If lunchtime and sharing your tiffin box with your friends is not your favourite memory from school, you didn’t live right. While roti-sabzi, sandwich or the fan favourite maggi is a mainstay in a kid’s lunch box, children, nowadays, are exposed to a variety of foods and cuisines. And if you have spent any amount of time scrolling through social media or on #MomTok, you would’ve seen parents, usually mothers, make cute but elaborate food art for their little ones. From animals and space to festive themes like Halloween and Christmas, parents in the West are showing their creativity through their kids’ lunch boxes. All this, while also feeding their children wholesome and hearty meals that are packed with nutrition while also making the chore of eating, both fun and exciting.
And Indian mums are not far behind! Delhi-based Priyanka Sharma, 34, has been making this lunch boxes for her two sons Viraaj, 7 and Jiyansh, 4, from last year. She was worried about her picky eaters and if they were getting sufficient nutrition. She says, “Being a working mother and fully aware of my kid’s picking eating habits was a matter of concern for me. My worries led me to try making my food more attractive and I got the idea of putting a variety of foods into bento-boxes.”
The concept of a bento box is not new. A bento is the Japanese iteration of a single-portion take-out or home-packed meal, often for lunch. The box is usually composed of a carb like rice or noodles, a protein such as a meat of fish dish and range of pickled or cooked vegetables. The world, according to Japan Objects is derived from the Chinese Southern Song slang term Biandang which means ‘convenient’.
Similarly, Ritu Madaan, 30, from Uttrakhand, wanted to give her 3-year-old daughter, Gaurisha, a variety of food items when she started going to school. Starting from a young age, Madaan says, “By preparing different healthy breakfast everyday for her, Gurisha began to develop a taste for all kinds of foods.”
Being a Chef, Vinny Shukla, 39, Coimbatore started off by creating snack boxes for her first son, Anirudh, 19, was in play group. She then started to make lunch boxes for them as well and now makes these boxes for both her sons. Shukla loves to add hand written notes in the boxes with encouraging words.
On the other hand, Mumbai-based Aishwarya Vinodh, 32, used to prepare a dabba for her husband to take to office and began posting it to Instagram. But when Covid-19 hit, that practise came to a standstill. When things began opening up again, she started creating and posting about the food she sent her son, 7-year-old Nikhilan, to school. She says, “I always struggle with what to pack for him so I started sharing my son’s boxes to help other people find inspiration and they loved it.”
Ask them what they own children and those at school think and the resounding response is the kids love it! Madaan says, “I got lot of questions from the kids and other mothers about the boxes and the food I send. Now other kids are also bringing similar boxes to school.”
Shukla has been sending these boxes with her children, to school since her oldest son was 4-years-old and she has the entire process down pat. She says, “My children would always think that their lunch box was different from others in school. They used to worry that their friends would make them swap their boxes or make them share it.”
Sharma adds, “The day I started giving my kids bento-boxes, their approach towards food changed. The excitement of taking their box to school is worth all the efforts which I put in and they also began to relish the variety of foods I sent.” And the other children in her kids’ classroom also adore these lunchboxes. Sharma shares, “In fact, their class teacher’s also impressed with the idea, they shared it with other parents too.”
When creating the boxes, Shukla says less is more. Adding, she explains, “An overflowing lunch box is always a turn off for any kid. I only add two to three food items in one box, nothing more than that.” Agreeing with Shukla, Vinodh believes three food items are sufficient options for a child. Breaking down the process of how she prepares a box, Vinodh explains: Carbs like rice, roti or pasta; a protein like egg, dal, or pulses; and seasonal vegetables. She also adds snacks like homemade cookies, makhanas, popcorn, dry fruits or cut fruits.
Whereas, both Madaan and Sharma love adding many options to their children’s boxes. They add around five to six elements in their kid’s lunchbox. Sharma adds fruits, a salad, sabzi and roti or bread, curds, and a sweet treat to round off the box.
Ask these mums if or when plan to stopping this elaborate and somewhat time-consuming process and most of them aren’t ready to let go. Shukla says, “Never! This is something which gives me immense satisfaction. The joy of packing a healthy lunch box and your child coming back from school and telling you about how they enjoyed their lunch is bliss.”
Neither is Vinodh who says she has 10 more years to continue to make these boxes as her son is only in the second grads. Madaan believes this is the “best way to serve food to your self and to your family” as assembling food which looks attractive and appealing can make anyone eat every type of food even if they don’t like it.
Tips for parents
1. Less is more. You need not make a fancy meal, even simple food can be given a makeover by presenting it well.
2. Your child’s focus is to finish food quickly and go play. So keep that in mind while packing.
3. Try sending them a note to express you love them or just a heart symbol saying ‘Made with love’.
4. Plan the meal in advance.
5. Take help from family members.
6. Add colourful vegetables and fruits to make the box more attractive and appetising.