An authoritative study by British researchers reports that children of working mothers are less healthy than those mothers who stay at home. The study also cites data that children of full-time working mothers were driven to school by moms or dads, watched over two hours of TV per day, drank sweetened drinks in between meals and also eat less fruit and vegetables. This data was the same across all income groups.
The research also says that mothers who worked part time had kids who eat more fruit and vegetables. When it came to the level of exercise that children took, there was no difference between working mothers and non-working mothers.
Fussy eaters seem to be the most common complaint of Mums in every part of the world. One kid I know in Mumbai does not have this problem. I have never seen this kid’s mother as she is always accompanied by her manservant, Bahadur whose singsong statement perennially is ‘Hamara baccha, sab khaatha!’ And the other Moms in the building give him dirty, desperate looks as uniformly all their kids between ages 1 and 8 are fussy, difficult eaters.
I cannot but look back at my childhood and my children’s eating habits. My mother used to say that I was not a great eater and until 5, I was mostly brought up on milk and maybe a little dhal and rice, the paruppu saadam that all Tamil kids are fed. My mother was a great cook and made many pan-Indian dishes and my brothers and I grew up on a variety of cooking not limited to Tambram dishes. My father was a strict disciplinarian and we just had to eat what was served on our plates especially if we had our meals in his company. The downstairs tenant could always predict this state of affairs if various veggies came flying out of the windows and landed plonk on his doorstep. ‘Aha! The upstairs children are eating with their father’ was his knowledgeable nod.
My children grew up with a lot of interaction with neighbours and friends. Most often the meals were shared by all the kids, especially in the weekends and holidays. They eat many international cuisines—a gamut of Indian regional fare, local Creole food, Mauritian dishes, Chinese mein and French gratins and consommés. Later they polished up their plates in various parts of the world eating anything and everything. At home they had their favourite veggies and generally shunned local varieties like cluster and broad beans, padol and tooris. Now as an adult my son has to eat many of these veggies as he has to set a good example to his kids. Given a chance he would miss out on these varieties even today.
Today’s kids seem to have no problems eating noodles and pasta. South Indian kids have taken to roti in a big way and anything fried goes down like a dream. When it comes to the ordinary dhal chawal fare they develop blocks in their throat (needle gullets as my Mom used to say) and food tends to accumulate in their cheek and jaw cavities.
The blame for kids poor eating is automatically thrust on the shoulders of working Moms. Sometimes I think it is a conspiracy of men to lay on the guilt trip on women. Kids welfare is such a convenient a button to be pressed where women are concerned! Many men are taking on the responsibility of overseeing and catering to their kids mealtimes. Yet the majority do think it is the woman’s job to see that kids are fed wholesome and healthy food.
Meanwhile Mom’s run around desperately trying to see that their kids eat properly and most often it is a loosing battle. Even paediatricians, many of them male, say that meal times must be made interesting. Any sidetracking activity during feeding, like watching Barney or Dora or storytelling by grandparents is strictly frowned upon. Kids are smart—they know which buttons to press on the DVD, the computer or on their parents psyche!