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Childhood Nutrition Linked to What Parents Pack in the School Tiffin Box, Say Experts

Gurgaon: School tiffin boxes are one of the most significant sources of nutrition for school-going children, say doctors at Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad. Nutritionists have also noted that inculcating healthy food-intake habits during tiffin hours can significantly reduce the burden of childhood obesity.
“Healthy childhood habits increase the chances of a person being healthy in adult life too. These give a person a good start to life, and form the building blocks on which to develop. a child who is accustomed to eating a white-bread-jam sandwich is less likely to be healthy both now and in the future than one who takes a poha-with-peanuts-and-vegetables tiffin. The lunch box is an important component in the child’s development, accounting for almost 1/4th of the daily nutritional requirement. Hence, a school lunch box should be holistic in nature, and contain a right balance of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Of these, protein builds the body, carbs give energy, while vitamins and minerals help in a variety of body functions, especially in keeping up a child’s immunity,” says Dr Shalini Garwin Bliss, executive dietitian, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon.
WHO has recently stated that global rates of childhood obesity are touching alarming proportions, adding that consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats combined with reduced physical activity, have led to three-fold rise in obesity rates since 1980. On the other hand, India is emerging as the third most obese country after USA and China, with doctors noting an increase in co-morbid diseases among the pediatric population, such as hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia, which were once considered only as adult problems.
However, dieticians are also aware that parents struggle with peer pressure, as children share their tiffins. Also, sometimes, snacking ideas are limited. “Children today are brand-conscious any often ask for a particular brand of noodles or pasta and parents may fall for smart advertising campaigns by companies who claim that their products are healthy. No packaged food is as healthy as fresh food from home. The way to get around this is to identify what specific ingredients or foods your child likes and use those in the tiffin, whether it is dosa and chutney or a paneer-roti roll,” says Dr Shalini Garwin Bliss.
As dietary and physical activity-based behavioural patterns of children are generally influenced by families, communities, schools, it is important to give them nutrition education, right from day one. School teachers can play a vital role here. Promoting a 10-minute fruit-break in the morning (before the actual lunch hours) and routine supervision of the students’ tiffin boxes can be a good idea,” shares Dr Shalini Garwin Bliss.
Columbia Asia firmly believes that not just parental, but also school and community involvement in a child’s well-being can ensure a healthy next generation. The hospital is working closely with stakeholders to spread nutritional awareness among children and parents alike.
What and what not’s with your child’s tiffin box
· Give your child as many as fruits and vegetables as possible in the tiffin boxes. Try interesting salads and wholewheat fruit muffins, and make fruit more available to them than fruit juice.

· Avoid giving your children money to buy food regularly in the school canteen. They will end up buying chips or cookies.

· Include a small dairy product such as a fruit yogurt (home-made) in the lunch box—this can be done in winter.

· Do avoid sweet dips such as chocolate spreads along with the bread.

· Children love experimental food. So try simple healthy meals such as poha, upma, idly, gram flour chila or even khichdi, but pack them interestingly. Fruit skewers, rotis shaped like flowers, mini dosas or idlis are all possibilities.

· Talk to the teacher about organizing a healthy-food camp.

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