that we try to be consistent with. If she resists, we come back when she is ready. 

Mornings are usually rushed, but she is involved in meal preparation, if it is simple (like idly or rice roti). She spends time with her father either reading books, listening to music, putting away laundry or going outside. Between 8 and 9 am, she has her breakfast followed by a bath. 

Between 10am and 12 pm, we do a sensory activity, listen to music or if the weather permits, we explore our outdoors and have a snack in-between. By 1pm she has her lunch. Usually, she takes a nap for an hour or two between 2 and 4 pm. Post 4pm, we run errands, do household chores, visit a park or do an activity at home like art, food preparation or dance. By 7pm, she has her dinner and bath around 8.30pm. Before going to bed, we spend sometime reading or singing a few songs. 

What constitutes Urvi’s outdoor environment?

We live in an ancestral house and are fortunate to have a back and front yard. The front yard has a few potted plants and a lawn. The backyard is mostly concrete floor with a patch of lawn. 

What are some ways in which Urvi explores the outdoors?

At present, she is drawn to movement, especially climbing, and loves climbing anything she can. An example being, the gate or stairs or a ramp. She enjoys following ants, butterflies and snails. At one point, she loved plucking leaves and flowers but now she prefers putting them in her mouth. Outdoor time has been an opportunity for trial and errors. Just the other day when we were outside, she put her thermic sense to use and started standing at different areas to check the heat. Our outdoor environment has been a wonderful source of repetition and concentration. 

What kind of outdoor activities do you set up for Urvi? How do you change them according to her needs and interests?

In the front yard, we have two buckets of different colours, a wheelbarrow and a watering can. One bucket is used to fill water for watering plants and the other bucket is for collecting dried or fallen leaves. The collected leaves are used for our fir trees as compost.

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In the backyard, we have rice flour for doing rangoli, bubble solution, primary coloured clothes pegs which she uses while drying clothes. We also use the pegs as an open-ended toy to form different shapes. We have some coloured chalk to go wild on the floor and refine her fine motor skills, a bowl and brush to paint with water on the floor and also a small scooter to scuttle around. 

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Our small patch of lawn has a concrete boundary and Urvi uses it as a balance beam. One of her preferred activities is to climb up the ramp, drop a ball and watch it roll. If there is something she is trying to master, I try to incorporate it in the outdoors or indoors. 

We love spending time in the outdoors doing sensory and art based activities. We spend some quiet time outside as well to observe and listen to our surroundings. We do sound mapping – since she still can’t put her thoughts on paper, we track sounds by pointing in the direction of it. If we find an insect, snail or butterfly that is idle, we try to observe it in proximity. 

How do you cultivate a love for plants and caring for them in Urvi?

The way she interacts with plants has changed over time. At one point, she had this strong urge to pull, pluck and yank flowers and leaves. Although, I gave her opportunities to satisfy her need to pull, my husband and I constantly modelled gentleness and mindfulness towards everything that needs to be dealt with care. Now, at 18 months, she is slowly aware of the fact that weeds need to be plucked, flowers can be plucked for use, herbs can be cut for cooking and everything in the garden needs nurturing. 

Do you regularly give her experiences of other outdoor environments that involve fresh air, plant care and natural exploration? How do you manage to find such places in buzzing, urban cities?

Almost 3-4 times a week, we go to different children’s parks in and around our locality. At least once a week, we go to the market to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. There are days when we simply go for a stroll on the roads near our home (you will be surprised with the amount of things that catches our attention). To be honest, living in the city is quite a challenge in terms of finding age-appropriate places to explore with her, but through friends and social media, we find interesting places and events to explore at times. 

In what ways, do you think Urvi has benefitted from the outdoors?

I feel that spending time outdoors has helped her to be physically active. All the experiences outdoors, from her crawling days to walking now, has helped her to develop good balance, agility and coordination. At times, I find her in bouts of deep concentration. She seems to be aware of her surroundings and has good observation skills. Most of all, I feel it has helped her to be a calm and collected child. 

As a parent, why  do you think it is important for young children to spend considerable time outdoors, amidst nature?

Having exposed Urvi to spending time outdoors since birth, I feel that it has been the best stimulus for all the senses. The child is constantly evolving and nature has the power to constantly cater to the child’s developing needs. Being in nature is the perfect opportunity to observe the natural habitat for animals, notice changes in seasons, enjoy the cycle of plant growth. Supporting the child’s experiences and exploration through precise language nurtures their learning further. The foundation for all the sciences is rooted in nature and the best thing we can do as adults is to give them the time and expose them to different situations and places. 

