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What’s In The (Lunch) Box?

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By Nivedita Tinna:

Whenever the term ‘Lunch Box’ comes to mind, it reminds every one of their old school days. This is also the term which brings a lot of twitchiness to the minds of parents. Once a child’s lunch break starts, whether the ‘dabba’ would return empty or not remains an issue of interest to those who packed it with much care. And if the lunch box is empty then another question comes up, that of what to serve tomorrow. And if the lunch pack is not finished, in that case, again the same tussle; what to pack tomorrow so that the box does come back empty.

Well, nowadays, some schools have given relief to parents by serving mid-day meals that have taken care of all aspects like nutritional content, variety and are also making sure that students eat what they are served.

Before you read ahead, I would like to clarify that this is not an article about different recipes to be packed in the lunch box. But yes, after reading this article you might find out where you might be going wrong.

Still from Stanley Ka Dabba, a bunch of school boys stare at their lunch in amazement
Shared on Stanley Ka Dabba’s Facebook page.

Being a teacher, I interact with a number of parents on a day-to-day basis and deal with their queries. On the basis of that and my observations during lunch time, I have come up with a list of some mistakes that parents make and tips on how to rectify them:

Mistakes While Preparing The Lunch Box

1. Food cooked in desi ghee is not an appropriate choice for school lunch packs, especially in winters, as the ghee gets layered on the top of the food. There are a number of people who especially buy desi ghee to cook meals for their kids. That would be good only when served fresh. I have often seen students opening their lunch packs during winters with a thick layer of ghee on it. Instead, consider using mustard oil or olive oil. There are also a number of other good quality oils available in the market.

2. Lack of variety is always an issue with lunch boxes. However, giving your child enough options for lunch has a number of benefits. Firstly, it develops the habit of eating everything. Secondly, it helps maintain the nutrition level that a child requires. Last but not least, it also adds an element of surprise. Your child will always be curious to know what is new for lunch. It’s not so difficult to introduce variety, and all it needs is a bit of thought. You can pick from the things available in your freezer. You can serve different kinds of sandwiches or chapatti wraps. And there are a number of things available in the market which you can buy to add a twist to the meal.

3. I believe that food should always be cooked with lots of love and patience. Spend an extra five minutes or plan beforehand what you want to cook. Arrange for raw materials a night before and make sure you don’t rush your cooking. This will retain the taste of the food as well as the maximum nutritional value. It is also believed that the more love you pack in the lunch box the greater will be the urge in your child to eat the food that’s prepared.

4. Serving plain chapattis to a child is a big NO! Parents have been coming up to me saying their child does not eat this and that. And I have noticed that many push their children to eat green vegetables and pulses. My suggestion to them is to make the chapatti dough with vegetable stock, chicken stock, mashed and boiled vegetable or pulses. This way a child will develop the taste for all kind of vegetables without you having to chase after them.

5. These days a large variety of lunch boxes are available in the market. They come in different shapes, colours, and materials that appeal to kids. Considering the variety, a parent should not compromise on the quality of the lunch box. Using a bad quality plastic lunch box – even if it is beautiful and your child has gone crazy about it – is definitely going to harm your kid’s health.

6. Given our busy schedules, pre-packaged food is quite convenient and is also loved by children. But, unfortunately, that kind of food is high on fats. It is suggested while using, do read the labels properly and choose only food which is high in fiber and lower in fat and sugar. Parents should avoid packet chips, lollipops, chocolate bars, biscuits, cold drinks and so on.

7. Packing diced fruits is not a very good idea as the child gets to eat it after a long time and by that time, the fruits lose their freshness and can be harmful to health. What you can do instead is pack the whole fruit and if required, take the help of teachers to dice it for your child. Or you can pack fruits which can be eaten without cutting like grapes, oranges or strawberries.

8. The lack of balanced nutrition is also quite common when discussing the lunchbox. Sometimes, mothers serve very fatty food to their children. This makes children lethargic. So, always make sure you add variety in the food you give to your child. It’s best to mark out a plan. It is generally found that calcium is always lacking in diets so you could add a small portion of cheese in the lunch box.

9. Mothers tend to pack large portions for lunch, which is wrong. During the growing stage, a child needs nutrition from time to time. So, small lunch packets which a child can enjoy after every two hours is more advisable. You could add things like roasted black grams, a combination of dry fruits, a nutri-bar, a small biscuit pack, a piece of dry cake, some kababs and murabba – it can be of gooseberry, apple or carrot – or some dietary namkeens. All these are readily available in the market.

10. How the packing of food is done also makes a difference. The more you ignore the concept of packing the more you are ignoring the nutrition and taste. Make use of aluminum foil or clean cloth napkins so that the food does not get soggy.

11. For little children (i.e., preschoolers), avoid foods that could potentially cause choking such as popcorn, cherry tomatoes, nuts or cheerios with skins.

12. Presentation means a perfect blend of packing and decoration of the food served in the lunch box. Your presentation will create the urge to eat and it will make the child feel proud also. These days a lot of things are available in the market – different types of cutters – which can be really productive. Never serve too dry or too moist food in the lunch box.

13. Do involve the child while preparing and packing the food. He or she will feel more connected with the lunch. It is a universal law that everyone loves and respects its own creation, so, this will encourage the child to finish the lunch. For a younger one, you can take help in packing food or arranging the things in the kitchen whereas in the case of an adult child you can take help in cooking or cutting of the food depending upon what they are more interested in. In fact, here’s an art in which sometimes parents have to create the interest of the child.

14. Remember, parents are the best role models (even if the children won’t admit it). If parents eat well, then the children are more likely to copy. If children refuse foods, encourage them to just give it a try (without an unpleasant scene). If they don’t like it, then try the same food item again, prepared in a different way, in a couple of weeks time and repeat the exercise. As in Dr. Suess’s famous book ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, you don’t know whether you will like it or not until you have tried it.

Food is not only the ‘way to a man’s heart’ but to everyone’s heart. Earlier, it was the women of the house who did all the cooking but nowadays men are also putting their best foot forward. And the combined action of both the parents is proving to be quite fruitful.

Well, for more help, parents can log onto YouTube where a number of cooks share their ideas on preparing lunch boxes or they could just google it. Another option could be cookbooks which are readily available in the market or can be brought over the internet. The more you indulge in preparing lunch boxes the more you understand the mistakes you were making before. It is an art and the more you practice the more you flourish and enjoy.

To sum up, I would say that lunch boxes often serve as a medium to improve relationships between the child and their parents. Preparing a quality lunch box raises respect for the parents in the child’s heart and the child also understand and appreciates the effort his/her parents put in for them sooner or later.

The lunch you prepare will bring more respect for you among your child’s friends as well, and your kid will always cherish this.

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