Thursday, March 23, 2017

No Fussy Eater : 5 ways to help your family eat better

Very often, we hear a young child being dismissed as a  'fussy easter' and I don't quite agree with the label. Children are actually little people with food preferences just like adults. However, unlike an adult, a child often doesn't have much of a choice in what gets served at mealtime. This makes your pint sized 'fussy eater' only as fussy or not as an adult who likes or dislikes certain kinds of food. 

Our relationship with food is probably going to be our longest for practically as long as we live. The foundations of this relationship start right here as children. This is what we do in our home to help our two year old establish a healthy relationship with food. Think about it. So many of our childhood memories involve food. Gathering around with family and food on a summer night for an impromptu terrace picnic. The time you cousin and you burnt a pan making caramelised bananas. Mangoes, jackfruit and vathal drying on patti's terrace. 

As someone who has worked with the body and fitness in a professional capacity for over a decade, I have realised that a healthy relationship with food is integral to any positive lifestyle or 'getting healthy' commitment as an adult. 

1) Involve your child in the kitchen. Make grocery shopping a family activity and help your child identify and buy vegetables and groceries for the week. Whenever possible, discuss your meal plan with your child. Now, the idea of 'discussing' what to cook for the week with a two year old may sounds a bit silly but it actually is not. My two year old, for instance, has been involved in the kitchen from when he was much younger and now has a say in what he would like to cook and eat. Children have an inherently intelligent relationship with food so we really don't need to do much more than help them along. This also makes a great learning experience for your child. 

2) Do not 'hide' vegetables. No child is born with an inherent hatred of spinach and a preference for potatoes. Now, the question is, do we like our greens and gourds as much as we like our potatoes? If a child senses that adults around regard certain vegetables as tedious and less enjoyable than others then the child might find it easier to believe so too. If I think blanched spinach is a bore to eat and would much rather be eating deep fried green plantains, as an adult I can rationalise the need to eat spinach because its 'good for me', A child, on the other hand cannot really understand the implications of 'it's good for you'. Lets not forget that potatoes and green plantain are essentially good vegetables too.

So, the next time you are cooking with a vegetable that is not a huge favourite with your child, do not grate it into her idly or paratha to hide it. Instead, show her the vegetable and cook up a simple and tasty recipe that you can all enjoy. She may refuse it the first few times but she will eventually come around. Children are wonderfully adaptable and open to new experiences way more than adults are.

You don't need to tell you child that eating spinach will make her grow tall and strong. We all need food to grow and we learn that eventually but our relationship with food, as we grow up, is seldom that simple. It is often complex and emotional. So, how about, aubergines are something that I love eating and hope you will too. This is how I liked eating it when I was your age. Shall we make it this way? 

3) Don't use treats as bribes. If you do this then I will give you a cookie. As a parent of a young child, it is almost everyday that I have to stop myself from doing just this. Toddler doesn't want to get ready and go out. I have an impatient cab driver waiting downstairs. What do I do? Tell toddler that I will buy him an ice cream if he will just wear those damn shorts and leave the house. Simple, right? We all do what it takes to live our lives. 

Now, think about the last time you bought yourself a sugary treat because you had a bad day at work or the toddler drove you mad. Was there any guilt involved in the eating of it? If you answered yes, then you may want to do it a bit differently with your child. 

There should not be guilt involved in food! Food is important. By using food as a quick fix to stop a meltdown or reward 'desirable' behaviour what we are essentially establishing is the beginning of the 'I deserve that pizza after the horrible day I have had' relationship. It should be, I really feel like eating some processed cheesy pizza today, I am going to eat it and I am going to ENJOY every bite of it. No guilt and no question of do I deserve it or not. Do I know it's unhealthy? Yes! Am I going to eat it every day? Hopefully not. 

This is what we do. Toddler knows that a store bought cookie or chocolate is a treat. We eat a cookie just like that with no weight of 'good' or 'bad' behaviour attached to it and we enjoy the cookie because its not everyday that we eat one. Because the cookie is not a bribe the toddler also knows to not expect a treat every time he uses his newly developing powers of reasoning and persuasion. 

