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I could hear them shout and laugh as they played football in the ground downstairs - My thirteen year old daughter's friends - girls and boys of the same age group who had come over for her hastily organized birthday party. Since her birthday is in the middle of the final exam time ( February) she could not decide the day for the party and gave me just a day's notice to organize it for about ten of her friends.
Pizza was the popular demand, Popcorn and French fries are a given for most B'day parties; especially the ones organized at home. Since they wanted to play football before cutting cake, I decided that we should add chola bhatura to the menu( some protein said the mum in me). I was right. When they came back after the game, the popcorn and fries had been demolished as picnic snack and they were hungry. So off went the plates and we served the food. I smiled to myself as I saw them loading their plates with my choice of the menu item while the pizza boxes lay seemingly ignored.
Soon however, it was pizza's turn. That was heartening too but what was disheartening was the time when the plates were discarded. There was so much food left in the discarded plates. I must admit that it did not go well with me especially given that the kids were not too young.
This is what took me thirty years back - down the memory lane. My chachi was visiting us as my mom was unwell. I would have been about the same age, 12-13 years old. One day we demanded rajma chawal for lunch ( it is still a favourite). When we came back from school, chachi had obliged happily. I remember filling my plate for a second helping and both my chachi and mom saying take a little less. Sure enough after a few spoons I could not finish it and left the table, not worrying who would eat that.
At dinner time, what I saw was the same plate of rajma chawal coming out of fridge and its contents being heated. I thought one of them was going to eat it ( as most mothers do). When that plate was kept in front of me, I felt angry, insulted and cornered. They both explained why wasting food is not the done thing and I remember the effort it took to finish every spoonful and every word each of them said.
Never since that day have I wasted food. When I had my kids, I made sure that instead of reaching a stage when I have to serve that plate, I taught them not to waste food. Often, most of us ignore this or pay lip service to this aspect of bringing up. We talk of teaching them manners, respect, skills, prayers, hygiene and so many other things. But something as basic as not wasting food takes a back seat and is often completely ignored.
We worry about their not eating - right from their infancy, then we worry about their not eating enough or not eating the right things or not eating at the right time. Very often, when they eat and leave food in plate moms are somewhere glad that the kids have eaten so they do not want to fight the battle of finishing it. In fact, a lot of moms end up finishing the leftovers ( doing themselves great harm in doing so).
But I remember that plate of rajma chawal and the lesson I learnt - seemingly a trivial one but to me the most valuable one. So I started with serving small portions in their plates and ours at the dining table, as they grew. We also constantly spoke about how people do not get food to eat so it is important not to waste it. Dadi taught them 'Annam brahamam asti - Food is sacred.' It paid - my kids do not waste food and that makes me proud.
I think now is the time for the next phase - to make other parents aware and request them to pass on this value to their kids. Let's join hands and talk about this to as many as we can - let us serve our kids their favourite food and avoid that plate of rajma chawal!