Can you share a few guidelines with other parents on how to set up an outdoor environment for young children? (both apartments as well as independent houses)

For most parents, the biggest challenge is knowing what activities to offer to their children when it comes to the outdoors. Although there is no particular list to refer to, I believe irrespective of age, it’s wonderful to expose our children to gardening and composting. For a lot of us, gardening can be quite intimidating but for young children all you need is a pot, soil, seeds and water. It may grow, it may not, weeds may come, worms can come, the plant might die – it’s all an opportunity to learn.

For the ones who do not have enough outdoor space, they can consider bringing outdoor elements into the indoor space. A few easy-to-maintain and safe indoor plants for the child to take care of or a few herbs by the windowsill, a bird feeder, art, water play and open-ended loose parts (chips of wood, stones etc.) to explore can be other things to consider.

Making Peas Pulav

Peas Pilaf or Pulav is an aromatic rice made using a variety of spices and green peas. It is a wonderful multi-step activity that helps young children in sequencing and organising steps and coordinating their fine motor movements. The control required in spooning rice and peas, pouring water and calculating when to close the water dispenser are simple challenges that make the activity exciting. Not to mention, the aromatic spices are a treat to the olfactory and gustatory senses.

Who is this for?

I would begin around 22- 24 months

Things Required

  • 1 medium sized bowls (½ cup shelled green peas)
  • 1 medium bowl (1 cup long-grain basmati rice)
  • 1 pitcher (water)
  • 1 small bowl (2 tbsp ghee or soft butter)
  • 1 small bowl (2 – 3 cloves)
  • 1 small bowl (cumin seeds)
  • 1 small bowl (salt to taste)
  • 1 mixing ladle
  • 1 spoon
  • 1 rice cooker

Preparation

I generally do not recommend pre-measuring water in a cup because walking up and down to fetch water and learning when to close and open the water-dispenser challenges young children’s judgement and developing gross motor coordination. I also do not prefer to crowd the pulav with too many spices especially when young children are smelling, tasting and mixing.

Slicing onions are a wonderful step that can be added to the recipe. Onions can be sliced by the adult since they are tough roots. However, the tears that come while slicing onions, the spicy taste and aromatic smell of onions are all wonderful experiences to offer young children who can assist in discarding the skin, washing the onion, etc.

As always, you are the best judge of what works for your child in your kitchen!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let’s go and make peas pulao for dinner.” Introduce all the ingredients at the table.

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Let the child touch and feel the tough peas, the washed rice and smell the spices and ghee.

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Show the child to spoon the rice into the cooker.

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Move the peas to the front and the empty rice bowl to the back to give better access to the child. Show the child to spoon the peas into the cooker. 

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Once they have been transferred, mix the two well.

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Show the child to measure two cups of water and pour into the cooker. Let the child pour however they can.

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Transfer the cumin, cloves and the salt into the cooker.

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Bring the ghee bowl closer to the cooker and pour it into the cooker.

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Mix all the ingredients well.

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The child can carry it to the plug source and the adult can plug it in. Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash. Once the rice is done, take in the aroma and warmth of the pulao.

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Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let’s go and make peas pulao for dinner.”
  • Introduce all the ingredients at the table. Let the child touch and feel the tough peas, the washed rice and smell the spices and ghee.
  • Show the child to spoon the rice into the cooker.
  • Move the peas to the front and the empty rice bowl to the back to give better access to the child. 
  • Show the child to spoon the peas into the cooker. 
  • Show the child to spoon the peas into the cooker.
  • Once they have been transferred, mix the two well.
  • Show the child to measure two cups of water and pour into the cooker. Let the child pour however they can.
  • Transfer the cumin, cloves and the salt into the cooker.
  • Bring the ghee bowl closer to the cooker and pour it into the cooker.
  • Mix all the ingredients well.
  • The child can carry it to the plug source and the adult can plug it in.
  • Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash.
  • Once the rice is done, take in the aroma and warmth of the pulao.

Note

Since the recipe calls for several small bowls, as you finish transferring, you can tell the child that the bowl is empty and move it to the side. Washing Rice and Shelling Peas are separate activities which can be viewed here. 

