How to Brace Your Children Up for School Post Lockdown with the Right Diet – In Conversation with Nutritionist, Pallavi Agarwal


Dave is quite sporty himself and even encourages his son for outdoor activities from the very start. However, during the lockdown this became difficult. Just like other parents, Dave too had no other option but to keep his 2-year-old son inside the four walls. Yet, he made sure that his son remained active at home. They played indoor sports, learnt yoga and also danced to keep the energy levels high. So, when they resumed going to the park, Dave was pretty certain that his son had the energy to run, jump, cycle and play with the other kids. But he was in for a shock on the first day itself. His son started panting, only after a few jumps in the park. In fact, even the other kids preferred playing games that they could sit and play. Children were not able to fathom how to make use of the new freedom that they had gained. The sedentary life of lockdown, probably, took a toll on their energy levels.

Lockdown due to COVID-19 had been a very tough phase, especially for the children. Kids were locked up inside their homes for most of the time. These little balls of energy did not know what to do all day long. Children had a different schedule than the regular one. Kids and their parents shuffled between online school hours, parents’ office timings and other to-do’s. While some remained active indoors, others got sluggish. Some children got a huge appetite, others lost interest in food altogether. While some got addicted to the screens, some got attached to their parents. However, all this is going to change with the introduction of vaccines and the initiation of schools.

But, are the children ready to face long school hours and strenuous activities?

Parents are quite worried about their kids because they have lost touch with outdoor activities. Children have remained in controlled environment at home and they are not able to endure the changing weather. There are several factors that need to be considered to bring the timetable of the kids back on track. And one of the most important things that need to be scheduled is the diet. When school begins, the children will need to eat a power-packed diet to survive the school hours and the outdoor weather as well.

There is a huge difference in the timetable of the children when they are at home and when they are at school. If they skip breakfast at home, they can always munch something before lunch. They can eat at an interval of every two hours and treat their hunger pangs. But this won’t be possible when school begins. Children will need to have a heavy breakfast and wait till the lunch break to refill their tummy and refuel their energy. And they will be able to eat again only when they return home. On top of that, due to specific lunch breaks, children will need to eat quickly at the designated time. They will not be able to continue their lunch for an hour and a half, which usually happens at home. So, in short, children will need to complete the lunch-box and that too in a short time.

Can parents do something about the diet of their children to help them cope with the demanding school hours?

And the good news is that there is indeed a diet that will help children be energetic all day long. Pallavi Agarwal answers all the questions that trouble the parents about the diet of the kids. Here she gives tips, advices, red alerts and healthy options to junk food for children that will help them brace up for the long school hours, as the school resumes post the lockdown. Pallavi Agarwal is a certified sports nutritionist and a certified dietician. She is a health influencer and a fitness enthusiast. For several years, she has been helping people suffering from lifestyle diseases and other ailments by suggesting a diet that aids their routine. As the founder of Nutree, she’s committed to advocating the nutrient-rich diet and exercise. When she’s not drawing weekly menus for her clients, she can be found travelling around the world. Her face lights up when she meets people and good conversations become her fuel to run the day like a wonder woman.

What is a quick breakfast strategy for kids? How crucial is breakfast before school?

I remember my grandma telling me to have a proper Indian breakfast before I run to school. But during that time, I was enchanted with biscuits and processed food and found breakfast spread quite boring. But gradually I understood the importance of Breakfast. It is a very important meal to jumpstart the day. And hence, it should be power-packed and nutrient-dense. Growing children needs lots of calcium, iron and protein. Children are tempted with colours and textures. Hence, parents should attempt to make the spread enticing. I always recommend preparing fresh food for children and that too with lots of love. Home-cooked meals lead to happy and satiated children. Our children should beware of the health hazards of processed foods and fried foods. Every region has its own set of healthy meals. Some examples of healthy Indian breakfast are –

  • Beetroot Paratha
  • Poha/Thepla
  • Boiled Eggs
  • Omelet
  • Sprouts
  • Multigrain Sandwiches
  • Paneer Stuffed Wraps
  • Idli/Uttapam
  • Thalipeeth

What foods help kids stay active and energetic?

Covid lockdown has made children sluggish and lethargic. And the sad news is that the immune system of sedentary children is very low. With things getting back to normal, parents need to work extra hard on transforming the kids to their earlier self. Along with feeding the kids, healthy, homemade, freshly prepared meals, parents should push their kids for outdoor physical activities and regular exercise. Sports on a daily basis are a must to raise the energy levels of the kids. Children’s diet should be divided into 5-6 meals that comprise whole grains, pulses, colorful seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds, and the like to keep up with the hustle. All this is very crucial for their growth.

What depletes the energy level of the kids?

Junk food I should say. And by junk food, I mean packaged foods, ready-to-eat, bakery products available off-the-shelves are quite harmful to the kids. These being a quick and no-fuss option, many parents have started resorting to them to pacify the kids and to please their palette. However, fats presents in such food affect the behaviour of the kids which leads to mood swings, irritation, sleep disorders, etc. And eventually, the performance level of the kids depletes and they are not able to focus, either during studies or even sports.

Most of the children are fond of eating sugary stuff. Is too much of sugar harmful for the kids?

Anything, when given in excess to the kids, is harmful and sugar is no different. Why do children crave sugar? There is a trend of bribing the children or rewarding them with chocolates and other sugary food to get things done for them. I have seen parents asking children to finish off their homework, to complete their healthy meals, to wrap up their toys if they want candies. We very well know bananas need no advertisement and wafers do. And children are not aware of this. They are attracted to fancy packaging, free toys and the like. But parents should understand the long term health hazards of such foods, especially those that are laden with sugar.

