The pandemic surfaced what matters the most – have a healthy body which includes food, exercise and a good lifestyle. Since the lockdown, the family simply dropped one meal time without any extra effort as the body didn’t need so much food due to an even more sedentary lifestyle in spite of the housework. This definitely had a positive impact on our overall mental make up and physical too. This made me think and go back to when I started my journey, what led me to adopt this lifestyle and how. I interviewed myself and interspersed my questions wearing the hat of an educator and an interviewer to trace my own journey and make sense of it.
And much to my amusement, it took the shape of an article like this and I thought if my personal experience could be of help to anybody and/or be integrated into the teaching in school, it would be a wonderful way to inculcate a healthy lifestyle.
I used to hate milk and as a teenager, I ended up drinking aerated drinks first thing in the morning for almost a decade. This was way back when access to aerated drinks was new enough for us to be fascinated rather than be wary. Much later in life, my tryst with health and nutrition led me to a deeper understanding of this subject. I wish that our schools can be the place that bring in this awareness early on, arousing curiosity in children on the subject of health and nutrition.
How did you incline towards healthy cooking and nutrition for your family?
It needs a trigger to get into healthy cooking.
I had heard about Dr. Vijaya Venkat from the Health Awareness Centre. Dr. Venkat was vociferous about not giving medicines to children when they have fever, cold, cough. I tried that and it worked. I found out more about how the body works, what are the things one can avoid, when and what one can eat and how one must eat. The pattern of the day following the body rhythm helps in assimilation, building and elimination and this process dictates your energy levels. Take for example the simple concept of a bank. You must build enough savings in your bank so that on days when you can’t eat right, you are not in debt and your body is equipped to deal with it. I tried it on myself and found I had loads of energy and was feeling light.
Around this time, my father in-law had a mild heart attack and after an angioplasty, the doctor asked him to avoid salt, sugar, etc. That was the turning point in my kitchen. I started using my learnings with the Health Awareness Centre in my kitchen and with my family.
What are the kind of things you did in your kitchen and did it affect the taste?
I started cooking without oil, understanding that a tadka is meant to accentuate the taste of the spices and not the oil. Sugar was substituted or eliminated in many dishes without it making a difference.
My biggest learning was the methods of cooking. Do you boil or steam? What happens when you boil, it takes away all the nutrients. How do you retain nutrients while steaming? Cutting out oil and ghee and introducing nuts was a joy. Making nut powders, adding them to salads, making nut milk,etc., seems very easy to do now, as I slowly mastered the cooking style.
How did you manage to get everyone to like the food?
That was the best part. I did it very slowly. Never announced it. I kept doing it from dish to dish and never told anyone of the switch. The family never complained about the food. In fact the validation came from my most fussy brother in-law who ate a vegetable that I cooked without oil with total relish. Another validation was from the cardiac surgeon who operated on my father-in-law. Three months post surgery, the doctor told my father-in-law that all his cholesterol levels had come down and so to continue eating whatever he had been eating in the past three months.
That’s when I broke the news of my cooking secrets to the family. My mother-in-law had been my partner in this adventure.
How did I manage healthy cooking? Didn’t it take too much time in the kitchen?
I realized that one had to plan for the week. I would plan the entire week in a balanced manner with a good mix of carbs, cereals, non-cereal meals, proteins, etc. This would help me ensure that I have everything/all the ingredients that I would need and then juggle the menu in the week based on the mood and other variables.
Another thing I realized is that you need to strike a balance. Both extremes are too much. You can’t just follow a healthy routine and not eat any junk. If you can manage your raw salads, vegetable juices, fruits, nuts and sprouts on a regular basis at home, then at the occasional eat out, you make healthy choices and even those times when you indulge, it doesn’t affect your body as much. You learn how to compensate for it.
What is the motivation to carry on cooking and eating like this?
I love the creativity with which I can approach food, especially salads. There are some simple principles to keep in mind about texture, taste, colour and you can churn out stuff that looks good and makes you feel good too.
I keep in touch with The Health Awareness Centre and their activities. Anju Venkat, now heads The Health Awareness Centre and has been a friend who has made these things seem so simple and logical. This makes it meaningful, especially to someone like me who loves structure, schedules and plans.
I connect with like-minded friends physically and online and this keeps me motivated. My biggest motivators are my children as by eating largely fruits, vegetables, nuts and sprouts they have come to know their bodies better. They are able to organically switch to the right foods when they are under weather. What bigger joy than to have your kids understand the value of health at an early age?
Over the years (it’s been 20),the ulcers that I used to get when under stress disappeared, my bowel movements became better, lethargy/sluggishness are history and I could feel my pigmentation (years of accumulation) being cleared out. My children don’t need to pop pills now and then. Both my kids are away at university and they have managed to retain the balance in their food.
Best of all, it’s been 20 years to my father-in-law’s angioplasty and he is fine so far without any ailments and medication.
What sort of questions should a teacher raise for student projects?
In the primary years:
• Food chart: Make a note of the food you eat, how many times and quantity in the week.
Categorize it under the right food group
How many times do you eat the same food?
Would you like to make any changes? Why?
• Notice your body moods in the day over a week. When do you feel sleepy, sluggish, low on energy, high on energy, how often do you urinate, kind of bowel movements, sweaty.
• Home remedies: Find out what are the home remedies running in your family from generations. Have you tried any? What’s the impact?
• Effect of the tooth soaked in coke.
• Experiment soaking a tooth in coke over a month to see the effect of sugar on teeth.
• Find out the eating pattern in your family/neighbour/society/class? This will provide an insight into the different kinds of eating habits and patterns around us.
• Which foods should one eat or avoid eating and why?
In the secondary years:
• Create a table with tally marks of the food you eat categorizing it under the appropriate food group.
Compare it with the food pyramid.
Conclusions and next steps.
• Know the health and eating patterns of your family/neighbours? Would help to relate food patterns to lifestyle and other ailments.
Find out if they have any ailments…blood pressure, cholestrol, thyroid, etc.
What is their eating pattern?
Do they take medication?
Have they made any adjustments to their eating pattern after their ailments?
• Eating patterns/nutrition patterns for people from different professions and develop a graph of their nutrition levels as per the parameters/food groups.
In the entertainment industry/glamour/
gym instructor or body builder
Helper in the house
• What are the kind of processes that grains/pulses go through in factories? What is the nutrition value when harvested and till it reaches your table?
• What is veganism, vegetarianism, non-vegetarianism? Impact of the same on the human body?
• Methods of cooking and their impact on health.
• Create a balanced meal plan for your family.
• Different kinds of diet plans and their long-term impact on the body and weight loss.
The author is Director at Adhyayan Quality Education Services Pvt Ltd. A passionate educator and former school principal, she works intensely with school managements, leaders and teachers.She also loves cooking and finds that to be a stress buster and an avenue for unleashing her creativity. Since Dec’20, she has been posting and sharing what she cooks on her instagram account: neha.1873. She can be reached at [email protected].