By Nadir Kanthawala and Peter Kotikalapudi
“Children are like wet cement: whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
Having a child changes life as we know it. For most parents, a newborn baby brings sporadic periods of infinite joys between long tedious episodes of tiredness, sleep deprivation and restlessness. But for some, life takes a turn with new self-promises to become a bigger and better version so as to be the perfect role model for the child. Peter Kotikalapudi and Nadir Kanthawala, founders of weekly parenting podcast, Pops In A Pod, found this exact calling right after their son and daughter were respectively born. The modern dads changed from being junk food lovers to cutting out maida to closely reading the ingredients section of every label.
Redefining the boundaries of parenting collaborations by taking charge of their child’s nutrition along with their partner, the Mumbai based podcast hosts share their journey of becoming health conscious dads who embrace previously abhorred vegetables to set the right example for their children. Excerpts from the interaction.
How did having kids change your eating habits?
After my daughter was born I made a decision that health comes first. The minute you hit your 30s there's no turning back. In my head I'm always thinking, “No matter what, I should be able to carry my child comfortably.” I can't put her down and go, “Oh, my God! My back is gone.” I don't want to be THAT parent. I should be able to outrun my kid. Those were the goals that I’d set for myself...To achieve my personal target, you've got to have a healthy balance of working out as well as eating right. And I think that's when I drastically reduced sugar consumption, reduced my red meat intake and avoided maida.
Once I moved back to India, work took over my life and food was something I needed just to survive. That didn’t change when I got married but once my son was born, I had an unpleasant discovery. I got sick and the doctor tested my blood pressure and found that it was high.
It made me reevaluate my lifestyle and make changes. First was diet and then I also started exercising again. To me both go hand in hand. If I work out, I'm not going to eat a bag of crisps right after that. I started out with small changes and have really seen the difference it has made in my life in the past few years.
How do you encourage good eating habits in children?
If your child is seeing you eat certain types of food, she will also want to eat that. My daughter’s favourite food is broccoli. I kid you not. I'm not saying it just because I want to but it's a fact that she loves broccoli. She likes avocado as well. There's no taste, it’s an acquired taste, so great for a four year old. We have not introduced her to aerated drinks yet. She doesn't know what is that black liquid in the red or blue bottle.
But, chocolates, you can never hide those from a kid. So for me it's been a journey, an experience. And there is no switch on or switch off. It's not like smoking where people just suddenly go cold turkey. With food, you can't do that. It has to be a process. It has to be a journey and you've got to learn from it. And we've learned the hard way.
Once my son got a bit older and was eating solids, we realized that the moment we sat together at the table and ate breakfast, he would also eat. That has become our daily routine now. It is a great way to spend time with him as we only see each other during breakfast and dinner. He looks into our plate and sees what we are eating and wants to have the same - an egg, chapati. That made me realize that I need to set a good example for him and made me more aware of the food choices I was making.
How are conscious food brands helping parents choose the right food for their kids?
I like Slurrp Farm Blueberry Pancakes not just for it’s aroma but also because it is made from healthy ingredients. And if my wife is making it for my daughter, she’ll make an extra one for me. Now we have become more aware of what we eat. We want to inculcate the habit of eating healthy, early on in our daughter from a young age. We have to, and every parent must do it, because we don't know what's going to happen in the future and what kind of food you're going to get in the future.
I am the one who mainly does the grocery shopping and am conscious about buying fresh food items. There are always a few staples that you can find in our house, fresh fruit like bananas and also grains. My wife Karen is very particular about processed food. We do buy some pre-packaged sauces sometimes but make sure to check the labels regarding preservatives, sodium content etc. This has made a difference because our son now enjoys eating fruit. We also try to buy vegetables from organic farms as it not just is better when it comes to nutrition but also taste better. I often think that vegetables don’t taste the same as they did when we were growing up.
Your own parents’ influence on eating habits:
Home food has always been the cornerstone of health for me. My mother used to say, don't eat outside food or your stomach will go for a toss. My sister and I have been very privileged with regard to the nutrition and food we received in our house because my mother was always around when it came to cooking. She is a homemaker, she loves cooking and is extremely passionate about it, especially during the COVID period.
I spent my formative years with my grandmother in Mumbai. She is an old school disciplinarian so when it came to food, I was expected to eat everything irrespective of how I felt it tasted. I went to a school which was one of the top in sports in Bombay and I also got involved in different sports, first football, hockey and then finally settled on basketball. I even played state level basketball. The food I grew up eating was to give me the energy to stay active throughout the day. Healthy food by today’s standards.
For most individuals, eating right is a concept embraced and acknowledged only in adulthood. This is often driven by needs like weight loss, lifestyle diseases, and others. However, eating right should not be age-specific, rather when a child is groomed well to eat right and develop a consciousness to judge food on nutrition and not taste, as parents you impart a lifelong habit to them. So be the bigger and better version so as to be the perfect role model for your child. Even if it means loving steamed broccoli.