4) Try to avoid distraction feeding. Oh, the temptation of playing something on the tv or on a computer and quickly shovelling food into the toddlers slack mouth is so strong. You know how we so often sit in front of the tv and eat without quite realising how much or what we are eating? It is essentially the same thing. Think about it.

One of the major problems we have as adults is portion control. Most of us end jus eating way more than what we need to and don't quite stop when we feel just right and full. We are, from a very young age, taught to ignore our own hunger cues. When we 'make' a child eat when she is not hungry or to force feed the whole bowl of food (which is almost always a bit more than what she actually needs), what we are doing is to teach her to ignore her body. 

Children are very intelligent when it comes to the body. They know how much to eat. Its is this constant reinforcement that 'I know how much you need to eat' that teaches the child to ignore her natural body cues in favour of conditioning. Do we really know better? Do we know listen to our own body cues? Do we eat too much because its so tempting and we could not stop with just one? Yes. A child who knows that the adult respects her body and her presences does not usually overeat, even when it comes to favourite foods. 

Yesterday, my two year old wanted ice cream for breakfast. He is usually a very clever child when it comes to food choices and we decided that he must have his own reasons for wanting ice cream for breakfast. We let him have a small bowl full after which he asked for his usual unsweetened ragi cereal. In the afternoon, pre lunch, he wanted some more ice cream. We were on Skype with my parents and I was about to go the 'you had some for breakfast and you care eating too much sugar!' route when my mother pointed out that he never asks for ice cream twice in a day so just offer him some and see what he does. I decided to listen to the mothership and offered him another bowl. He was overjoyed, ate exactly one spoonful and asked me to put it back in the freezer for later. Its been over a day and he hasn't asked again. We went out in the evening and we got gelato. He barely had a spoonful. So tell me again, who is the more intelligent person in the story? The toddler, obviously. 

Your child may teach you a thing or two about good eating if you just give her the chance to. Don't tell her to not waste anything food that has been served to her. Instead, help her serve herself small portions that she can comfortably finish and that she can always come back for seconds or thirds of she is still hungry. It is ok for her to want to eat a full bowl of food on one day and just four spoonfuls on another. Don't we all have days when we want to eat a full meal and days when we just want a light bite for lunch? 

5) The 'junk' food rule. As a parent to a young child, one of my biggest nutrition based learnings has been to try to stop referring to certain foods as 'junk'. The idea of calling something junk somehow makes it more exciting and I will talk about that in a tiny bit. Instead, I find it more rewarding for us and for the child to talk about food in terms of what is important for the body to grow and what is not necessarily healthy but enjoyable in reasonable amounts. 

As adults, so many of us 'stress eat'. This tendency goes back to a feeling of guilt and reward that most have grown up associating with food. When we use a treat as a bribe we are reiterate the idea of the 'forbidden food' which automatically assumes proportions of deliciousness that were prior unknown to mankind as opposed to the box of ice cream that is in the freezer and can be had at any old time. We don't eat something because we 'deserve' to eat it. In a country where a good portion of the population can barely afford a meal, everybody  'deserves' to eat. 

This is the treat rule in our home. If it is in the house and child sees it and asks for it, he can have it. This means that we literally cannot buy to stock food that we don't want our child eating. Good bye, Lays, Pringles and all such packaged food! Can you see how much good this holding the whole family accountable for our food choices can do our eating practices? Even our chocolate fix has come down to very dark chocolate which we all enjoy small pieces of every now and than. This is quite fair, isn't it? If as adults we cannot hold ourselves responsible for making 'healthy' choices when it comes to food how can we expect a child to do so? This way, a treat is a treat that is enjoyed by the whole family. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sarees and Summer Weddings

It is no secret that I love sarees and food in equal measure. I also enjoy the company of family and friend's so it is logically safe to assume that I love wedding's. There is not too many nice things one can say about summer in Madras other than the mangoes. However, the summer is also wedding season here and it is honestly way too hot to even think of a silk saree. 

