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26.11.2019 | 8:43 am


With National Day of UAE being around the corner, let us discuss about the most discussed and debated topic ‘FOOD’. So many different diets are being discussed in the present time, but we have forgotten the importance of accepting and celebrating the traditional food items and traditional food culture. Emirati food culture is a diverse culture as many of its dishes are a mix of Indian, Arabian, Mediterranean and Turkish. Because of such diversity, Emirati cuisine is easily and widely accepted and loved among all the ex-pats of the country. Children are no exception to this, the different Emirati dishes like hummus, shawarma, arayes, fattoush, and falafel are loved by them. So today, I would like to share my thoughts, certain facts, and figures of why it is a good idea to include the different food ingredients used in Emirati cuisine in your child’s diet. Here are a few food items I am discussing – chickpeas, dates, olives, and saffron.

Chickpeas – are part of the legume family and a good source of protein and carbohydrates. Their nutty taste and grainy texture pairs well with several other foods and ingredients. The most popular dish made with chickpeas is the creamy ‘Hummus’ which is most loved by adults and children. It is also a very good source of fiber, ½ cup of cooked chickpeas has 6.2g of fiber, so this is can be a very good food option for weight watchers and for mothers who are worried about the increasing junk food consumption of their children and teenagers. Chickpeas are a good source of protein, ½ cup of cooked chickpeas has about 7.3g of protein. Therefore, it has become a much-loved option among vegetarians and vegans. It should be included in the diet of the children and teenagers to support muscle and linear growth. This humble-looking legume is also a good source of iron, ½ cup cooked chickpeas contain 2.4mg of iron. Due to its nutritional profile, it can be one of the best first foods for your child.
So here are the different ways to include chickpeas in your and your child’s diet.

*6 months and beyond – it can be given as boiled chickpeas (should be smooshable between two fingers), including in the form of hummus, chickpea pasta. Prefer a homemade hummus, use curd instead of tahini if there is a family history of food allergy.

*Hummus can be prepared in different ways – Pink Hummus (Beetroot hummus), Green Hummus (Avocado hummus), mixed hummus (use moong sprouts and chickpeas).

*Serve steamed carrot sticks, avocado slice with hummus. For toddlers, stir-fried carrot sticks can be used. Hummus can be used as a sandwich spread. Children can also have it in the salad, or crisp chickpeas (shallow fry the boiled chickpea with some spice and chickpea flour).

* You can also try including in the pasta or spaghetti, savory crepe or try making chickpea patties.

Dates – more than 40 varieties of dates are grown in the UAE. Guests and visitors are traditionally welcomed with dates and Gahwa. This tiny fruit is packed with a tremendous amount of energy and micronutrients. One medium-size date can give about 20 kcal. This makes dates a very high-calorie food ingredient, which should be a part of the growing child’s diet and also a very useful hack for mothers who are worried about the flattering weight of their children. Dates act as a natural sweetening agent in many dishes, therefore it becomes are very good choice for sweetening the porridges and shakes of the children and can be part of the first foods of the baby. Because of its sweet taste, it helps to keep away the craving for sweets and chocolates, thus it can be used by children and teenagers to reduce their sweet or sugar intake.
Date is a very versatile food ingredient and can be used in many ways such as-

*Date puree in their oats porridge or wheat porridge.

*It can be mixed with curd, make a banana date smoothie, or add it to different fruit shakes.

*Add it to the pancakes

*Serve it as a sweet dip with crackers

*There are many recipes that make use of dates to make sweet balls and laddoos

*Use as a replacement for sugar in salads, cookies, cakes, and granolas.

So yes, there are ample ways to include dates in your child’s diet, give it a try.

Olives /olive oil – olive and olive oil are some of the key ingredients in many of the Emirati dishes. Many different kinds of olives are available from around the world in UAE. One can relish them with vinegar, some spice or with garlic. Olives are very high in Vitamin E, which is a potent antioxidant, also the fatty acid composition of olive oil is 55-83% monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA). Vitamin E boosts the immune system, therefore adding olives to your child’s diet will help in keeping the cold and cough away. The MUFA is known to reduce heart disease by replacing the saturated fatty acid(SFA) (sources of SFA- ghee, butter, cream) in the diet. Diet high in MUFA improves insulin sensitivity and reduces inflammation. Fat is an essential dietary component of a child’s diet. It plays an important role in the development of the brain and helps them to reach maximum growth potential. It is required for the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, Vitamin A, D, E, and K. Olive oil is also used for gut healing which in turn helps in reducing anxiety and anxiousness, so by using in your child’s diet, it can help in reducing meltdowns and tantrums. Therefore, restricting fat in the diet of the child can have adverse consequences, one can always replace the SFA’s with MUFA, and now you all the best source for it. The ways to include olive or olive oil in diet can be as follows –

*Start with roasting or stir-frying the veggies with olive oil.

*Add olives to pasta, sandwiches, pizzas, and salads.

*Replace the butter in the cookie or cakes with olive oil.

*There are flavor-infused olive oils, which can be added to a smoothie or shake.

Saffron – it has distinct taste and flavor, the Gahwa served as welcome drink is many a times flavored with saffron. These tiny, thin thread-like food ingredient is known for its antidepressant and inflammatory properties. It also known to brighten the mood. So it’s a good idea to add it to your morning tea to keep the Monday blues away, also make it a point to include in your child’s diet to keep the terrible two’s and danger three’s tantrums at bay. It is also a good initiative to include saffron in older children’s diet, as in growing years they tend to deal with many different kinds of emotions and situations, a little boost from the carotenoid pigments in saffron might help. Saffron can be part of risottos, milk, rice-based dishes.
Along with the kind of food we eat, the meal environment also plays a very vital role in developing a good relationship with food. In the Emirati food culture, the entire family sits together to eat and they prefer eating with hands. This culture of eating together, encourages family bonding, also helps in reducing picky eating, while eating together children observe their parents, so it gives parents a good opportunity to act as role models to inculcate healthy eating habits. Eating with hands exposes children to different textures like smooth, rough, soft, grainy, crisp and crunch which helps in reducing picky eating and reduces the aversion to certain textures. Picking the food with fingers aids in developing pincer grasp and eye-hand coordination, this, in turn, helps in encouraging mindful eating and reducing pickiness.

Thus, this National Day of UAE, let us all give some love back to this beautiful country by appreciating and encouraging the Emirati Food Culture.


Credits: Ms. Nida Khan

Clinical Dietitian (Ketogenic)