From the twinkle in her eyes and the happy tune to her greeting when we met at the usual pick-up point at the train station, I could tell that she has something exciting to say to me.
“Mom! Remember our community project on oral health and hygiene in young children?”
How could I not remember? She’s been talking enthusiastically about the progress of Project Bite Sized since it’s inception.
“We interviewed a very nice dentist today. She specialises in dentistry for kids. Guess what? Snacking can be the culprit to poor oral health. And it is something that most parents have overlooked. ”
“We always assume that sweets are the ultimate villain, right? But have you ever thought that carbs are the culprits too? The saliva breaks down the carbs to sugar. The bacteria in the mouth will work on the sugar and form an acid that can damage our teeth.”
Ahhh… Science. Biology to be specific. Digestive system, on point.
She was extremely happy with the outcome of the interview. It illuminated a fresh approach for her group project from school.
I basked quietly in her unbridled excitement and delight, containing my urge to bombard her with ideas and unsolicited advice on what she could do next, moving forward.
“Hush,” reminding myself not to rob her of her pride in her work and ownership of her being, and to only step in when she needs me to.
Submarine parenting. Nice.
Happy as a lark, she was grinning from ear to ear, exposing the cute little turquoise blue brackets on the braces that held her teeth tightly in alignment.
Her teeth have been less than perfect.
The elementary school that she attended has an in-house dental clinic that arranges for every student to have a routine dental check at the beginning of each academic year.
It was during one of these dental visits that a supernumerary tooth that had caused a wide gap between her top two front teeth was discovered. A dental surgery was done to remove the additional tooth.
My poor child! It was heart wrenching to see my seven-year old going under the knife on full anaesthesia.
It was also during these dental checks that she learnt more about oral hygiene. Following the dentist’s instructions to the t, with the toothbrush angled in precision, she would patiently manoeuvre the brush up and down, and in circular motion on each and every tooth.
Strange. She listened to the dentist. And not to me.
Upon reflection, it is true that we tend to focus on brushing techniques and less on the food that we eat, especially the snacks that we consume in between meals.
Even though I had banned the hard Chupa Chups and other sugary treats, I would allow an occasional treat of dinosaur and snake shaped soft jellies that, as printed on the packaging, contained no artificial colours and flavours.
I added alternatives to the Goldfish and Meiji plain crackers with an exciting palatable mix of Kettle Chips and traditional local cookies like our all time favourite pineapple tarts.
When Japanese-style boutique bakeries started sprouting in every city mall and suburban district, the savoury pork floss bun and spicy curry donut became the staple snack in my household.
It was obvious that our snacking had gotten out of hand.
I didn't need an accountant to highlight that it was absolutely absurd to expend a third of my monthly grocery on snacks; or
a nutritionist to tell me that my family's health has become questionable when we allowed carb laden breads to satiate our hunger more than a balanced home-cooked meal; or
a couch potato addicted to Netflix to mirror our deplorable habit when we binge on chips by the bags and not by pieces; or
a victim to diabetic or heart disease to warn us that we would be foolish if we do not change.
And change we did.
Snacking Rule #1 : No Sugar, No starchy carbs
So, what should we have for snacks?
Snacks could be a smaller portion of protein that we would have for lunch or dinner.
It could also be a healthy cold smoothie or fruity jelly pudding that are great for hot weather.
Or a nibble of crunchy beans on an ultra lazy day to cook.
Here are a few examples.
Hard boiled eggs can taste kind of bland and kids could sometimes pick up a certain "eggy" smell that is off-putting. To add flavour to the eggs, you could coat them with Yakiniku sauce and put them under the grill for a couple of minutes. I like to use quails' eggs and skewer them into rows of twos or threes. Its easier for kids to pick up the eggs this way.
Edamame beans are good snacks too. They are so easy to prepare. Simply boil or steam them in water that is slightly salted. Best served cold.
Chawanmushi or steamed egg custard is like baby food. Soft and silky in texture. It is served in almost all Japanese joints. In the fancier restaurants, you can find chawanmushi topped with a layer of salmon roe. Egg on egg! Super nutritious!