In this post, I am going to put together three of my favourite sarees to wear to a summer wedding. I have styled all three with silver or non-precious jewellery.

First up is a deep bright blue Maheswari silk cotton with a silvery border. I love how these sarees are light and fluttery to wear but still manage to look shimmery and festive. This I have worn with a cotton blouse (because I hate sweating in silk blouses). The jewellery is a gorgeous beaded choker designed by Sujatha of Rimli Boutique (the have a store in T Nagar and an instagram page as well) that picks out the green and reds in the blouse and a pair of jhumkas that were curated by a friend who runs a home based store. I wanted to match the deep blue with a complementary jewel tone and it was a difficult choice between this green and a deep magenta, both of which would have worked with the jewellery I had in mind for this saree. 

Cannot do wedding season in Madras without a traditional Kanchi Silk Cotton, can I? This one with a traditional korvai border with mango motifs in colours that scream weddings to me is a top favourite.This is a look for a day when you want to look like you are wearing a silk but don't really want to wear one. The blouse is a silk cotton with a jacquard weave. The adigai style pendant is another Rimli Boutique piece and I am so impressed with the fine workmanship on it. These jhumkas were also sourced by the same friend who found me the pair in the previous photo. 

The third is something I wore to a wedding in the family a few years ago. I think I did a green and red brocade silk blouse at that time though. Shimmery white and gold silk Kota with a red silk cotton blouse. The silver and kemp earrings (the fish part of it cuffs the ear like a maatal) were custom made for me around the time of my wedding almost six years ago. I ended up not wearing these for the wedding because it was bit of an overkill with my handmade (also kemp adorned) Andal Kondai and the works. I ended up wearing it to a cousin's wedding a few months after. I have never worn this for the stage which is why the pearls are still white and have not been dyed pink with makeup and alta. I prefer minimal jewellery with dance costumes. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Children's Books I Dislike And Why.

If you have ever had a chat in person with me about children's books then you might have already heard an earful about how much I dislike these four books.These are right on top of my list of inane   and thoughtless book. Let me add, right at the beginning, that this is entirely my personal opinion and no early childhood developmental professionals or such folk have been harmed or traumatized in the writing of this post. I am just an average adult with decent internet speeds who grew up on a solid diet of books and still thinks that reading is one of the non-negotiable parts of her day.

Lets begin with every body's favourite. The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

Almost every parent I have met thinks this book is a library must have. 

Dear fellow Parent, out of curiosity, what exactly do you find spectacular about this book?

It is a book about a caterpillar that eats extremely inappropriate things like sausages and candy (which will kill it if it actually did) and then becomes a butterfly. Creativity is one thing but over simplified drivel with a theory to defend it is another thing altogether.

The illustrations are interesting, I will grant the book that but when the same artistic sensibility becomes endlessly repeated (replace caterpillar with spider / elephant / flowers / assortment of animals) and ends up being a commercial franchise it become stale and mass produced. There isn't much of a difference between Peppa Pig  and these books, is there? Find something that sells and make a formula of it. 

The companion 'classic' to this wonderfully mediocre caterpillar would be 'Brown Bear, Brown Bear' also be the same author. 

There's a white dog looking at a yellow duck who is in turn looking at a red bird who is looking at a brown bear. And then? If it's helping  your child to remember a sequence that you want out of this books, you are better off building word stories with them.

It could just be me but this book has a creepy Foucaultian / Orwellian 'big brother is watching you' feeling to it. I am not entirely sure that is appropriate reading for a toddler. 

Now proceed to copy past the other parts of my opinion on the pointless caterpillar book here. It's all mind numbingly  similar anyway. I absolutely fail to understand he point behind either of these books. 

Book three is my sworn enemy. If you are a parent and wish to have a conversation with me about books for children. do not ever open your side with 'we love Good Night Moon'. I will, in all probability, roll my eyes at you and process to deliver a lecture. Please try to not take it very personally. 

What is wrong with this blasted book? Let me count the ways. 

1) It is pointless : good night bear, good night chair, good night bum, good night tum, good night bed sheet, good night fan.....  I  to a book to teach me to say good night to random inanimate objects because.... oh wait, I don't! 

