Healthy and delicious: Crafting the perfect school lunchbox

TNIE explores some refreshing lunchbox ideas to keep school children nourished and satisfied throughout the day
It is therefore essential to pack lunches with dishes that are tasty and also healthy enough to sustain energy levels throughout the day.
It is therefore essential to pack lunches with dishes that are tasty and also healthy enough to sustain energy levels throughout the day.

KOCHI: After 12 pm, the stomach starts to cry and all eyes are on the clock to see when it will be lunch break. As soon as the bell rings, books are shoved aside and tiffin boxes dished out, all in a flash. Lunchtime is undeniably one of the best times for a school student. The aroma of a delightful meal that wafts gathers the whole class to the desk that holds the box. The enchantment is so intense that the sweet smell remains long after school life ends and life chugs on through many phases.

It is therefore essential to pack lunches with dishes that are tasty and also healthy enough to sustain energy levels throughout the day. Since children are active, foods get metabolised easily. Though they require a sizable portion of nutrition, it is crucial to keep a check on the intake of processed food, fat, starch and sugar.

It is crucial to be mindful of what goes into the lunch box, says Rajiv Ambat, CEO and founder of NuvoVivo Center for Obesity, Lifestyle Disorders & Research.

“Fibre-rich vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and peas are ideal, but they need to be presented in appealing ways. Mixing these veggies into the dough for chapatis or blending them into purees for various dishes can make them more palatable,” he explains.

However, overpacking healthy food could also be problematic, he says. The practice could contribute to obesity among children. Rajiv also emphasises the importance of including other essential nutrients in children’s diets, particularly ingredients rich in calcium and omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA, and ALA).

“These nutrients are vital for brain development, cognitive skills, and vision. Fatty fish like mackerel, sardine, and salmon are excellent sources. For vegetarians, nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts are beneficial. Additionally, iron-rich foods and proteins are crucial,” he adds.

When children crave processed foods like burgers, Rajiv suggests opting for homemade alternatives. “Homemade chicken patties can be prepared with readily available ingredients, refrigerated for a few hours, and then used in buns with some vegetables for a healthier option,” he suggests.

Fashioning lunch boxes is one of the main challenges parents face as school reopens. The menu fixed for the week should not invite cringy noses and rolling eyes from children who take pride in being given a flamboyant fare. So, even if the food is less than thrilling, some amount of thought could make the presentation creative and can entice even the pickiest primary schoolers to take a few happy and exciting bites.

In Japan, the practice of a well-presented lunch box is a norm. Working mothers find it daunting to craft Instagram-worthy, nutritious school lunches. Over recent years, the country has gained attention for its artful “chara-ben” creations, where lunches are made to look like their favourite cartoon characters or even real people.

For Indian parents, it may not be the same level of stress and pressure to craft elaborate kids’ lunches. Yet there is still the ongoing challenge of deciding what to pack daily. Nisha Kiran, a home chef and entrepreneur specialising in kids’ meal plans, emphasises that relying on the same foods parents ate during their school days will not necessarily resonate with today’s children.

“Lunchboxes in a way showcases the love the parents have for their children. That being said, if you are going to fill the box with rice, sambar and some side dishes, it will only come back as leftovers,” says Nisha.

She suggests that an ideal lunch box should have healthy food that gives energy, and overall, it should be a treat for one’s senses as well. In her weekly lunch plan, the standout favourites include ghee rice paired with moderate spiced chicken curry/paneer, juicy stuffed tuna sandwich, macaroni, wheat noodles, etc., in 500ml containers.

“I make sure to add vegetables, including leafy ones, for lunch. However, most children will be fussy about eating vegetables, so I chop them so finely that it would be impossible to pick and throw. So, be it sandwiches or pulao, all sorts of veggies have a place in the box,” says Nisha.

The boxes can also be spruced with an assortment of cut fruits, from apples, pomegranate, oranges to mangoes. Also, a bottle of freshly squeezed fruit juice is a huge plus to a tasty lunch with ample punches of health.

