Whether it is for adults or kids, the lunch box 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 some factors one must keep in mind while packing a proper lunch box.
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 and so on. 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 lunch box, 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 lunch box. 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. Carrying 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 lunch box has a couple of servings from this group. Whatever is going into the lunch box, make sure it is fortified with some vegetables (other than potatoes, which is rich in starch) – 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.
Nandita Iyer is a medical doctor with a specialisation in nutrition. She blogs her healthy kitchen experiments at www.saffrontrail.com