2) The room : it is the perfect mix of creepy (those creepy toys and paintings in baroque frames on the walls), unsafe (unprotected fireplace in a child's room, anyone?) and depressing (the colours of the book. Ugh.)  Before we engage in the debate about bold colours for children, let me remind you that dirty brick orange and mossy green are NOT stimulating colours for a young child or toddler.

3) It is a creepy room : with a tiger skin rug on the floor. Perfect decor for a child's nursery, isn't it? Have you ever taken a moment to pay attention to the knitting bunny's face? It could very well be the serial killer version of the beautiful rabbits that Beatrix Potter drew. The room might fit pretty decently in an Edgar Allen Poe story. I am not sure I would room child there though.  

A good children's book should aid a child's  imagination and open up endless magical possibilities. Books need to evoke a child's curiosity. Not numb it with thoughtlessness. Children do well with repetition but I would much rather read Dr Seuess to them. If it is a calm and sweet bedtime book you are looking for I can think of a dozen right at this moment and a walk to the bookshelf  will throw up a dozen more suggestions. On the other hand, if boring you child (with a side of subtle terror) is what you are looking for in a bedtime read, how about a zombie version of counting sheep to fall asleep on? One zombie sheep, two zombie sheep, three headless zombie sheep, four bloody zombie sheep....

Book four is The Giving  Tree by Shel Silverstein. A tree loves a little boy and nurtures him. He cuts down the tree. End of story. Gratitude much? This is not a story about kindness. It is a rather unkind story. This may not be a bad book to read to a child who is old enough to understand irony but my two year old is mot quite there yet. Having read a lot of Silverstein, I wonder if there was an element of sarcasm and irony intended in the book. If any of you have any commentaries or papers on this book that you could share with me, I would be very grateful. Before you use 'and she loved him very much' as a quote on a cute photograph of you and your child, do remember that he grew up and cut her down. Reading to the end of the book, I find, is usually the answer. This book will stay on my maybe shelf till I can find more answers.

A lot of time, as parents, in all good intention, we end up buying our children the 'popular' books that everybody is reading to their children. There has to be a lot of thought that goes into building your child's library and buying all the 'reccomended' books and force reading to your child is not the answer to wanting to raise a reader. Remember, Vijaykanth is immensely popular but letting your children watch one of his movies may not be a great decision. Going with the 'popular' may not always mean the best  decision for your child or your family. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One Saree Three Ways : Styling a saree that incorporates multiple weaves.

I have never been a huge fan of sarees that incorporate bits and pieces of different design aesthetics and weaves because, a lot of times, they end up looking disjointed and random. This was before I got to know the designers behind Tvaksati. What they do is work with craftsmen from all over the country on the finest weaves and piece them together in one of a kind sarees that work so harmoniously together. They seem to get it right every time! All their sarees are fun and quirky but have a strong design aesthetic and integrity that keeps it together. Safe to say, they have managed to make me change my opinion on this matter. The Tvaksati saree that I am going to feature in this styling post is a soft handloom coimbatore cotton with an ikkat pallu and a border that incorporates a weave from Kutch. The colours of the saree are classic so I have tried to stay in the colour palette without bringing in too many confusing colours and textures. 

My paternal grandmother loves white blouses with little thread work motifs on them and wears them with all her stunning custom woven nine yard silks. This look is inspired by her in more ways than one. I have already written about temple jewellery and cotton sarees in previous posts. When you have a saree that is as complex and special as this one you certainly can dress it up with some heavy traditional jewellery to wear to a wedding or other 'dress up' occasions. A white blouse is, to me, a saree wardrobe staple more than a black blouse is. A black blouse with every saree can look tired but a while blouse will pick the colours of the saree up so much better. Look for one with a subtle texture and you can pair it with just about any saree. This one here is a jamdani cotton. Sort of an old fashioned pearls and white blouse look with a twist. 

