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Lunch box legends

Stick to food the child likes and is familiar with. Chances are the box will come back home empty Photo: Reuters  

∝When parents talk of the morning hour rush, they are most probably referring to the time from when they wake up to start cooking for the child till the time the child gets out of the home. It is a challenge one faces – what do I pack today that my child will like and eat, is nutritious, will have time to eat, won’t get soggy, will still taste like food when he opens the box at 12 in the afternoon, is something I can dish out in the next half hour, wasn’t packed for lunch in the last six days, looks enticing, will keep him or her going till evening, and not feel guilty for having done a good enough job of the lunchbox …

“There are mums in my daughter’s school who, in almost military fashion are organised and creative to the point where they make mums like me cringe with their enthusiasm – shop and plan in advance, pin up time tables for themselves on the fridge, pack all homemade foods, including cookies they bake, make everything fresh from scratch themselves including pizza dough, get all innovative and make faces on the sandwiches with vegetables, while here I am using readymade rava idli mix out of a pack,” sighs Sahana Gowda, homemaker and mum to five-year-old Dhriti. “I sometimes wonder if that makes me a bad mum…”

With so much nutrition information flooding our lives, as well as recipes and ideas at fingertips, one would think it’s all child’s play. But then there is the time factor. How much can you do in an hour? How many boxes do you pack – it’s now almost mandatory for a short-break box, and a lunch box, and an additional one if the kid is into post-school activity. Then there are the dos and don’ts issued by the school too.

Tara Nevata stresses how at her daughter’s school, most of the PTA is spent discussing what the child eats, how she doesn’t eat certain things, and with the teacher insisting that food sent should be “healthy”. Some schools set apart “days” like pasta day, roti day to make life easier for parents and ensure uniformity among the kids’ dabba contents. Do you give them traditional Indian food, like idlis and poha, or give in to their wishes of pasta and pizza and use the opportunity to load it with vegetables? Does it have to be multigrain bread? Is a readymade snack okay? Do I have to give what the child loves or what everyone eats at school? Can I cheat and put Maggi in the dabba one day?

Sowmya Ramakrishna, an editor with Nova Techset, has to pack four boxes every morning for her kids Hrishikesh (12) and Pradyumna (seven) to cover the short and lunch break. Short break usually consists of salads (cucumber, tomato, carrots), fruit salad, puffed rice, papads. Lunch break has something filling like chappatis, stuffed poori, poha with a lot of vegetables, upma. “The problem is that our children have food almost five hours after it is prepared. How do we as mothers still ensure that food is edible and tasty? Kids hate having rice at school. I have asked my kids to prepare a time table for me, putting down clearly the dishes that they want each day for lunch!” She quickly lists challenges – each kid might like a different dish, if the food is tasty, classmates eat up most of the food, and of course, having to match up with the regional varieties the classmates’ mums cook!

Rinku Naren, who works in a tech firm, believes in the art of camouflage to feed her two children. “I make coloured rotis everyday — puree carrots and mix it with atta, spinach for green, beets for purple, and left over dal also make for great roti stuffing, with some coriander and onion.” Sarita T., an entrepreneur treads the same path with her eight-year-old-son who has to be in school at 7.45 a.m. – “I basically make paranthas with every godforsaken vegetable. I do send healthy stuff in the box. But sometimes the challenge is to just get the child out of bed, ready, and to school on time. I work with what’s available at home and can’t really get creative in the time I have. There was a time in the past I’ve stuck carrot sticks in idlis to make it look like the sun, with olives for eyes and train-engine bread sandwiches! But these are not very lunch-box friendly!” The morning snack now in school and the evening snack two days in a week on sports days is a fruit or vegetable. Lunch is roti, subji and curd-rice. “I never send biscuits or cake. The thing is, he’s good with raw vegetables, not cooked food. I can deal with salad. But every day is a challenge, I’ll tell you that! You align all your stars and pray your child will eat.”

Ashirbani Roy, a jewellery designer and TV show host is enthusiastic about recipe concoction. She also vouches for the camouflage trick, and reels off recipes. “Boil a carrot and a bunch of spinach. Blend it in a mixer with a blanched tomato, a few pistachios and Italian herbs. Heat olive oil, add crushed garlic, saute a small onion, add mushrooms/ corn. Add the sauce, seasoning and cheese. Toss in pasta. So you get spinach and carrots hidden in the sauce, also healthy nuts. I do so much of camouflaging to make food interesting. My son’s friends ask him to get two boxes!”

Doing the dabba right

* Keep it familiar: Packed lunches are certainly not the time to introduce new foods. Children feel comforted when they see familiar foods in their lunch boxes. Ensure you taste the food before you pack it to avoid sending too salty or too spicy dishes. Avoid too many courses, keep it simple & easy to handle.

* Stick to “home- size” portions: Do not expect that your child will somehow magically start eating large portions at school because there is a teacher to monitor them. Keeping the quantity similar to what your child eats at his mealtime at home, will ensure that you see an empty box when they get back home. It teaches the child to minimise food wastage too.

* Plan ahead: Depending on the age of your child, allow him/ her to plan a weekly menu chart with separate columns for the snack box & the lunch box. This will show your child that you trust their choices, and in the process they learn to make healthy decisions for themselves from a young age. It will also ensure you give them variety and they do not get bored.

* Be creative: It is not easy when you have fussy eaters at home. But you can make food interesting for your child with some twists to everyday food. Use cookie cutters to cut you idlis or chapattis into different shapes or pierce the fruits on a small length skewer to make fruit kebabs or just add a beetroot purée into your poori dough to make purple puris. Colour and shapes will tantalise your child’s appetite.

* Balance nutrition: Protein foods keep your child full for longer. It’s more important today where the child travels long distances to return home from school. Stuff rotis with dal, paneer, or soy kheema; use peanut butter and cheese in your sandwiches or rolls. If the school allows non-vegetarian foods, include egg and chicken. Ensure the meat is well cooked and cooled before you pack it to avoid spoilage. It will be easy if you shred the meat into bite size portions. Don’t forget to include fruits & vegetables to help your child improve his or her immunity.

(Courtesy: Anjali Dange V., Consultant nutritionist & founder, Starlite Wellness Centre)

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 3:15:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Lunch-box-legends/article14495895.ece

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