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’ Speak

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.

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