In the Kitchen with Young Children

In a lot of ways, a healthy relationship with food begins not at the table but in the kitchen where the transformation happens. For children to understand food as a whole, we need to show them where and how it is prepared. The kitchen is where the magic happens – raw vegetables are made into delicious stews and sabzis, flour and lentils are kneaded and cooked to create roti and dal. To look at food with knowledge, wonder and joy, we must collaborate with children in the process. This involves understanding the benefits of food preparation and preparing a space that will aid exploration and growth.

Some Factors to Consider before Preparing the Kitchen 

  • An Accessible Space

An important aspect of preparing the kitchen is to make it a welcoming space for the young child. This is a balancing act of having a few areas accessible, giving them responsibilities in those areas and then progressing to more. For children who are just toddling, having a few low shelves that they can independently access gives them the confidence to step into the kitchen and fetch what they need. They can also have a low table and chair to which simple tasks such as peeling oranges, or churning buttermilk can be carried to. As they grow and gain more confidence in the kitchen, a step stool can be carried by them to open the kitchen further for exploration. A step stool makes the sink accessible to do washing or the counter where we can collaborate in a variety of food preparation activities. Often, children end up asking us for simple things such as water or snack which they can independently fetch. A step stool frees such dependency and lets them access these without having to rely on us to provide everything.

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  • Real Tools 

So often, children are given pretend tools that are made of cheap material and do not serve any purpose. By using these tools, children cannot accomplish the intended task even though they are eager to. Instead, if we offer them real, age-appropriate tools, we are giving the opportunity to understand where to hold, how much pressure to exert, how to hold and many other concepts which they can never learn by using a toy.

  • Appropriately- Sized 

Normally, everything in the kitchen is to the size of the adult. Just as it is difficult for us to do anything purposeful with ill-sized tools, it is hard for young children to use large and heavy tools to create anything meaningful. Not only is it dangerous, it is also frustrating and may lead to a lack of confidence in their capability. So, it is helpful to look for tools that they can hold in their little hands and manipulate.

  • Caution & Safety 

Safety is a feature that always needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to young children. It is a dynamic aspect that keeps evolving depending on the age and capabilities of the child. What is safe for a four year old may not be safe for a toddler and this comes only with observing the child act in the kitchen while also gradually increasing their scope for exploration. As adults who are responsible for our children, we must be sure to take the necessary precautionary measures to make the kitchen a safe yet challenging space for exploration and growth.

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What do Children get from being in the Kitchen? 

  • Fine & Gross Motor Refinement 

The kitchen challenges both the fine and gross motor skills of the child. Whether they are carrying the step stool or a jug of water from the sink to the table, they are constantly refining their gross motor skills. Kneading, pounding, mashing, whisking, grating and peeling challenge their fine motor skills. They also learn to build judgement and reasoning such as how much pressure to exert, how to carry or how to use their hands through these movements.

  • Plenty of Language

The amount of language children pickup by being in the kitchen is phenomenal. The kitchen is a lively place of action which allows for language to be created alongside experiences. As we involve children, we can use words for the actions we are going to perform, name the various ingredients or describe their features such as crunchy or creamy. Such language is not merely a build-up of vocabulary but one that is accompanied by experiences that add real meaning and value to each word.

  • Willingness to do for others

Michael Pollan, the author of Cooked : A Natural History of Transformation, says, “For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?” 

Food is an expression of love and young children are eager to be involved in this expression. Just being in the kitchen and helping out in whatever way they can, allows children to understand that they are a part of their family and recognise that they can also have an impact on it. By collaborating in preparing a simple meal for their family, children derive a sense of purpose and willingness to do for others.

  • Attitude towards Food

When children handle raw vegetables, measure, mix and knead dough or wash and dry fruits, vegetables or rice, their experiences with being a part of the process changes their attitude towards food radically. They know what they are eating and slowly acknowledge the effort that has gone into making it. When they have participated in the preparation, they also have a personal association with the dish which makes it a lot more inviting.

  • Sensory Treat

Lastly, the experiences of being in the kitchen are nothing short of a sensory treat for the child. The aroma of the various ingredients, fruits, herbs and vegetables, the varied tastes, the experience of watching the way the ingredients blend together, the sounds of the mustard crackling, the sambhar bubbling or the tactile exploration of each of the ingredients together offer a wide database for the growing intellect. It paves the way for imagination which is the foundation of creativity!

The overall benefits of being in the kitchen outweigh the fears associated with it. In a well prepared kitchen, the child has abundant opportunities to learn and grow. It is an engaging way to bond with children and create lasting memories that will change their life-long relationship with food and the natural world.