Fancy off-the-shelves foods have the presence of essence, food colourings and preservatives in them. Too much sugar is not only harmful to the teeth but also for the stomach and the skin. The biggest concern is dental cavities in children which is a result of eating too much sugar. Other than that, sugar even influences the mood of the children and leads to behavioural problems. While it leads to a spike in energy for a short period, but ultimately sugar depletes the energy levels in children. Kids who have junk foods on a regular basis fail to concentrate in class and eventually lose focus, in spite of them trying their best.

So, what are the healthier options to junk food? And how to make kids eat healthier options?

Firstly, parents should try to change the food habits of children. For this, they need to be prepared in advance with healthier options. Secondly, parents should set the right example by avoiding eating junk foods themselves and also by not buying such foods in the first place. Instead of buying sugary stuff from the stores, try to prepare similar ones at home. Also, gradually refined sugar can be replaced with jaggery or even healthy sugar. Quick snacks that help boost the energy of the kids are Sesame bars (Til Chikki), Peanut bars (Mungphali Chikki), Besan Laddoo, Sattu Gud Laddoo, Daliya Lapsi, Kheer, fresh and seasonal fruits and the like. Also, Brittle can be prepared at home using nuts, raisins, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, dry fruits, dried fruits, coconut, Bengal gram, puffed rice and even beaten rice. Brittles are easy to prepare and simple to pack and can be munched even while studying.

Coronavirus scare had people consuming supplements to increase their immunity. Should children be given over-the-counter supplements, without a prescription?

Without a grain of doubt, vitamins and minerals are crucial for the healthy growth and development of kids. And the good news is that all the required vitamins and minerals are present in the foods that we eat. Children who are fed a well-balanced diet do not need any kind of supplements without the prescription of the doctor. However, there are children who are fussy eaters or are weak and feeble, who require supplements, but that too needs to be given, only with the prescription of the doctor. The reason why parents are confused about the extra supplements is the exposure due to internet and advertising commercials. Parents are already concerned about the nutrition of their children. It is never enough for some parents. They always want to be double sure. And feeding the so-called ‘immunity-rich’ foods available in the market seems to be the solution. Instead of feeding supplements, parents should make sure that the diet of their children is full of fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Instead of aping other cultures mindlessly, parents should make the children learn about the traditional family cuisine that is complete with nourishing minerals and vitamins.

Also Read: 7 Successful Ways to Make Your Children Eat More Fruits Happily

What are the red alerts when parents should start worrying about their child?

  • Parents need to understand that a normal healthy child does not need any kind of supplements.
  • Parents need to get in touch with a paediatrician in cases where the child:
    Has certain food allergies
  • Complains about fatigue while doing daily chores/activities
  • Has excessive hair-fall
  • Suffers from stress, anxiety or depression
  • Or when they witness delay in the physical and mental growth of their child

When school begins, children would have to finish school tiffin quickly. And in a bid to finish they might not chew the food properly. How important is chewing the food?

Most of us are not aware of the fact that digestion begins in our mouth itself. When the food is chewed properly, it is well assimilated and easily absorbed by our intestine. And when food is not chewed properly or even swallowed, in the case of children, then the person could face digestion issues like bloating, stomach ache, unhealthy weight gain, etc.

I can understand that it is difficult to make some students finish off their tiffin-boxes quickly. The route here would be to observe children for a week and list down all those meals that they are able to finish off quickly, without any fuss. Such food can be given to kids in their lunch-boxes. If they are addicted to junk snacks, find out the twist in the recipes and try to make them nutrient-rich to keep up their energies high in school.

When children get their favourite food in the recess, they are excited to finish it. However, parents should make sure that the children are chewing the food properly. When children chew their food properly, their concentration and focus improve. This is because chewing increases the cerebral blood flow, activating regions of the brain. Further, saliva in the mouth helps break down the food into smaller parts, which ultimately aids in proper digestion and nutrient absorption.

It has been found that children who chew their food have healthier gums as well. So, as a baby starts taking solid food, caretakers should encourage them to chew the food. Instead of just giving liquid or semi-solid meals, solid food should be fed frequently to toddlers. There is an interesting game that can inculcate good chewing habits in toddlers. Caretakers can count till 20, encouraging kids to chew the food as many times, before the next bite is given. Learning chewing at an early age builds a healthy foundation.

Also Read: Why Chewing Food is Important for Good Health?

There are kids who drink more water than required and then there are others who just hate water. What is the role of water in the diet of children?

I have come across many parents who force their children to eat all day long. And such children are not able to make out whether they are hungry or thirsty. As adults, even we are not able to differentiate between hunger and thirst, many times. Every member of the family, be it adults, toddlers, teenagers or the elderly should make a point to have sufficient water at proper intervals throughout the day. Sadly, water is the most forgotten nutrient. 60-70% of our body is made up of water. Water aids in digestion, excretion, breathing, and also helps in the circulation of blood and oxygen to the brain. Further, it helps flush out toxins and waste. Drinking water assists in regulating the temperature of the body.

Many parents complain about their kids being constipated and are not able to zero in on the actual reason. There could be many reasons for the same – wrong dietary habits, not chewing food properly, and also lack of water. Parents, caretakers, teachers, friends, and everyone else should remind each other to drink water at proper intervals. Set alarms and reminders for water breaks. When the body is hydrated, children will be able to focus properly on the studies and also perform well in sports.

So, are you ready?

Whoa!!! I am sure, dear parents, you would be very excited to send your children back to school. But, make sure to prepare them for longer hours, strenuous work and changing weather. Or they might have to take a break again due to physical and/or mental strain. I am thankful to Pallavi Agarwal and appreciate her for giving us all the valuable inputs and advices that will help children to brace up for the school ahead.

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