CHANNA RICE AUR FRUITS

INGREDIENTS

Mango : 180 gm

Cherry: 5 no

Cucumber: 5 slices

Yogurt: 100 gm

Basmati rice: 100 gm

Boiled channa : 150 gm

Turmeric powder: 3 gm

Chopped coriander: 2 gm

Salt to taste

Water : 180 ml

Sunflower oil : 40 ml

Cumin seeds : 4 gm

Finely sliced onion : 10 gm

Lemon juice: 5 ml

METHOD

Wash and soak rice. Heat oil in a rice pot, temper cumin seeds and add sliced onion. Add salt, turmeric and water. Allow it to boil and then add the soaked rice and cook for a few minutes until the rice comes to the level of water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes on slow heat. Turn off the flame and keep it resting for a minimum of 30 minutes. Open the lid after 30 minutes add the chopped coriander and mix well. Serve the rice in a tiffin box, arrange with mango cubes, cherry and sliced cucumber.

CHAPATI, ALOO AUR SALAD

For chapati

Wheat flour : 500 gm

Salt to taste

Warm water : 750 ml

Ghee : 50 ml

In a bowl, add wheat flour, salt, ghee and 400 ml of water. Mix it and keep it aside for 15 minutes. Add the rest of the water and mix well. Place the dough on a flat surface and knead it well until the texture becomes smooth and has a medium-tight consistency. Make small balls with the dough. Roll the chapatti balls using with roller and wheat flour. Cook the both sides of the chapatti for 2 to 3 minutes

For aloo jeera

Boiled potatoes: 150 gm

Chopped onions: 30 gm

Salt to taste

Chopped onions: 20 gm

Chopped coriander: 3 gm

Cumin seeds: 5 gm

Chopped tomatoes: 10 gram

Sunflower oil: 40 ml

Chopped garlic : 3 gm

Heat sunflower oil in a pan and temper with mustard seeds. Add chopped garlic and onion, sauté it until golden brown colour. Add the tomatoes, salt and boiled potato cubes. Stir fry for a few minutes and finish with chopped coriander.

For channa cucumber yogurt

  • Curd:100 ml

  • Boiled white channa: 30 gram

  • Sliced cucumber: 20 gram

  • Chilli powder: 3 gram

  • Salt to taste

  • Chopped coriander : 2 pinch

  • Mix all the ingredients, season with salt and garnish with chilli powder

For white bean salad

  • Boiled white beans:100 gram

  • Chopped cucumber: 10 gram

  • Chopped tomatoes: 5 gram

  • Chopped coriander: 2 pinch

  • Salt to taste

  • Chopped onions: 10 gram

  • Mix the all ingredients and season with salt

  • Arrange the all of these in a tiffinbox and enjoy your lunch.

Tuna Cucumber Sandwich

Ingredients

  • Cooked White Tuna - 150gm

  • Mayonnaise - 40gm

  • Cucumber - 100gm

  • Bread slices-- 4

Method

Drain the tuna well. In a bowl, mix tuna and mayo. Season it with salt and black pepper. Lay out slices of bread. Spread the tuna on two of the slices. Make sure to distribute the sandwich filling evenly. Add the cucumber slices on top, slightly overlapping. Top each sandwich with another slice of bread. Cut them in half. Enjoy immediately or transfer to kids’ tiffin containers for later use.

Chicken Macaroni

Ingredients

  • Macaroni- 250gms

  • Boneless Chicken- 200gms(cut into thin strips)

  • Mixed Vegetables (Broccoli, carrots, beans, capsicums) 150gms

  • Chicken Cube -1

  • Pepper - 1tsp

  • Mixed Herbs - 1tbsp

  • Butter - 1tbsp

Method: Boil macaroni with enough water and a half teaspoon of salt. Cook until al dente Drain the water and set aside. In a pan add 4 tbsp of oil, vegetables and fry for 3 minutes. Add chicken and fry for another 3 minutes, into this add the chicken cube, pepper, mixed herbs and a tablespoon of butter. Serve hot.

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