You can make a simpler version at home. Dilute the egg with water and season with salt. Beat the egg and pour the mixture into individual heat proof bowls or cups. You can add lean chicken slices, sliced shitake mushrooms, gingko nuts, goji berries, edamame beans or even green peas. Steam till the mixture is set and served warm.
Fried bean curd can be used as the casing to sandwich a nutritious filling of boiled eggs, cucumber and lettuce or any other favourite greens. Fried been curd often comes in packets at the supermarkets. Cut a slit in the middle to form a pocket and then toast them under the grill till lightly charred on the surface. Leave them to cool before filling the pockets with the sliced egg and raw vegetables. You could dress the fillings with Japanese toasted sesame salad dressing or tahini sauce.
Agar agar is often used as a vegetable gelatine in jellies. Naturally loaded with fibre, agar agar makes a great cold snack. I like to add pineapples and beetroot. Love the vibrant ruby red colour.
You could also make layered agar agar jelly using coconut milk to form the alternating white layers.
Or cut the coconut layered agar agar jelly into cubes and serve with young coconut flesh and sea coconut in coconut water.
Avocado smoothie is so simple to make. Just blend it with milk and honey. Avocadoes are grown in a lot of places but I found the ones from New Zealand to be the best by far.
The only way that my daughter would have her pumpkin would be in the form of a thick creamy soup. Simply cook the pumpkin slices in a little water. Blend the cooked pumpkin with the water that it has been boiled in. Add a pinch of salt and cinnamon for flavour and a little cream to thicken up the soup.
Bite sized grilled pumpkin makes a good snack too.
Traditionally Gyoza dumplings come with pork and cabbage filling. But I found that it works very well with pork and apple too. Making these at home may be abit tedious. But it can be fun when we garner the help of our children and make it a Sunday family activity.
This is another version of dumplings which is served in light dashi soup. In place of pork and apple filling, I have used Saba fish slices that has been marinated in rice wine and ginger juice to fill up the dumplings.
Deep fried chicken wings is an all time favourite for kids and adults. I often tell my daughter, "You can have deep fried battered coated chicken wings from the fast food outlets only once a month but you can have my grilled chicken wings everyday if you like." My homemade grilled ones are seasoned with Chinese five spice, with a delicate hint of ginger and rice wine.
These pan fried prawns is a great alternative to fried chicken wings, especially when they are enhanced with the flavour of aromatic curry leaves and a hint of chilli.
In many places in South East Asia, food venders selling cooked food on push carts by the side of the road is popular. My favourite would be Tauhu Pong which is deep fried tofu cubes served with birds eye chilli from the streets in Jakarta. I have my own healthier version. I would cut the tofu into small lego block size and wrapped each one with seaweed ribbon strip, and pan fry them till crisp on the outside.
Believe it or not, I learned how to make Japanese egg roll from my daughter. And she has learned it from her favourite Japanese cooking show, Cooking with Dog. For my version, I add spinach and cheese in the middle to make it a more nutritious snack.
Snacking Rule #2: Keep unhealthy snacks out of sight (and out of mind)
Even though Dairy Milk, KitKats and Mars had decided to cut the size of their chocolate bars to comply with the health authority's strategy to fight obesity, I’m still not having them in my house. I am not just eliminating redundant calories, but also unnecessary cavities.
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The Wok Way To Healthy Packed Lunches
How to prepare wholesome healthy packed lunches for your children that could inspire other parents to follow, without the hassle of tedious prep work, clutter of ingredients or laborious washing up in as little as 20 minutes.
And we are not talking about peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a sad assemble of cold cut turkey on wilted lettuce leaves.
Want to know how?
She loves food - all food especially spicy authentic Asian dishes. She sometimes wonders if she eats to live or lives to eat.
As much as she is adventurous with food, she also likes to cook. A proponent for home cooking for better health, she believes that it's only when we start to cook that we become more aware of what goes into the food we eat and vigilant of our food portion sizes.
She's a relatively good home-chef and could make a mean Salt Baked Chicken. But she claims that her late mother-in-law was way much better and her only regret is, in her own words,"Darn…I wish I had written down her recipes."
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