Calorie-conscious parents are finding out that it's not enough for them to be so. School authorities and school canteens must toe the line too if they want to avoid unleashing obese and disease-ridden youngsters into the world.
Cuffe Parade , Mumbai residents-the Makhijanis , found this out the tough way. In spite of having their 10-year-old daughter, Kinjal, on a nutritionist-prescribed health-food diet, she kept on bloating up.
After a thorough investigation they spotted the culprit- the school canteen. All the fizzy drinks, vada pavs, French fries, burgers and puffs went into diet-monitored Kinjal , negating all well-intentioned efforts by her parents.
Nutritionist Naini Setalvad puts down a 100 gm packet of wafers as carrying 500 calories. An aerated soft drink has 300 calories, she says. "The calorie count would drop drastically if the potato chips and French fries were replaced by healthy, but equally tasty alternatives', Setalvad suggests.
The simple aloo chaat, or even hot corn- a favorite in multiplexes, are healthier options than fries or chips, opines Setalvad. "A cup of hot corn, even with butter, adds up to only 125 calories,'' she offers. Fruit smoothies, too, can replace milk shakes and reduce the calorie content by over 50%, Setalvad adds.
Doctors and dieticians alike love to shun fried foods. For one, anything fried can be carcinogenic. Even worse , they cause obesity, which in turn is a known cause of cancer. Two fried medu vadas have a calorie content of 750. "If they're replaced by two idlis, the calorie count is one-fifth,'' calculates Setalvad.
"We've now discussed the hazards of junk food with Kinjal and explained to her the importance of self-control. She can now resist canteen food even when her friends gorge on it,'' says a relieved Hiren Makhijani, Kinjal's father.
A few schools, especially pricey private ones have begun waking up to the hazards of junk food and redoing their canteen menu.
Bandra's Dhirubhai Ambani International School has introduced a salad bar in the canteen while Cathedral and John Connon High School, Fort, has cut out the colas and replaced them with fruit juices.
"We even have a committee of parents to review the canteen menu,'' says Cathedral school principal Meera Isaacs. Setalvad, however rues that too few schools are following such examples.
One more significant factor is the duration of the lunch break. Over a decade ago, lunch breaks lasted an hour. In today's fast-paced lifestyle, they have shrunk to 30 minutes.
In the scramble this results in at the canteen, children barely get 15 minutes to wolf down their food. Small wonder then that they opt for easy snacks than full-blown meals.