Beat the heat with these healthy tips for your child’s lunchbox

The heat wave ravaging the city is not only making life really uncomfortable, but also posing a major challenge for parents trying to pack a healthy lunchbox for their school-going kids. “The morning is anyway a blur while trying to get my seven-year-old daughter ready for school. On top of that, I’m at my wits end thinking about what I should put in her tiffin box, as cooked food can get easily spoilt in this heat and even cut fruits tend to go soggy and soft,” said Priya Dey, a city homemaker.
So, what’s the solution? “It’s important to make the food interesting for kids to eat healthy. But even if you are packing fruits, go for bananas, grapes and berries that can be eaten whole. Avoid sliced fruits,” said Debjani Chatterjee Alam, a city-based home chef and food blogger.

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On the other hand, food blogger Chandrima Sarkar suggests that deep-fried items shouldn’t be part of a lunchbox. “They are neither healthy nor tasty when eaten cold. I would suggest that parents should stick to simple, everyday food that’s nutritious and delicious,” she said, adding that something like a sprouts parantha is a powerhouse of nutrition. “For the paranthas, boil the sprouts first. Then knead flour, boiled sprouts, chopped onions, chopped coriander leaves, salt, aamchur powder, red chilli powder and roasted cumin seed powder in a bowl and make the paranthas,” she said.
Let’s explore this some more.

Tips to keep food fresh for a long time and what to avoid

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  • Wrap the food with butter paper instead of aluminium foil. It gives the food some breathing space
  • Avoid food made with milk such as kheer. Some curd-based food like curd rice falls in the same category. They tend to get spoilt fast at room temperature during the hot and humid summer days
  • Pack whole fruits. Sliced fruit pieces attract bacteria that might cause diseases. If you don’t have any option but to pack in fruit slices, then keep freshly cut fruits in an airtight container in the fridge in the morning. Take out the container just before your kid leaves for school
  • While making sandwiches for school tiffin, always apply a thin layer of butter on the inside of the bread before applying any chutney or sauce. The layer of butter prevents the bread from getting soggy and restricts the absorption of moisture from spreads, chutneys, vegetables, etc
  • You can also make the sandwich a day earlier and refrigerate it. That way, it’s easy to quickly grill or toast them the next morning
  • School lunchboxes usually cannot be reheated, so try not to pack deep-fried food like puri and kachori. They become soggy and don’t taste good after they get cold

Recipe: Veg fried rice Bento box

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Fry plenty of vegetables with chopped garlic and sauces of your choice. You can also scramble an egg. Saute some cooked rice with garlic, salt and pepper. For protein, make some paneer bhurji. Make Harabhara kebab with boiled spinach, potato, peas and capsicum. Saute in some spices made with chopped onion, ginger garlic paste and chaat masala along with salt and pepper. Pan roast pre-made tikkis. Layer rice over veggies and decorate the rice layer with veggie & cheese cutouts.

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‘Ever since my kids started school, I have tried to make a small Bento meal for them almost every day. It sure needs some extra effort but the joy and happiness that my kids have when they open their Bento at school, makes it worth all the effort’

Sayantani Mahapatra, food blogger and baker

What is Bento?

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The idea of Bento is to pack a nutritious and balanced meal covering all the categories of the food pyramid. Japan has this amazing idea of making visibly appealing meals, especially for children. There are many varieties of Bento. To make it attractive and to lure your kid to eat healthy when away from home, decorate the ingredients of the meal in the shape of their favourite cartoon characters or cute animals.

While making a Bento, make sure there is a balance between carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients. In summer, it is a strict no-no to make greasy, heavy food. So, mostly include rice, noodles, pasta salad, poha, roti roll or sabudna khichri for carbs. Switch from all-purpose flour to healthier varieties like millet flour, buckwheat flour or soy flour. Sauteed mixed vegetables with chicken or paneer can take care of the protein and nutrients part along with some seasonal fruits. Try to incorporate something sweet to end their meal. It can vary from homemade cookies, cakes, narkel naru or protein-rich dry fruits and dates laddu.

Recipe: Eggless vanilla chocolate chip pancakes

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Add all the ingredients — all-purpose flour/maida, caster sugar/ white or brown powdered sugar, cinnamon powder, baking powder, salt, vanilla essence, milk, unsalted melted butter, vegetable oil/olive oil and water — in a bowl and whisk well. We are not looking for a completely smooth batter. Add chocolate chips and fold gently. Heat a non-stick fry pan. Pour one small ladleful of pancake batter on the pan and cook for two-three minutes over medium heat or until bubbles appear on the top. Flip gently and cook until light brown. Serve warm with chocolate syrup/ honey/ maple syrup and some fruit jam/preserve on the side.

Recipes by Chandrima Sarkar, Sayantani Mahapatra and Debjani Chatterjee Alam