With the spotlight firmly trained on fitness, nutrition and all things well-being this year, social media users the world over have been using the hashtag #eatclean when posting images of their healthy meals. The movement has no age restrictions, with many parents sharing these values with their children as soon as their young ones begin eating solid food, in an effort to imprint wholesome, socially conscious eating habits from an early age.
Fake ‘healthy’ food
This increased focus on healthy food for children is largely a reaction to claims by several recent studies, which say that much of the store-bought food available for babies and toddlers can be hazardous for them. A report published in November by non-profit group Healthy Babies Bright Futures found that 95 per cent of baby foods in the US contain toxins, including lead, mercury and arsenic. Infant rice cereals, which are commonly given to babies, were found to be the most toxic.
If not downright dangerous, many foods for babies and young children appear deceptively healthy when displayed on supermarket shelves. Promising to be fruit or vegetable-flavoured, some of these options are packed with sugars, trans-fats, preservatives plus artificial flavours and colours. Drinks marked as fruit juices are often stripped of all of the fruit’s fibre, with only its sugars remaining, making it sweet and tasty, but not healthy. Awakened by the alarming risks associated with processed baby foods, many parents are turning away from store-bought packaged purees, jars and cereals, and are making their own from scratch. Platforms such as Pinterest offer heaps of inspiration for parents seeking easy, DIY recipes for babies and kids. In Dubai, children’s nutritionist Annabel Karmel opened White and the Bear – the “world’s first children’s restaurant”.
Super grains to the rescue
Of course, there continues to be a large group of working parents who lack the time to whip up home-made baby foods, but are nevertheless concerned about the quality of food ingested by their young ones.
Recognising a gap in the market where parents and children were being sold short, Shauravi Malik and Meghana Narayan in Dubai launched Slurrp Farm in 2016. "We felt that we were really short of options to feed our children and that we really should do something about it," Malik says. The two "mumpreneurs" decided to turn to wholesome grains and ingredients used in their grandmothers' kitchens in India, giving them a tasty twist to appeal to young eaters.
The brand’s key ingredient is millet, a cereal grain the founders source from India. “We have become grain monocultures, growing and consuming mostly wheat and rice. Millet is making a comeback globally and with good reason,” Malik says. “The grains are hardy, weather-resistant and our best bet for combating the drastic changes in climate that global warming is bringing about. They require less water to grow and are highly nutritious.”
The super grains in Slurrp Farm recipes include finger millet (which contains 10 times more calcium than wheat or rice, according to Malik), foxtail millet (which tastes like quinoa and is rich in vitamin B12) sorghum (a gluten-free grain packed with antioxidants), lentils and whole wheat, with good fats such as real butter, fruits and vegetables.
The company’s baked snacks, millet pancakes, toddler cereals, and millet noodles and milk mixins are available across India, the UK and the UAE, where the brand is stocked online at Ripe Organic and Mumzworld. “At a point where the UAE is in the midst of preparing for Expo 2020, which focuses on sustainability as a key theme, we feel that this is the right time for the UAE market as people are really conscious,” Malik says. The co-founder attributes much of the brand’s success to the rise of e-commerce, which she says has been fundamental in spreading its message and making its products accessible. “We also built a community of mothers across India and the UAE through Facebook mom communities,” adds Narayan.
Eco food accessories
Healthy food options aside, many eco-warriors argue that eating responsibly is a movement that extends beyond edibles, to your plates, bowls and utensils, too. Environmentally conscious parents are now turning to bottles, bowls and spoons crafted from bamboo and other sustainable materials.
Bamboo grass, which is grown and harvested without pesticides, and is biodegradable and non-toxic, was the material of choice for British mums Celeidh Cook and Kristina Williams, who live in Abu Dhabi and launched Eco Rascals in 2018.
“We bonded over a shared passion to reduce harmful materials from our children’s lives,” says Cook. “What started as an exercise to find a solution to mess-free mealtimes, spiralled into a love for stylishly designed children’s feeding products.”
The brand’s organic and eco-friendly tableware includes plates, bowls, spoons and suction plates (which stick easily to high chairs and tables).
The founders say that conscious tableware is just as important as conscious food for developing minds. “When this becomes an everyday occurrence for the child, it is more likely that they will make the same choices for their own tableware and that of their children later in life,” says Cook.
Eco Rascals makes regular appearances at local markets in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and Cook explains that although it’s been just over a year since the launch of the brand, she’s seen a significant change in customers’ awareness and knowledge about sustainable materials. The brand has earned placements in various stores and boutiques locally, and is available online on Mumzworld and Babyshop, with plans to expand regionally in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, and internationally in Indonesia, Poland, Spain and the UK.
Appealing to kids
While the optics and ideals behind encouraging your children to eat clean certainly look and sound appealing, implementing them in real life requires parents to keep their young ones engaged and stimulated when they are presented with their food.
Some of the bamboo plates by Eco Rascals are in the shape of cute animals, such as owls and elephants. Slurrp Farm’s Malik also emphasises the importance of keeping children interested with fun distractions.
Fun, as most parents know, is half the battle won when it comes to (hopefully healthy) mealtimes.