Whether it is for adults, or kids, the lunchbox presents many dilemmas. What to pack, how much time to spend on preparing it, what will taste good a few hours after packing, what can be made ahead – these are the top questions about packing a proper lunchbox.
A packed lunch should be a portable, less-elaborate version of a lunch you would have at home and by that I mean, well balanced, hygienic and tasty.
Carbohydrates form the base of any meal. One can choose from wholegrain bread, rotis, pita bread, cooked unpolished rice, broken wheat, semolina, pasta, potato etc. Younger kids can do with white sandwich bread as too much fibre can fill them up quickly before they can consume the required calories. Wholegrain sandwiches, stuffed pita bread, fried rice with vegetables or chicken, broken wheat patties, semolina upma, pasta tossed with vegetables or in a salad, boiled potato or potato patties are some of the ways to build the carbohydrate component.
The box needs to have a protein component too. You could choose from chicken, eggs, beans, lentils, cheese, tofu, paneer, yogurt and nuts. Shredded lean chicken can be a part of wraps, sandwiches or pasta. A whole boiled egg, sliced in half and sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper makes the perfect addition to a kid’s lunchbox, and the eggs can be boiled the previous night.
Cooked beans like chickpeas, black-eyed peas, dried peas, rajma can be mashed and added to vegetable patties or made into hummus for sandwiches. Cheese cubes by themselves or in sandwiches are a most popular protein option for kids. Tofu or paneer can be added to dry vegetable curries that can be used to stuff rotis to make a roll. Yogurt can be set in one of the smaller boxes and put in the fridge overnight to be carried in the lunchbox. This makes a good accompaniment to rice and broken wheat based dishes, if the commute is not too long and the workplace / school has a refrigerator.
Nuts are a great snacking option, rich in a variety of vital nutrients – add this to your kid’s muffins or cookies and to your salad. Taking it in the lunch box is the best way to eat nuts while exercising portion control. Nut butters are good for spreading in sandwiches.
Since both adults and kids need to get five to nine servings of vegetables and fruit, it is important that the lunchbox has a couple of servings from this group. Whatever food is going into the lunchbox, make sure it is fortified with some vegetables (other than potatoes, which are starch component) – for example, green beans and peas in rice, cucumber and carrot sticks with hummus, red bell pepper and zucchini in pasta. Add some pomegranate pearls to raita or curd-rice, grated apples and pears in muffins, sliced banana in peanut butter sandwich.
Once in a while, surprise your kid with a homemade goodie like a cookie or any other treat.
Some sample lunchboxes:
· Egg Salad Sandwich and watermelon cubes
· Broken wheat vegetable pulao with plain yogurt or raita
· Pita bread stuffed with shredded chicken with salad and apple
· Buttermilk semolina upma with peas and almonds
· Pasta with spinach and cheese or paneer and orange
· Vegetable idlis with tomato-onion chutney and a boiled egg
Recipe for Baby Pesarattu with spinach
- Soak 1 cup of whole green moong overnight.
- Drain the soaked moong and grind it with a cup of washed and cleaned raw spinach leaves, a small piece of ginger and ½ tsp of salt. This does not require to be fermented. Pesarattu can be made immediately after the batter is ready.
- On a lightly greased non-stick tava, spoon out tablespoon full of batter with a little space in between the pesarattu, add a few drops of ghee or oil along the sides and flip when one side is cooked.
- You can sprinkle sesame seeds on one side while the other is cooking.
- Cook the other side similarly and serve with chutney or ketchup.
- If this dish is for adults, you could add a couple of green chillies while grinding the batter.
[originally published in the Sunday DNA - September 23, 2012]
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