A Balanced Diet for school going children

Many school going children are in the habit of wanting chocolates and sweets, several times throughout the day. Some children are seen to indulge in very large quantities of rice. This is due to the fact that they are at an important stage of growth and the need for energy is great so the craving for sugar and starch is high. However a proper balance of nutrients namely carbohydrate and protein is very important to ensure good growth and also prevent unhealthy eating habits from setting in now. In such cases what we normally see is that the protein in the diet may be quite low and hence the children get hungry and the stomach feels empty an hour or so after a meal and they start looking out for chocolates and sweets.

I would like to explain what carbohydrate and protein foods are. Carbohydrates are sugars and starch. Sugar is found in fruits, regular sugar, jaggery, honey, etc. Starch is mainly found in all vegetables and cereals - rice, wheat, corn, ragi, jowar, bajra. etc.

Protein is found in dhals, pulses, milk, milk products, egg, fish, chicken, meats, and nuts. The first thing to do is to check if in each meal the child is getting both a carbohydrate as well as a protein food.

Only a glass of milk for breakfast is not balanced. Milk plus 2 slices of bread or cereal and milk or porridge with milk would be ideal.
Similarly, milk and egg alone are only protein foods. Milk and egg along with bread or chappathi would be ideal.

Bread and jam or bread and butter alone is not good as the protein is missing. Egg or milk must go with it. Iddli and sambar or dosa are good as they are in themselves a rice and dhal combination. Upma alone is from the starch group so it must be eaten with curds or a glass of milk.

Most often lunches and dinners are also poorly balanced. Lime rice, tamarind rice or pulav alone gives only carbohydrates. Sabji and chapathi again are both from the carbohydrate group with protein missing. Dhal, pulses, non-veg, egg or curd must be given with the above. Lunch should be a proper meal of rice and sambar or rice and dhal along with a cooked vegetable (sabji). If chapathi is sent then a thick dhal or channa or rajma should be sent with it along with a sabji.

Kindly note that raw eggs are useless in terms of protein as the egg cannot be digested by the human body unless it is fully cooked. If eaten raw it is completely excreted from the body.

We have also seen that in many cases dhals and pulses are given very little importance. Dhals and pulses are very good source of protein as well as vitamins and minerals. They should be a part of the daily menu in the form of dhals, sambars, and channa, rajma, moong sabjis or curries. They must be eaten in both lunch and dinnerl. Vegetarian children must learn to carry rice mixed with sambar or dhal for lunch daily. Alternately they may be given lemon rice or a pulav along with a channa or rajma preparation and some sabji. Those who prefer chapathis may take 2 chapathi rolls, 1 roll filled with pulses and another filled with sabji vegetables. Salad may be sent with lunch.

Non- vegetarians may eat a chicken or egg along with a vegetable roll and some salad.

When they return from school care must be taken to see that a glass of milk and a healthy snack like sandwiches, etc. are provided. This is not lunch time but tea time and lunch meal should be eaten at school during lunch time. Sandwiches may be made of vegetables, jam and egg or cheese occasionally. Biscuits may be eaten and occasionally a little noodle or idly, dosa may be eaten.

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