Little Abu, the Barber

Here is a story of little Abu, a five year old with Dennis the Menace haircut and mischievous hazel eyes that twinkled every time he was upto something. Abu lives in Bangalore, India with his Mamma and Papa, his Dadi whom he loves dearly and a pet cat – Bijli. Abu loves to ride his scooter, mostly indoors than outdoors and on many days uses them as his only mode of transport within the house. Bijli would follow Abu from room to room and on realising that Abu has no plans of parking his scooter, would grunt and go find a cozy spot near Dadi’s sitting chair.

Little Abu loves his Dadi and enjoys going on walks with her to the weekly vegetable market. Dadi would insist on leaving the scooter behind and after some tears and tantrums, Abu, a thrilled Bijli and Dadi would walk together with a basket to buy vegetables. Meanwhile, Abu’s mamma silently worried that he was naughty and tried to set up more playdates to help him make more friends. Although little Abu was a sweet and friendly boy, his naughtiness often didn’t go well with his peers, sometimes even their parents! While Mamma was working on setting up playdates, Dadi was trying to find alternate ways to engage a constantly moving Abu. Abu would go round and round Dadi in his scooter and Dadi felt soreness in her stiff neck which had to constantly spin around to keep up with Abu. She purchased a craft kit with a pair of scissors, a bottle of glue, several coloured paper strips and even some stickers to engage her beloved grandson differently.

Abu was instantly drawn to the craft kit, especially the scissors. He had seen them before in mamma’s sewing room but those had large blades with huge finger-holes and mamma had not even let Abu near them. These scissors were smaller, more wieldy and Abu took to them right away. Dadi found Abu and Bijli sitting next to her; Bijli purring and Abu practicing cutting the coloured paper strips. It was a proud moment for Dadi, her trick had worked! Abu was finally sitting in one place and her neck was happy. All seemed well with the world.

Very soon, Abu had mastered cutting and was no longer interested in the paper strips. One evening, after dinner, just as Dadi was pulling her pallu to wipe up her mouth and hands, she found them looking like confetti. Bijli, who had silently witnessed this mischievous act, purred and looked away. Abu, on the other hand giggled playfully and ran away. Mamma had to reprimand Abu and tell him not to cut up Dadi’s sari. Abu had righteously asked how mamma spent all day cutting up cloth in her sewing room and nobody had reprimanded her!

A few silent weeks later, Dadi thought that the inappropriate cutting days were behind them and was shocked to find her favourite hibiscus leaves cut up in odd shapes! She chided Abu for cutting up the leaves and had to do the inevitable – take the craft kit away for a few weeks! Abu seemed upset but Dadi believed this would teach him not to cut just about anything and everything in the future.

While Dadi’s worries were put to rest, mamma had been working on setting up playdates for Abu. One Saturday morning, on their way to a haircut, Mamma had told Abu that Dadi’s niece and her son Romy were to visit the family. Mamma had prepared Abu to be a good boy and he was excited to meet Romy. After the haircut, Mamma had sat Abu down and talked him through being kind, sharing and not being a naughty boy. Little Abu had nodded his head rapidly in acknowledgement and Mamma hoped for the best!

Once the guests arrived, there was a lot of noise and joy in the air. Abu and Romy had been shy initially and hid behind their respective mothers. In a short while, Mamma found the boys playing football in the veranda and was overjoyed. After football, Abu rushed indoors and asked Dadi for the craft kit. Dadi, who was having an emotional union with her niece, half listened to Abu, opened her Godrej and took the craft kit and gave it to him. Abu and Romy delightedly took off to Abu’s favourite corner in the house, the secluded spot behind the bookcase. The boys seemed awfully quiet and the adults attributed it to the newly formed friendship.

In a short while, Abu and Romy happily came out; Romy was wearing a hat. Mamma recognised the hat instantly since Abu’s Papa had gifted him the hat with the letters RF on it. Mamma and Dadi were happy to see Abu part with such a special gift. When they asked Abu if he was sure about parting with the hat, Abu nodded and so did Romy.  After the guests left, Abu and Bijli took off again in the scooter on their usual rounds. Mamma was preoccupied with thoughts on how Abu was becoming less naughty, just as her phone began to ring.

On the line was Romy’s mother narrating quite a remarkable story. Little Abu seemed to have given Romy a haircut behind the bookcase! He had then parted with the RF hat to hide the hideous looking fringe. Mamma could not believe her ears and ran to the bookcase and there they were – tiny bits of black hair and a lonely pair of scissors!