Saad Janhavi Shan is a rare 8-year-old who turns his nose up at burgers and cola. His mother Janhavi Samant occasionally tries to persuade him to have a slice of pizza but he wants none of it.
“Since his pre-school days, his school teachers have taught him to eat healthy and avoid junk food,” says the 39-year-old media executive. “He now has an instinctive dislike of fast food.”
Parents are usually to blame for their child’s junk food addiction, as what children are fed in their formative years determines their food preferences for the rest of their lives.
“From six months to a year, a baby should not be given food with added sugar or salt. Direct sugars are most harmful, so avoid giving colas and sweetened juices to toddlers and adolescents,” says Anita Jatana, chief dietician, New Delhi’s Apollo Hospital.
The credit for Saad’s healthy food choices goes to Shishuvan School in Mumbai’s Matunga Central neighbourhood, where healthy food habits have been made part of the lunchroom plan and packed meals students bring from home.
“Teachers conduct tiffin [lunchbox] checks for new students in their initial weeks so that the idea gets ingrained. After a while, you find no one eating junk or chocolate bars in school,” says Namita Talreja, principal of Shishuvan School. “We also encourage parents to send healthy snacks for the entire class, which encourages cultural exchanges between students.”
The cafeteria at New Delhi’s Sardar Patel Vidyalaya (SPV) serves only fresh food. “We don’t stock food prepared or packaged elsewhere in the canteen; it is cooked here every morning,” says Anuradha Joshi, school principal. “The school has a vibrant home science department, which is very creative and comes up with different menu for the kids.”
To inculcate healthy food habits, some schools have gone a step ahead and included vegetable patches within the school premises.
“We have a kitchen garden in school that is a part of children’s activities. For example, yesterday at the “brinjal activity”, children in primary classes plucked brinjals with teachers and the canteen staff used it to make baingan bharta for them,” said Sovanika Pal, principal, Vidya Bharti School, Delhi.
At the school’s 20-minute fruit break every day, students are asked to eat an entire fruit or a salad brought from home. “It’s mandatory for children to participate in fruit-time break, which is a way to ensure fruit becomes a part of their daily diet,” she says.
With more and more children turning overweight, schools are increasingly turning to nutritionists to get students to eat right.
“Less activity and higher carbohydrate and less protein consumption among children makes them pile up kilos. Studies suggest if you are overweight at age 6, then the chances are that you will be an overweight or obese adult,” says Jatana.