“Mamma, is school starting today? Is it time for school yet?”—that was my eager beaver of a son three years ago, waiting for preschool to start. Cut to the present and the same eager beaver has turned into a whiner—“Why do I have to go to school? Why do I have to wake up so early? Why can’t we have summer vacations all year?”
Sigh… how times change! To get him excited about school restarting, we take him shopping for a school bag, shoes and all the paraphernalia needed for the year.
But that is an easier challenge. The tougher one is packing a healthy lunch and snack for him daily.
Most parents will agree that getting a child to eat his lunch at school and making sure it’s also healthy can be a nightmare. It’s a common sight to see the lunch boxes coming back with food that is untouched or half-eaten. No wonder all parents struggle with getting their kids to eat right.
The question they ask is: what foods should I pack so that my child gets the optimum nutrition from them.
Prepare a kid-friendly tiffin
Here are some tips to keep in mind while deciding the menu for your child’s tiffin:
Variety: Variety is the spice of life—and it most certainly is in the case of children, who get bored of eating the same food too often. A change in the menu every once in a while adds a surprise element to the boring lunch box. Give rice or rotis a break, pack a club sandwich or an egg roll or something that they love and you can be sure that the box will come back home empty.
Colour: The saying that ‘we first eat with our eyes’ is apt. If something doesn’t look good, it’s very unlikely that your kids will finish it. Try adding a range of colourful foods [and here I don’t mean adding food colours] by pairing two or more different coloured vegetables [eg: adding some peas to cabbage will make it more appealing].
Presentation: Make eating a sandwich more exciting by cutting it into different shapes and sizes. Try using a cookie cutter to make different shapes for not just sandwiches, but also fruits and vegetables.
Exotic names: Ever noticed how your kids are enamoured by the names of dishes at restaurants? Kids love the food served at restaurants simply because they are different from what is made at home. You may not be a gourmet chef [I know I’m not], but you can always give some exotic names to simple dishes. For example, my son was bored of sandwiches until I grilled them one day and called it a ‘panini’—he happily ate it all. Make a mental note of the names of dishes at the restaurants you eat at and use those names when you cook those dishes at home.
Be innovative: There are no rules in cooking—dare to be different, change the ingredients, substitute, add your kid’s favourite fruit/vegetable and voila!—you’ll have a new dish. My kids love mushrooms, peas and broccoli and I add them to their least favourite dishes, to make sure they eat them.
Involve the child: Take your child along when you go grocery shopping and let her help you choose the vegetables, fruits and other essentials required for the week. You could also give a choice between two items and let them choose one for their lunch box. Another trick is to mention what is for lunch so that they look forward to lunch time.
Packing a healthy lunch box for your kid isn’t always easy. But make sure to avoid packing junk food or processed foods like chivdas, chips and cakes . Some kids have their lunches delivered to them at lunch time while others carry it with them in the morning. If you pack your kids tiffin in the morning, keep this in mind:
- Avoid dishes like khichdi or bisi bele bath, which turn hard and unpalatable when they turn cold.
- When the weather is hot, curd can turn sour by the time kids eat it at lunch. To avoid this, you can put in a few ice cubes into the curd and put it in an insulated container. A trick for curd rice is to mix the rice with just a tablespoon of curd and add milk so that it sets in by lunch time.
- To avoid sandwiches and wraps/rolls from getting soggy, make the filling dry and put some butter/cheese slice or a lettuce leaf between the filling and the bread/roti.
- When packing dosas, don’t make them too crisp. Crisp dosas taste great when eaten hot off the griddle, but may break or become hard when eaten later. Try not to spread the batter too thin on the tawa, cover and cook for a minute or two, then flip it over and sprinkle a few drops of water and let it cook. This will keep the dosas soft when eaten at lunch time.
Each child is different and their tastes too change like the seasons. So don’t get too worked up if they are still fussy. As long as they are healthy and growing at a steady rate, they’ll turn our just fine.
This article was first published in June 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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