For a city still perceived as conservative, there is a significant change in the eating habits of its residents
CHENNAI: Over the past few decades, Chennai has been witness to a host of changes both in terms of its landscape and lifestyle of the residents. For a city that still is perceived as conservative, there has been a significant change in the eating habits of its residents.
Most of the youths in the city do not live a frugal life, retire early for the day or stick to the beaches when it comes to spending time with their family. Oriental Cuisines Director M. Mahadevan attributes the change in lifestyle to the increase in the spending power among the middle-income households.
Eating out is now a culture and the demand has fuelled exotic cuisines. High-end hotels have expanded their customer pie. “From south Indian to continental, every cuisine receives equal patronage. People celebrate their anniversaries and organise kitty parties at hotels,” he says.
“Ten years ago, there were few stand-alone restaurants. International dining experience was limited to star hotels and food festivals. Now all that has become common,” says Hotel Green Park Senior General Manager (Operations) N. Krishnakumar.
For software professional R. Prasanna, eating out “is when I get to speak to all my family members at the same place. We used to dine out every month but have made it more frequent these days, as the children can’t wait to spend time with us.”
Engineering student Sangamithra says, “Even at home, we get food delivered when we need a change. Restaurants offer healthy options nowadays. We just have to pick the right ones.”
While youngsters are eager to explore new options, doctors and nutritionists voice concern about the trend. They say more youngsters are under-nourished, anorexic or suffer from bulimia. Obesity clinics and weight reduction centres have mushroomed. More hospitals are performing bariatric surgeries for obesity. Recently, the State government established an institute to study the cause for rise in diseases such as diabetes and hypertension in the population.
The problem lies with unhealthy eating patterns, says nutrition therapist Meenakshi Bajaj. Traditional food provided the right amount of nutrients. “As students we were taught ‘food be thy medicine’ but today’s fast life and changing food habits has meant that we need medications for the rest of our life,” she says.
Consumption of alcohol and smoking only contributes to the health complications. Cancer of the cervix is on the rise in the city, warn gynaecologists. So also diseases like Chron’s, hitherto found only in Western population. Doctors recommend including plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits and eating on time. They also recommend the practice of eating healthy as a family and spending time together.
More mothers are aware that nutrition needs must be addressed from infancy, says Ms. Bajaj. Working mothers are also particular about what they feed their children.
S. Aarthi, mother of 15-month-old Saatvik, says that chocolates, cookies and ice creams are an absolute no-no. She knows that food with preservatives makes a child hyperactive. “I don’t even give him the taste.” Saatvik is growing up on a vegetarian diet that includes plenty of vegetables, pulses, rice and milk. “You can give sugar in the form of fruits,” she says, adding that the paediatrician had advised her that Saatvik’s diet can mirror their own as long as it is healthy.
It is not just the parents who are responsible for the child’s nutrition. Child care centres also play an important role. “More often than not while parents are aware at a theoretical level about the harmful effects of junk food, at a practical level they end up packing chips or cream biscuits due to lack of time or to make the child feel better,” says Sridevi Raghavan, founder of Amelio, a child care service provider, talking about working parents. Amelio helps companies set up their own child care centres.
She insists that the parents pack lunch for the child as “it is important for the parent to be actively involved in the meal of the child.”
She adds the centre advises parents on the nutrition needs of children because with nuclear families there may not be elders to counsel about healthy options.
(With inputs from R. Sujatha, Sruthi Krishnan and S. Aishwarya)