Motherhood for working women can often seem challenging, as they have to constantly juggle childcare with their workplace responsibilities. And this brings us to one of the most important lifelines of a working mother – the children’s daycare. Mothers often worry that their little ones are not getting enough nutrition during the hours spent at a day care centre. You might also have many doubts about how to pack a healthy and wholesome meal for him/her, so that your child’s nutritional needs are met properly.

So, here we answer 4 questions asked by moms about planning healthy daycare meals easily, and hope it will guide you.

1. My daughter is 3 years of age and will shortly start going to day care after she finishes playschool. What are some of the things I can pack for my child as she doesn’t eat by herself and has to be fed by someone?

Your child must be so excited to start school and become independent! You can help her by encouraging self-feeding and by providing bright baby utensils and a calm environment. Typically, by the time a child is 18 months old, he or she starts or attempts self-feeding. Feeding herself by tearing a chapati or gathering the rice on her plate will also help develop fine and gross motor skills. However, this will take time and patience. So, in the meanwhile, you can try and pack foods that are easy to pick up and eat. Since she will be spending about half a day at the centre, you will need to provide her with a lunch box and a snack box for the evening. Small-sized chapatis, boiled eggs, parathas stuffed with veggies are foods that can be packed for lunch. If you want to give rice but don’t know if she can handle it, make cutlets with the rice and vegetables. So basically, try and innovate and offer your child easy finger foods.

2. My son is 2 years and I will be rejoining office after a long maternity leave. Hence, he will be spending a big part of each day at a day care. What should I be packing in his box? I am worried that he might not get the right amount of nutrition that he would have otherwise gotten at home

Dear reader, it is a myth that your child might not get enough nutrition if he is at a day care facility. What you pack in his lunch box will determine the nutrition he gets. To put together a nutritious and well-balanced day care meal, you need to choose items from the following food groups - cereals and millets, pulses, milk and dairy, vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables) and fruits. These food groups will fulfil his requirements for calcium, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Remember that you don’t need to include all the food groups in a single meal. Since he will be at the day care for a whole day, he will need at least one main meal (lunch) and two nutritious snacks. So, spread out the food groups across these three meals. For example, a menu plan for a day that ticks all the boxes can include a banana and vegetable sticks with a hummus dip as snacks, and millet methi thepla and a boiled egg as lunch. Also, since he will eat two of his other main meals (breakfast and dinner) at home, you can then include food groups that he has missed at the day care.

3. My 5-year-old goes to a day care centre after she finishes her school at 3 PM. She stays there till 7 PM when we pick her up. What can I give in her lunchbox in the morning that will stay unspoiled till evening?

Yes, it can be a challenge to cook in the morning and hope that the food stays fresh when she gets to it in the evening. You might want to pack things that are non-perishable and don’t lose their texture. A healthy homemade carrot muffin or khakra or podi idli (idli cut into pieces and coated with spice powder) or dry fruit ladoo or pinni or plain untoasted cheese sandwich are good options. You can even pack roasted makhana or dry bhel with roasted peanuts and almonds. You can also make a fruit bar with pureed dates, almonds, sesame seeds, walnuts and raisins. The best part about these snacks is that you can make them the previous day or over the weekend, in batches, and use them throughout the week. Try and get a thermos flask and pack it with buttermilk or lassi. This will help your child meet his or her milk requirement, especially if milk is not provided at the day care. But, don’t pack milk in a thermos flask as it can get spoilt. You can also provide fruits like, apple, pears, and oranges, which don’t need to be cut up and don’t get smashed easily.

4. My 4 year old hates fruits. Though I make him eat fruits at home, he throws a tantrum if I pack these in his lunch box. He loves fruit juices though. Can I make fruit juice at home and pack it in a thermos for day care?

Getting children to eat fruits voluntarily can be challenging. However, giving juice in place of a whole fruit is not a good idea even if it is made at home. Recent studies have indicated that consuming 100% fruit juice even without adding any sugar is not healthy and has been linked to obesity. Juicing also gets rid of all the healthy components of the fruit like fibre. Instead, pack him a variety of seasonal fruits and he will begin to love them. Cutting fruits into different fun shapes will encourage them to eat too. Your child needs about 100 grams of fruit a day. So, a small banana and half an apple should cover his requirements.

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