Everything from fruit-filled treats to savoury finds
Packaged foods for children that are now hitting shelves are about being nutritionally strong, sans preservatives and are all about great flavours
When it comes to children, there is a desire to feed them nothing but the freshest of foods at every meal and ensure a balanced diet. Working towards that takes tremendous effort, especially when today, time is at a premium. The convenience of packaged foods cannot be denied but the nagging worry that perhaps the processing and the preservatives may have a negative impact, lingers. With these thoughts, a few discerning brands have now entered the market with the promise of quality packaged food, with natural or no preservatives at all. These are nutritionally strong and do not ‘taste like health food’ or ‘packaged food’, which is often the perception.
Like most start-up brands looking to fill a lacuna, these brands have come into the market because the people behind them found something missing. The inspiration ranges from wanting to feed one’s own children with something healthy, finding foods for children that are inspired by our local ingredients and grandmother’s recipes or simply to provide a healthy option for those who are short on time, yet want to be assured that the packaged food they are reaching out for is not harmful.
So what’s on shelves these days?
Slurrp Farm by co-founders, Shauravi Malik and Meghana Narayan, found from their research that it was healthy breakfast and snack options that could be made in a jiffy that the market really lacked when it came to children. And the four product lines of millet-based dosas and pancakes, cereals and cookies, fill that lacuna perfectly.
“We couldn’t understand why there weren’t more suitable products for children in India with traditional ingredients like millets,” say the duo. “The fundamental notion that drives us is that we need to eat like our grandparents did. The food options that we make available on shelves, are the same as what it would be if we were to make it at home.”
The recipes for Slurrp Farm products come from the founders’ families and have been worked on, alongside industry specialists, nutritionists and paediatricians. Outlining the health aspects that go into the products, the duo say that there are no trans-fats, glucose and its variants used in the products. All ingredients used are organic and based on traditional superfoods like millets, whole grains and lentils. They are not over-processed and have absolutely no preservatives or artificial colours. High-quality packaging that has three layers and is metalised, makes each pack air-sealed, ensuring zero anaerobic activity inside.
Shauravi and Meghana believe that it is only when children get used to eating well from the start
that they carry the same forward on their own.
Shalini Santhosh Kumar, the founder of Early Foods, echoes a similar belief when she asks: why are we not feeding pure, chemical-free and wholesome foods to our children since early nutrition forms the base of a healthy future? Being a self-confessed health freak with an entrepreneurial spirit, Shalini found her calling in Early Foods. The brand has multiple product lines for babies, young children and mothers as well. From porridge to cookies, to teething foods, snacks, health drinks and more, there is a lot to be had.
Besides not using transfats or hydrogenated fats, processed sugar, soda and artificial nutritional supplements, Shalini ensures that her products have 100 per cent whole grain flour, cow butter, jaggery and dates as sweeteners, and old millets, dry fruits and seeds to power up the nutrition value. “With current e-commerce models, we can easily bring you freshly-made products in three to five days. Three-layered laminated pouches that make no room for air as well as vacuum sealing of products ensure a shelf life of four to five months, and therefore there are absolutely no preservatives used. However, all our retail stores are strictly informed to take out any product older than three weeks.”
Shalini says that making three to four meals a day from scratch for your children is not easy, and such products put your mind at rest when it comes to the quality of food you give them.
And through efforts such as that of Payal Asthana Srivastava, co-founder and director of Kalchi that creates innovative Indian spreads, ready-to-eat kebabs and Indian marinades, there is another option available for busy parents.
“Kalchi was started from a need to fill a gap in the market for Indian spreads and quick-fix, healthy food for working parents and people with hectic schedules,” explains Payal. “Currently available in Bangalore, Kalchi has created the curry spread – Indian curries in the form of a spread – for the first time. This flagship product line features authentic Indian curries created as spreads to be used with any form of carbohydrates be it bread, roti, oats or rice. They are healthy and quick meal options for a child’s snack and lunch box. The flavours are inspired by popular recipes from various Indian regions like Chettinad and Malabar from the South of India and Makhni and Kadhai from the Northern regions.”
With a shelf life of 28 days, thanks to natural plant-based extracts that are used of preservatives, Kalchi also uses glass bottles with pop up caps which are vacuum sealed in order to retain the freshness for a long time, for their curry spreads.
“In our home, while we do try and cook as many meals as possible from scratch, being working parents this can get tough,” says Sudhakar Prabhu, a 3D visualiser and father to an 11-year-old child. “My cooking skills are basic and when my wife is travelling on work, she ensures that we have a set of packaged foods on hand that makes putting together simple yet healthy meals, easy. Of course, there is the worry of preservative-laden food, but we have now learnt to read labels well and also know and use products that have natural or no preservatives.”
Doctors will tell you that freshlycooked food is the best form of nutrition for the child. However, in the era of ever-changing lifestyles and an increasing number of working parents, it is always a challenge to provide a freshly-prepared home-cooked meal. Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, director and head of neonatology at Fortis La Femme, GK 2, says, “If you are a busy parent it is okay for you to use pre-packaged food as long as you take time to carefully read the ingredients. Pre-packaged food can also be used when you are travelling with your little one.” Here are also some pointers to follow:
● Babies require very few calories but their food should be rich in nutritional ingredients such as vitamins and minerals. Make sure your choices have that.
● Opt for baby foods rich in zinc and iron.
● Ensure that the food does not contain any added sugar or sugar substitutes such as glucose, glucose syrup and molasses.
● Food should contain no salt or a minimal amount of salt.
● Opt for products rich in fibre containing whole grains like wheat, ragi and quinoa.
● Choose products that introduce local food and grains to the baby such as khichdi, jowar and ragi.
● It is always a good idea to use age-appropriate food options.
● Common sense dictates that you should avoid any baby food that contains artificial colours or preservatives.
Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, chief dietician, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru, adds that in such pre-packaged food products, it is necessary to look out for the least-processed product. Avoid fancy and overtly artificial flavours. Rather, look for natural ingredients like cinnamon, cardamom, nuts, etc. Of course, ensure that the sodium content is at the lowest, if not completely absent. It is ideal to have a discussion with your paediatrician or dietician on your child’s nutritional requirements and its distribution across the meal pattern. This will help you make smarter choices.”
The key to smart choices in packaged food, especially for your children is being aware of what goes into the making of such products. There are a few brands in the market now that work on the basis of a personal passion for quality and healthy products for children and think on the same lines as the most important person in a child’s life – the parents.