Kids are back in school after a long summer break and it’s time to get innovative with their lunch boxes. Metroplus gives you a lowdown on interesting, easy-to-prepare option

Excited kids, hassled parents, and lunch box troubles… welcome to June. After two relaxing months when children did not really stick to a meal schedule and served themselves at home, they must now relearn to eat on time, and from the lunch box. How do your break your kids into a routine again?

Begin by giving them only a light breakfast, says ad professional Hemangi Sharma, whose four-year-old is a fussy eater. “This way, they feel hungry around lunch time and eat without wasting food.”

Another trick, she says, is to pack food that can be easily eaten. “Kids always look for excuses to not eat. Look at options such as a one-bowl meal of rice, dal and vegetables, or pasta and semiya with vegetables. They just have to pick up the spoon and eat,” says Hemangi.

Many parents look at taste and nutrition, but tend to ignore the visual appeal of food. Mix and match colours so that when the child opens the dabba, he or she sees an attractive looking meal. Instead of packing chapathi and gravy, cook the gravy some more so that it becomes dry, add slivers of raw cabbage and carrot and make an interesting roll, she suggests.

R. Rajamurugan, author of Nalla Soru, which revives forgotten millet recipes, recalls a recent workshop he conducted. Parents turned up in large numbers to learn about innovative lunch options for their school-going children. “Dishes such as malli rice, fried rice with keerai and vegetable pulav, made with unpolished saamai, kudiravaali or varagu were a big hit,” he says.

A packed lunch should also be wholesome, he says. Though millets pack in vitamins and minerals, their protein content is less. So, balance it out with a cup of sundal made with green gram or black channa.

As for snack options, he suggests a thinai puttu made with jaggery or kaara puttu with saamai rice and adai or kozhakattai made from a mixture of all millets, eaten with groundnut thuvayal.

Balance is the magic word, says nutritionist S.A. Nazreen Jones. If you’re packing breakfast too, go in for egg dosas, stuff vegetable dosas or roti rolls with an interesting fruit-based milkshake, she says. Lunch can be a mix pulav with scrambled eggs, ghee rice or fried rice with a sabzi made from yam, potato, peas or cauliflower. For mid-morning snacks, pack boiled corn tossed in cheese or salt and pepper, she says. Try a vegetable sandwich where you substitute sauce and mayonnaise with tomato chutney. Load it with tomato, cucumber and carrot wedges.

Puffed rice is a great option too, as are cut fruits and a dry fruit mix. Want your kids to eat green leafy vegetables? Puree them, add to the dosa batter or chapathi dough for yummy green dosas and rotis. They look great in the dabba and taste fantastic too, she says. Kids don’t take kindly to pulses. Jazz them up by adding jaggery to mashed pulses and roll them into easy-to-eat balls, Nazreen says.

Rajamurugan has the best tip of all. If children must eat healthy, parents must too. So, set an example for your children.

Recipes, anyone?

Educationist and grandmother Usha Menon lists out dishes that can be prepared the night before. Upma made from leftover idlis, dahi ke kebab, beetroot rice.

Does your child love pizza? Try Aisha Sherina’s recipe that uses brown bread. She offers tips on making the lunch box look good.

Tarla Dalal divulges recipes that can put a smile on your child’s face. Think theplas, vadas and upmas.

Eat with your eyes, suggests Sweta Uchil Purohit, certified dietician and mother of two. She swears by creative presentation of a dish to floor a child.

Indianparenting.com lists out tasty, nutritious lunch box recipes. Dishes include veggies baked in a wheat-based white sauce and homemade peanut butter.

Nidhi tells you how to sneak in those vegetables into sandwiches or pakodas. Her blog features vegetarian dishes, with photos and anecdotes. Learn to make fresh peas chaat, bread pizza with cottage cheese and dhoklas.

Padmajha Suresh Babu, a nutritionist from Coimbatore, puts up recipes that use millets, herbs and flowers. Learn to cook healthy chaats, millet and fruit-based desserts, pastas, kothu idiyappam and cheedais.

Is your child bored with having rice every day for lunch? Then, give a shot at variety rice dishes such as puliyodharai, mango saadam and capsicum that Sharmilee Jayaprakash, a Coimbatore-based food blogger, has put up. These dishes take just 11 minutes to cook.

Simple recipes for cheery lunches

Stir-fried idli squares

Ingredients

Idlis: five

Onion (finely chopped): 2

Green peas (shelled): half a cup

Carrot (diced): half a cup

Beans (finely-chopped): half a cup

Green chilli: one

Salt: to taste

Asafoetida: a pinch

Curry leaves: a sprig

Mustard seeds: 1/4 tsp

Sesame seeds: 1/4 tsp

Oil: for tempering

Coriander leaves: for garnish

Coconut (grated): optional

Method

Cut idlis into medium-size squares.

Blanch the carrot, beans and green peas and set aside.

Heat oil in a kadai and splutter the mustard.

Add the chilli, curry leaves, asafoetida, and chopped onion.

Saute till it turns golden brown. Add the blanched vegetables.

Add turmeric and salt and sauté till cooked.

Add the cut idli pieces and gently stir till they are coated with the masala.

Garnish with coconut and coriander.

Malli rice

Ingredients

Saamai or little millet (pulungal arisi): 1 cup

For grinding

Coriander leaves: 1 cup

Mint: a handful

Ginger: a small piece

Garlic: four

Green chilli: 1

For seasoning

Ghee: two tsp (for children, you can use four tsp as ghee is high in protein)

Elaichi, clove and cinnamon: 1 each

Method

Add ghee in a tawa, sauté spices, and the green mixture. Add two cups of water, the required salt, saamai and cook for 10 minutes.

Serve with carrot chutney.

Carrot chutney

Sauté jeera, pepper, one grated carrot and a little tamarind, and grind together.

Note: Carrot has to be semi-cooked to retain the orange colour.

It looks great with green malli rice and also adds Vitamin A to the diet.

Fried rice with keerai

Ingredients

Boil one cup of Kudiravaali rice in two cups of water and set aside.

In a tawa, add four tsps of ghee, chopped garlic and one cup of chopped red greens or vegetables.

Sprinkle pepper and jeera powder as required, add rice and toss.

Add a pinch of asafoetida and fried cashewnuts.

Health drinks

Ingredients

Curry leaves: 1 cup (you can replace it with carrot, beetroot, or dates)

Grated coconut: 1 cup

Ginger: a small piece

Elaichi: 1

Jaggery: as required

Grind all the ingredients in a mixer and strain the juice. Send this juice with lunch. It is rich in Vitamin C, protein and fibre.