We have been having conversations about children, diet and encouraging little ones to make healthy choices. Today, on the occasion of Children’s day, we spoke extensively to international wellness coach, Tarika Ahuja, on macrobiotic wellness, battling junk food and unhealthy choices, and empowering our kids to make healthy decisions. Tarika recently authored her first book, ‘Beautiful Children: The Parents Essential Guidebook for Raising Strong, Balanced, Healthy Children’.
Tarika, you are an advocate for a macrobiotic diet. For the uninitiated, could you explain what a macrobiotic diet is, and how it is beneficial for children?
There is no such term as a macrobiotic diet, essentially. There are macrobiotic principles of balance that can be applied to the diet. I say this here, so no parent thinks that only diet will transform their child’s health and well-being. Diet will certainly help hugely but there are more factors to a macrobiotic consult than a diet.
Having said that, foods that are highly beneficial for every child on a daily basis are whole grains (such as brown rice, jowar, ragi, jaun, chaulai etc.); whole beans such as kidney beans, chickpeas, whole mung lentil and whole lentils (dhals).; a variety of vegetables (a combination of raw, steamed, juiced, and stewed/long cooked) and some fermented foods such as oil-less brine pickles, idli, dosa etc. Foods in smaller quantities to boost these main foods are nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils and fresh seasonal fruits. A small quantity of occasional foods/pleasure foods – be it desserts or non-commercial dairy, anything the child desires in small quantity, no more than once in 1-2 weeks – is also part of a healthy macrobiotic diet.
All packaged foods with yeast, preservatives or chemicals should be avoided. Fresh home cooked meals are the way to go!
Increasing peer/ study pressure, an oversaturation of unhealthy food marketed at kids, technology taking precedence over playing outdoors – how is this taking a toll on the health of Indian kids? How do we counter these unhealthy influences?
Most schools these days have an unnatural form of education or they have lost the balance between study and play. A child should be exposed to daily yoga, holistic nutrition in the school canteen/lunches, and a mandatory skill in dance or sports to follow weekly. They should also be exposed to holistic psychology and practices such as NLP, sound healing etc. When parents come to me for consults, they talk about lack of concentration and the lack of patience. Some kids speak too much before their turn or are simply not interested in food, as they only thrive on sweets. These can lead to serious behavioral or health issues as they grow up.
Studies are given excessive importance and sometimes, the methodologies of learning are more memory-based than experience learning or active learning. Also, most study modules in schools require a child to tune into the memory part of the brain more than the thinking part – leaving the kids these days “mentally lazy” or “not-so-innovative.”
Oversaturation of unhealthy foods is huge! Food is being privatized, and hence commercialized to reduce the quality and health value, and aimed at increasing the profits and sales at the expense of your child. Also, where children would have a few chips once a week, these days a child finishes a whole packet of chips or sugar filled cookies every afternoon! Unfortunately, parents seem to have lost the sensibility of what is moderate and what is not; some parents feel that a chocolate a day and 2-3 tsps of sugar in food is moderate!
A child that consumes sugar laden snacks every day loses the taste for natural sweetness in vegetables, and hence he gets further unhealthy. Every unhealthy, marketed product has its own little demon. Chemicals in food weaken the child’s blood sugar and hormonal system. The yeast in commercially packaged foods fogs the brain.
It’s really up to the parents to simply not bring these foods at home, and replace this with similar tasting homemade food. Health is beyond physical wellness – it’s actually sets the child’s destiny and what personality they develop.
As far as technology goes, it is a great tool for progress, but it should never replace outdoor activity. Outdoor play has tremendous benefits – fresh air, an expanded view, and the experience of the world and society. According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Wisdom), just walking on grass and looking at the lush green color heals the child’s liver, which is associated with patience and ability to respond with relaxed attention. Walking outdoors and one’s moving arms and legs increases blood circulation to the abdomen area, keeping the digestive juices flowing in health. There is a balance in nature – the balance between heaven’s energy and earth’s energy –and simply spending time outdoors helps the child imbibe this balance.
How essential is it to include natural, vegan supplements like algal calcium and omega-3 DHA in a child’s diet?
Understanding the holistic systems with good practitioners, and using natural, vegan supplements is practically indispensable these days – especially now, when vegan supplements are available in India.
Giving the child a high quality DHA supplement (especially for kids under 7 years) helps the child have a better neural circuit for a lifetime of good thinking and memory. Proper minerals in daily food, enough sunlight, outdoor activities for, as well as vitamin D supplementation help build strong bones.
How can we empower children to make healthy choices for themselves as they get older?
Empowering your child simply means to support his or her health, emotional growth, skillful development, and compassion capacity. Teaching your child about health slowly without pressure, bringing awareness every day, and teaching him or her skills like gardening and cooking can increase their interest in self-care and health. Allowing your child to make healthy choices at a younger age without too many “no”s, and with a deep reflection of action and consequences is key. Skillful development gives your child the chance to learn about working in a team, goal setting, growth, and the confidence that comes with accomplishment. Sensitize the child through compassionate food habits, take them on a trip to the poor people’s home or locality or an underprivileged school. This will help your child value what he or she has, with a wider view of life and gratitude.
Tarika Ahuja is an international Wellness Coach with over 10 years of rich and deep experience in Natural Wellness Medicine and Macrobiotics. She is also a Wellness Author with Harper Collins, her first book called “Beautiful Children”. Tarika is available for long distance consults in holistic parenting/macrobiotic wellness for children. Sessions are priced at Rs. 1000 per session or Rs. 6000 for 2 months with 8-10 calls. Her website is http://sacredswan.in/