My husband and I were waiting at the bus stop, and an old lady who we've never met before came up to us and said, "Don't you feed your kids? You should give them lots of fish and rice. They will put on a lot of weight!" We went to a wedding and every single relative in that huge hall said the same thing to us, "Don't your kids eat anything? You should feed them well. Give them grounds nuts, ghee, one egg everyday, lots of milk, tonics that increase appetite..." An endless list of foods that are supposed to make our kids put on weight. We went to the hospital for a routine check up and random strangers in the waiting room told us to give them boiled potatoes... Starting to see a pattern?
Well, you see, we have 'skinny' kids. They are of average height, but are a little on the slim side. In fact, when they have their shirts off, I can almost count their bones. Almost. Sometimes I feel like it's worse to have skinny kids than to have obese kids! If that sounds insensitive, please forgive me. I don't mean to be. As a person who was both a skinny kid, and an obese teenager, I understand the plight from both a parent's and child's perspective. My mother went from yelling at me to "eat something" when I was 8 to yelling at me to "stop eating everything" within a couple of years! I have seen her in tears on both occasions. And I have shed tears of my own, secretly. (That's a whole other story all by itself) So, to sum up, I know both sides of the story.
However, as a mom now, my sole heartbreak is in hearing people tell me that my kids are not "chubby" enough and are therefore probably unhealthy, malnourished or underfed. Each word is like an accusation at my failure to do my duties as a mother. How can I explain to each person that I am already doing all they suggest, and probably even more, and yet this is just how my kids look? Do I have to prove to them that my kids are healthy even though they look skinny, by showing them the doctor's charts? Do they mean to say that all the chubby kids are in extremely good health? ... Ok... deep breath...!
I'm sure there are other mothers out there who feel the same way, although their voices get drowned out in all the loud, yet (I admit) very necessary noise about childhood obesity. Yes, childhood obesity is very much one of the deadliest problems plaguing our children right now, but having kids who are perceived as skinny is a very real problem too, albeit an uncommon one. Especially in India, where a chubby child is seen as cute and well-cared for and healthy, whereas skinny kids are seen as sickly and undernourished and neglected. And having a skinny kid always invites unwarranted advice and admonishment.
Mothers everywhere will agree with me when I say that one of the biggest peeves is unsolicited advice from random people on how we should be parenting our children. Even worse is the feeling of inadequacy when something happens that seems to prove their point! Many are the nights when I used to lie awake worrying about whether I am doing a good enough job as a mother, whether I potty-trained my kids too late, whether I don't give them enough to eat, whether I put off teaching them the alphabet song and the rhymes too late (you know this is a huge worry in India, where kids are "interviewed" before admissions, even for playschool!!)... and the list never ends.
The question of whether my kids are eating enough or not is perhaps in the top 3 on that list of anxieties that are quickly becoming my default 'mom mood' nowadays. Now, I realize that my kids do have some health issues, which I am certainly not in denial about. First of all, as I have mentioned earlier, my twins are premature babies. My oldest's birth weight was just 2.5 kg, which is somewhere near the minimum side of the spectrum. Added to this, they have immunity issues because they are prone to streptococci infections now and then. Falling ill every alternate month does not help their eating habits and their nutrition intake, as any mom would agree. Surprisingly, in spite of all this, our pediatrician insists that they are healthy, and fighting quite well against all the health challenges that their little bodies throw at them. The only questions he asks me are, "Are they active? Do they play and romp around with enthusiasm? Are their motor, learning, and speaking skills good? Are they growing at a consistent rate, even if not rapidly?" Thankfully, my answer to all these is a very relieved, "Yes, yes!!" "Well, then," he always says with a satisfied smile, "you have nothing to worry about." Also, another important factor is that their body shape just might be hereditary. They certainly don't get it from me (haha....ahem), but there are several very slim people in my husband's side of the family. So, there's that too...
By and by, I have made peace with the situation, and I try not to be too bothered by criticism and unwanted advice from people who think they know everything about my kids and my parenting skills just by looking at us. A lot of my worry and guilt is dissipated in the knowledge that I am doing everything in my power to make sure my kids grow into normal, healthy children and adults.
