‘Tiny’ tastes make a big difference | Sunday Observer

‘Tiny’ tastes make a big difference

13 March, 2022

It is said that good food and a warm kitchen are what make a house a home. If you are a parent, make sure that the food you prepare is healthy because the diet and nutrition of children today will decide the destiny of a nation in the future.

According to Head, Department of Nutrition, Medical Research Institute, Ministry of Health and well known nutritionist Dr.Renuka Jayatissa cooking has to be done with much care as our cooking practices will ultimately decide the ‘health’ of our future generation!

“Compared with our past, the food culture has completely changed now. As a nation, we eat a lot of rice and an increased amount of food that contain very high sugar and fat levels. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are the two countries that consume a very high quantity of rice,” said Dr. Jayatissa.

Proper eating practices

“When you eat, fill only one-quarter of your plate with rice. And the other quarter with protein-rich food such as meat, fish, dhal, cowpea, green gram eggs, milk, yoghurt, and curd. The remaining half is for vegetables, green leaves, and fruits. We usually eat fruits or curd after meals. But it is important to count it for the plate. Then it becomes a balanced diet. Otherwise, you will end up overeating.”

As Dr.Jayatissa said, currently our dietary habits are very unhealthy. The common practice here now is to fill 90 percent of the plate with rice and the remaining 10 percent is left for main curries and gravy. Consuming large quantities of gravy mostly prepared with thick coconut milk (first-pressed milk) is not at all a healthy culinary practice. The remaining food will then be stored in a refrigerator and will be heated over and over again which would result in fat accumulation. So we are compelled to eat fatty food.

She noted that most of the Sri Lankans have now deviated from traditional culinary practices where they used third pressed milk (third milk) when preparing curries. A small quantity of first milk was then added at the end for its flavour. Of late amidst their busy schedules, most of our women got used to blending/pressing the grated coconut only once.

Be careful

Dr. Jayatissa said that you have to be extremely careful when selecting food items for your children.

“Parents are the ones who introduce fat, sugar, and salt to their children. Most of the time they do it wrong! A common practice here is to add margarine (fat) to the child’s food if he/she is underweight. If the weight of the child is dropping there has to be a reason for that - may be iron deficiency or vitamin/mineral deficiency. So merely adding margarine to the child’s food won’t help. It will only pave the way for more severe health issues,” she said.

Dr. Jayatissa noted that since the palatability of fatty food is very high, once the child gets used to that taste, it is no easy task to break the habit.

“Be careful not to add unnecessary fat into your child’s diet.”

The second bad food practice is adding yoghurt to the diet of infants at the age of seven or eight months.

“The issue is almost all the yogurts available in Sri Lanka are sugar added. Parents should give curd to their infants instead. But make sure that you give real curd to them as what you mostly find in the supermarket are not preservative-free. You cannot keep real curd in good quality for more than two days. If not, the parents can prepare something using milk. Most of the Tamil households prepare their own curd, “ she said.

Mothers usually do not give sugar to their infants until the age of one, but the grave mistake they commit is that they give sugary yogurt, she noted.

The third significant factor is salt consumption. Usually here in Sri Lanka infants are given cheese when they are around seven months old. The issue is almost all cheese varieties that are available in the country are too salty. Sometimes parents may even give two slices of triangle cheese to them. So they get used to that taste at a very tender age.

“ Fat, sweetness/sugar, and salt are very agreeable tastes. Once you get used to these tastes, it is very difficult to overcome these cravings. So please be very careful of the types of food/tastes you are going to introduce to your children. It is during this period that they develop their eating habits. You can give fresh curd instead of yogurt; cottage cheese instead of cheese,” she said.

Dr. Jayatissa also raised her serious concern about Sri Lankan ‘addiction’ to biscuits!

“ Another disastrous factor is our ‘’ Biscuit culture.” People eat biscuits at a rate just as they eat rice thrice a day! Small children are not exempted. They are also given biscuits frequently. They would watch various programs on TV while enjoying biscuits. “ she said.

According to Dr. Jayatissa even though some parents are of the view that cream crackers are better than other biscuits, it is not the case. “Even cream crackers are prepared using wheat flour and margarine. Bran crackers are also prepared with wheat flour, margarine, and a little bit of bran is added to it,” she added.


“What are healthy alternatives to these ‘popular’ yet unhealthy food choices? the Sunday Observer asked the renowned nutritionist

“Avocados are an excellent alternative. Cut it into small pieces and squeeze a bit of lime juice over them. There is no need to add sugar or milk powder. When served with a spoon or fork the child will enjoy the dish while watching TV. Fruits such as papaya or even peanuts, green gram, cowpea, vegetables, Sesame balls (Thalaguli ) are also healthy alternatives.”

She emphasized the high nutritional benefits of consuming food items that contain sesame because of its high composition of unsaturated fats which are also called healthy fats.

Saturated fats are also called unhealthy fats.

“In our country, people consume double the required amount of saturated fat. But we eat only 1/3 rd of the required amount of unsaturated fat. Hence food items such as sesame, avocado, and peanuts have to be consumed to gain the required level of unsaturated fat. We need to balance our diet. If not, the situation will get worse,” she said.

Do not mix food

According to Dr. Jayatissa, it is quite important to let the child learn/feel the ‘real’ taste of each seasoning and food item. She advises the parents not to mix all foods together and feed the child.

“The biggest issue is most mothers are into mixing all kinds of food and seasonings together to make one big mixture. They put all bilieboiled d and chopped vegetables together. So the child never learns or feels the taste of individual food items or vegetables. So even later, the moment they think of eating vegetables what comes to their mind is the ‘taste’ of the mixture. As a result, after the age of one most children refuse to eat vegetables!” she said.

Based on her research she explained to us the eating habits of Sri Lankan schoolchildren.

“ What we observe when surveys are done is that the majority of our children eat rice along with chicken, chicken gravy, and dhal. There are only three food items. Very rarely do we get children who eat vegetables without making a fuss. It is because they have never tasted these vegetables individually. It is high time we changed this food culture, “ she said.

She said that nearly 85 percent of schoolchildren are consuming home-cooked food. Rarely do they consume takeaway food.

“ That means there is something wrong with our home food. The issue is they prepare it in the wrong way, “ she added.