This pairing has already been posted on my Instagram page a few weeks ago, if you want to see how it looks worn. Its no secret that I love checks and stripes and the colours of this blouse with it's 'paalum pazhamum' checks are deep and on either side of the family of colours in the saree. The blouse is cut high and close around the neck which is becoming one of my favourite blouse styles. Since its a high necked blouse I decided to skip the necklace bit and wear a pair of heavy Jhumkas from Amrapali Jaipur. 

Look three is possibly the most 'conservative' of the lot. A 'safe' mustard, maroon and green blouse, bespoke beads from Umang Beads (check out their Instagram and Facebook page) and terracotta jhumkas. I could not skip doing at least one ikkat on ikkat pairing though, could I? Ikkat weaves are found in many parts of India with Orissa and Andhra Pradesh / Telengana being the most popular. 

What do you think about a one blouse many sarees post the next time around? 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A is for anything but an Apple : part two of the alphabet books with a difference series

I had posted the first part of a two part series on alphabet books with a difference and had promised a second part with fun alphabet books from Indian publishing houses. Apart from the obvious advantage of having an alphabet book with colours, characters, illustrations and examples that are culturally and socially familiar to a child, to me, these Indian made English alphabet books are very significant in our journey towards recovering from a post colonial hangiver and taking ownership of the language. 'Indian English' is not something one needs to cover up under a forgein degree. It's the result of a complex history and struggle and something we ought to take pride in. 

First up is a book with lovely illustrations in colours that are not typically found in children's books. The text by itself it fairly straight forward along the line of D is for a paddling of Ducks. It follows the format of matching animals to their communal groups and can be an excellent resource for older children as well. Is it a good book? yes. Is it my favourite of the three I am writing about today? No. 

The Alphabet of Animals and Birds by Prabha Mallya (illustrated and written) 
Published by Rupa 

I have lost track of the number of copies of this book that I have bought to give as gifts. By far my favourite alphabet book. I have always been a big fan of Anushka Ravishakrs writing and this one is no exception. Meet delightful Lions Licking Lollipops and Dull Donkeys Dancing Daily as you laugh your way through the book. It's witty, it's delightful and does wonderful things to the your toddlers vocabulary. 

Alphabets are Amazing Animals by Anushka Ravishankar 
Illustrated by Christiane Pieper
Published by Tara Books 

This is the newest alphabet book in our collection and a very interactive and fun one at that. Bright and happy illustrations and engaging text that will get you standing up, jumping, hopping and twisting over to form alphabets with your toddler. It's got the right amount of silly to get your toddler (and you) giggling. 

Hey, That's An A by Jerry Pinto 
Illustrated by Sayan Mukherjee
Published by Tulika 

And that, my dear children, is the end of this set. What shall we chat about in he next book post? 

Monday, January 30, 2017

One Saree, Three Occasions

I literally cannot say or write enough about my love for a nicely starched cotton saree. I would pick a cotton over any other fabric any day of the week. I wear them everywhere from weddings to coffee meetings. Most of us hesitate to wear a simple cotton saree to a special occasion because we think it will not look formal enough. Trust me when I say that a cotton saree with the right accessories can look as dressed up as any other 'dressy' saree. This ability to go seamlessly from one ocassion to another makes the cotton saree the most versatile garment in my wardrobe. 

Reena Sujai of Hastavem (she sources and curates beautiful Chettinad cottons through her Instagram and Facebook pages) sent me a lovely  gentle green Chettinad handloom cotton and that's the saree I am going to showcase today to help you style a simple cotton saree for 1) a wedding or formal occasion, 2) a concert or comparable occasion  3) a informal lunch or coffee date with friends. 

For a formal occasion like a formal social gather or a wedding where you are bound to end up feeling hot and stuffy in a silk. 

I have paired the Chettinad cotton saree with a silk cotton jacquard blouse, a pair of heavy antique kemp jhumkas and a traditional  kemp adigai. If you going to give his a try, stay away from the shiny gold and stick to antique or temple jewellery. 

Next is the same saree styled for a concert. 

