How to Make Boring Meals Fun

Journalist and mommy to two growing boys, Tashneem Ali Chaudhury solves this dilemma as she tells us why it’s a good idea to get cooking sometimes.

Tashneem Ali Chaudhury

Nutrition vs taste? Add to this predicament, kids, and you will know what mothers struggle with every day. Some kids love food, some hate it, while some have a neutral relationship with food—making it one roller coaster ride for mothers and fathers.

Personally, I prefer the ones who love food. Don't we all, actually? It just makes life a lot easier. Ask any mother and they will tell you how it's a losing battle with the fussy ones. After umpteen food trials, just when you think you have nailed the right formula, and kids start developing a particular taste, their taste buds change, and they can end up hating that particular food.

For mommas like me, who have a 12-year-old and a 5-year-old, I can never be satisfied with feeding any kind of food to my children. I would obsess over nutrition, taste and, many other things! And that's what happened with my first child. I was always looking for nutrient dense foods to feed him; trying to pack in a punch in whatever he ate. For years, I would never let him go to bed after having a meal outside; I would ensure that he ate some fresh home cooked food before napping. I know, mothers like me can be tough on ourselves. Thankfully, he was and hopefully will remain a good eater, since he’s inherited my ‘eat hearty food’ genes. I love food. Period.

Also read: Cooking hacks every parent must know

With the second child, after a gap of seven years, something just changed. I became more relaxed and though he was a fussy eater, I started letting things be. Of course, the initial years were tough. He hated milk, fruits, cereals, proteins, basically anything that was edible. Meal times were a real trial. But, I can safely say that today, five years later, I am getting better at handling this food circus.

And yet, the essential ‘mommy’ in me remains the same. I try to pack in nutrients in most things they eat. I never stock chips, instant noodles, soft drinks or chocolates at home. My reasoning is that what you don't see, you don't crave! So far, it seems to have worked! While nobody can claim to have raised the world’s healthiest kids, I can just say that I keep trying and yes, the journey’s getting better.

The elder child likes his eggs, paneer, veggies like bhindi, brinjal, potatoes, while the younger child loves all kinds of fruits and veggies like carrot, broccoli, cucumber and even lettuce. The little guy even loves salads! We are a non-vegetarian family, so they like meat, fish curries and grilled foods too. The idea is to achieve a balance of overall nutrition. “The right mix means carbohydrates, fats and proteins and this is easily achieved by our traditional Indian thali. Also, try to ensure that you get enough vitamins and minerals through your diet. One cannot overemphasise the importance of vegetables and fruits,” says Dr and Professor Anupam Sibal, senior pediatrician and also group medical director, Apollo Hospitals Group.

Also read: How to get your kid to eat karela (bitter gourd)

Keeping taste and health as the motto, the go-to foods for kids, besides the regular food, would be to stock up on whole wheat pasta, soba noodles and real brown bread. Once a week, eat outs only is a rule I adhere to for the whole family; not more. And if the kids want to eat different things over the weekends or holidays, I make them sandwiches or rustle up different kinds of pasta or chicken/veggies stew and sometimes even a mild biryani that is not very spicy. When it comes to healthy baking, I add powdered mixed nuts and add them to cookies or muffins. Another useful tips for mommies, when the last-minute cravings kick in, is to quickly make lettuce and chicken salads with different kinds of dressing such as mayo. I also like to feed the kids with grilled meat or veggies with sauces—my kids love American barbecue sauce and sweet onion or teriyaki sauce. Just toss them in fried rice made at home and viola you have created taste yet healthy meal at home. A wee bit of effort and creativity is all it takes to deal with kids, fussy or not.

Also read: Make your salads super delicious with these innovative salad dressings

While cooking every day may not be practical, it makes sense for parents to step in when the going gets tough. Though my kids are quite happy with the simple fare—aloo puri, dal-rice, veggies or paranthas that our cook makes—we take that extra effort to turn regular (read: boring) meals into fun meals. Kids learn from what they see, not from what they are told; so healthy cooking at home is just the start to nurture their lifelong love affair with food. Kids observe what goes into the making of food and to identify healthy from non-healthy: that is an important lesson, right? 

Crazy Veggies Pasta (Add chicken or mutton keema for non-veggies)

Veggie pasta (Image used for representational purpose only)

Boil whole wheat pasta. In a mixie jar, add tomatoes and any kind of veggie you have in your fridge (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, beetroot, beans). Grind them into a puree. Then sauté cut onions, garlic and cook this puree over low heat for quite some time. Then add boiled pasta along with boiled chicken pieces or boiled keema. Pour some whole cream milk to this and mix. Add salt to taste and a bit of sugar. Cook for five mins and serve hot. Add grated cheese on top.

Chicken or Veggie/Moong Dal

In a pressure cooker, sauté garlic and onion slices (chicken pieces-optional) with cut veggies and moong dal for five minutes. Add little water and creamy milk and salt. Cook it in the pressure cooker until soft. Mash it and serve in small bowls with toasted brown bread on the side.

Also read: 5 times the humble moong dal becomes indispensable in a Marwari wedding

Broccoli-Almond Cream Soup

Broccoli Soup (Image used for representational purpose only)

Sauté chopped garlic and broccoli florets and carrots in olive oil. Add a bit of water and creamy milk and powdered almonds. Cook till it turns into a semi-solid consistency. Transfer to a grinder and puree it in batches. Serve with garlic bread. 


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