Here are some things we do to ensure our kids are eating right and growing healthy. This is not advice, don't get me wrong! This is just what works for my kids, and I wanted to share with other moms who might be looking for some useful ideas. Also, my kids are still skinny, even after following this! However, I do know they are not unhealthy or undernourished. So, here goes:
1. Slash off all the bakery and junk food: We used to give our kids sweets, cakes and biscuits from the bakery at snack-time. We figured they could do with some calories as they needed to put on weight. However, several articles warned, and our doctor was quick to concur, that these foods will only make our children prone to diabetes at earlier stages of their life. Any weight they put on, if at all, is dangerous for them. So we completely stopped bakery foods, limiting ourselves to a rare treat once a couple of months or so, and the odd biscuit they have when we are trying to keep them quiet at church (ugh... don't ask!).
2. Homemade snacks full of proteins and good carbs: our kids need a lot of carbs and proteins during snack-time as they are either just back from school or have been playing actively around that time. I've found that boiled peanuts, chickpeas, whole green gram, etc. make a great snack. Just boil them with salt, drain them, and make a sundal out of them. I go all out on the sundal, adding yummy masala powders, chopped onion, tomato, coriander leaves, squeezing in some lemon and all that. Make it pretty, so to speak. Put it in a colorful container, or an aluminium foil cone and you should make that work for at least 3-4 goes, until they get tired of it, and you have to come up with some other circus! Still... we'll try anything to get them to eat right? I also intersperse this with a lot of milk-based sweets like payasam, or types of kesari with some milk poured in instead of water. Throw in some cashews, almonds etc, and you're good to go. I also, regularly just hand them a handful of cashes or almonds etc. They love munching on that stuff.
3. Low-key Desi ghee: Ok, here's the thing - Desi ghee is good for kids. Heck, there are studies that prove that it's even good for adults! I'll need a special reserve of guts to try that, but for now, I sneak ghee into almost everything for the children. And when I say 'sneak', that is exactly what I mean. I Do Not use huge amounts of ghee in everything I make - just sneak a spoonful into a sweet dish or payasam I make for them, or drizzle a few drops on their dosa. Also, I try not to use butter. I somehow don't feel it's the same thing.
4. Water and juices: the kids drink a lot of water. I guess living in a hot place has some benefits. We don't have to force them to drink water. But we also make some kind of juice twice or thrice a week and make sure they drink that up. The juice usually consists of some veggies we want to get into their bodies without them knowing ...hehe! 👍 Beetroot are mostly the vegetable they don't like. So we throw that in with an orange or mango, some pomegranates, drizzle in some honey, a squeeze of lemon, give it a whiz, and..." yay! yummy juice! I love juice!!" ... Music to our ears, people, music. to. our. ears.
5. 1 egg-2 milk: everybody eats 1 egg, and drinks 2 glasses of milk everyday. That's it. You can do a million things to dress up an egg... and even more to make milk interesting and that's what we do too.
The sixth one on my list is something that we haven't completely been able to do, but we certainly aspire to it, which is:
6 meals a day: Right now it stands at 4... or 4 and a half. The doctor prescribes between 4 to 5. But 6 takes a different level of planning, time-management and stamina which I honestly don't posses right now (seriously, who does?!), and one day we might be able to make it to a complete 5. It doesn't hurt to try, I guess...Do you do 6 meals a day for your kids? If so, please tell me how you manage this feat of pure mom-superpower? Share it in the comments, won't you?
Also, if you have any more great ideas, please do share. Moms can always use a good idea.
So, that's it. If you do some research online, you will see that this list doesn't even begin to cover all the things you could be doing for the kids, but, like I said, a) not everyone has the energy or time for all of it, and b) you don't have to do every single thing - you can try everything now and then for variety's sake, or stick to consistently doing a few that work for your kids.
In conclusion, what I want to say, I guess, is that mother's should actively resist people who try to make them feel guilty or compare their kids with the so-called standard, and know that every child is different, even within the same family, and most importantly that good health is more important than the size or shape of your child, or any person for that matter. And also, moms out there - you are not alone... there is always someone else who feels the same and will Most Definitely Sympathize with you.