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People often talk about “home cooked food” as the healthy and right choice for children in their homes. Mothers in Mumbai beam with pride when they say “I give only healthy home cooked breakfast like upma or poha for my children”.

Mothers, I have bad news for you.

Both Upma and Poha are nutrition poor foods that are not good breakfast replacements for your child. If that’s all that they are having as a complete meal, and have it most days of the week, it is not only poor and unsuitable nutrition for your growing child, it can also cause metabolic disease that can result from carbohydrate rich, nutrition poor diets.

Both of these dishes are nothing but spiced up grain with some oil. They are poor in protein and have exceedingly poor micronutrient diversity.

It’s perfectly fine to give Upma or Poha as a part of breakfast, but definitely not as a replacement for breakfast. For growing children, these dishes must not be more than 25 percent of the meal. The remaining 75 percent must have foods that are rich in protein and must have a lot of different vegetables for sufficient micronutrient density and diversity.

For protein, if you are vegetarian, you could try adding dishes which use paneer, beans and pulses as the base and not grain. If you are non vegetarians, a couple of eggs and meat/fish/chicken will be a good idea.

For micronutrients, nothing beats a nice big quantity of cooked greens like spinach or amaranth. And you could add other non starchy vegetables as well. The more the merrrier.

The next time someone talks about healthy meals and Upma/Poha in the same sentence. Tell them that they are wrong. There is nothing healthy about those two dishes. All that they deliver is a whole lot of empty calories with little or no nutrition. Ditto for noodles, cereal flakes, parathas, rice cakes, potatoes etc.

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