I do not wear dressy silks to concerts. Not even to my Husband's concerts! I find that a dressed up cotton saree does he job as effectively as silk does. Chetrinad cotton saree paired with a kalamkari patchwork blouse and a pretty red and oxidised metal necklace and earrings from Rimli Botique (she has an Instagram page and a physical store in T Nagar, Madras). I rarely wear matched earrings and necklaces but this is one set that I would actually wear as a set! 

And for the last look, yes, you can wear a saree to lunch with friends or family! I wore this very saree with this blouse to an informal lunch with cousins and it looked perfectly casual. A saree need not necessarily be 'for a special ocassion' only garment. If a salwar or kurta can be worn casually so can a saree, right? Don't let all those yards of fabric  intimidate you. 

I have styled the cotton saree with a block printed sleeves less blouse, a pair of wooden earrings that must be about fifteen years old and a stunning brass and bead necklace from Umang Beads (deigned by a mother-daughter duo whose aesthetic I LOVE. They are on Instagram and on Facebook). 

If you try any of these looks for for yourself, let me know! I would love to see how you style yours. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Indigo Tales : one saree six ways

I know I have promised a lot of you that I will start doing blog posts about sarees and I decided to start that series off with a one sarees six ways post. Sarees are extremely versatile and never go out of fashion. A lot of times, we end up in a situation where the blouse  that was originally woven with the saree is no longer usable because it's either ruined or too tight or made in a style we know longer like wearing and the saree goes into the cupboard where it stays for the next decade. The adventurous amongst us pair it with a 'matching' blouse or a neutral coloured blouse. 

My favourite part about wearing a saree is the yards of colour and all the possibilities of mixing and matching it with other colours and textures and weaves. It's like a fun canvas that you can paint on over and over again. The same saree worn with a different blouse and jewellery can end up looking like another outfit alltogether. I never get blouses made for particular sarees. I get them made as I find fabrics I like and pair them with sarees as I feel like on the day I was that saree. Here I start with six blouse and jewellery pairings. If I were to write this post tomorrow I would probably do six entiredifferent blouses. 

The saree I have chosen today is a beautiful buttery soft indigo block printed mul cotton from Chidiyaa Online (look them up on Instagram and Facebook) that makes some very interesting block printed clothing. This is my current favourite indigo saree and that is saying a lot considering how many indigo sarees I own. If I were to pick six wardrobe staple sarees an indigo would definitely be on the list. This is my Saree equivalent of a pair of well fitting dark  denim jeans. The styling possibilities are endless.

The first features three trends that are very popular right now. Indigo on indigo, print on print and a crop top with a saree.the crop top featured here is also from Chidiyaa Online and I love the way they have put this crop top and saree together. Lon dokra beads that won't interfere with the high collared neckline of the top and a pair of handmade brass earrings to keep things interesting.

Look two is a bright green ikkat blouse, and silver jewellery. Experiment with fabrics and weaves too. Ikkat and block print, khun and block print, block print and block print and or even a stretchy knit with it! 

Look three is another ikkat on block print, this time, a bright red. Indigo and red or indigo and blue are guaranteed to be stunning. Especially if they are and bright reds or pinks. This blouse style (cute high all around the neck) is my current favourite. I skipped a necklace and went with long Jhumkas from Amrapali.

Do not be afraid to pair bright accessories with bright coloured outfits. Just like colours that compliment each other in saturation and vibrance. Sunny yellow + indigo = summer ready. Red and Blue bespoke beads from Umang (find them on Instagram and Facebook). 

This is for a day when you want to keep it simple and play up the indigo of the saree. Look for a black or white blouse with an interesting texture, weave or print to keep the look from getting boring and predictable. The stunning jhumkas (in a different shade of blue that picks the indigo of the saree 
without distracting away form it) is from Rimli botique (they are on Instagram and have a store in T Nagar, Chennai). 

And to finish the post, a grey and red Sambalpuri Ikkat. I seem to be having a ikkat day, don't I? I promise it was not intentional at all. The blouse is a fairly natural colour and the band of red provides a splash of colour. Temple jewellery goes with anything. So don't just reserve it for you South Indian silks and Kanchi or chettinad cottons.