It has always been a mystery to me if a school Tiffin box and its contents really inspired excitement in its target consumer. From the hosts and expert cooks on TV cookery shows this certainly seemed the case. This sent me back to my daily morning tussle to innovate and put in something interesting (child’s requirement) and nutritious (my requirement) in the box.
When my daughter was still in preschool, it was pretty smooth sailing. A sandwich/ fruits/ laddus or any other savoury stuff made (home or ready-made) sufficed. Once into full time school I had to give something more substantial especially for the lunch break. Obviously this meant some variety of roti (Indian flat bread) and subjee (vegetables) either separately or in a roll (to be called ‘frankie’ in a bid to glamorise the preparation) or all mixed and rolled together as a stuffed paratha (a form of Indian bread). The end product required the food to be kept dry or risk feeding books in the bag. Obviously it would be testing any child’s patience to expect him/her to eat dry roti/subjee six days of the week for years together so little ‘extras’ were always demanded. On days when the unfortunate bhindi (ladies finger) or karela (bitter gourd) found their way into the plastic box they had to be countered with ‘extras’ that were rated at the other end (high) of the scale like chips/ French fries/ chocolates/ cola in the water bottle etc. This of course had the rider that the vegetable could not be repeated for a couple of months AND needed a peace offering of a pizza for dinner.
Tiffin content planning demanded creativity and variety. At one point I had chalked out a weekly tiffin plan with due inputs from my child of course. This was negotiation skills at its best for both of us – usually she won for the extra category and me in main foods category. You win some you lose some, that’s life. This continued all through the school years. In a candid moment I was privy to confessions of the fate of some tiffins at school. When truly hungry or when contents were agreeable, there was only option namely – eat the stuff. Sharing was something that took on different hues as when one had to get rid of something one did not like or could not risk taking empty Tiffin home. Hell hath no fury like that of a Mom confronted with an uneaten school Tiffin. I learnt that some kids quite easily emptied the disliked/ uneaten foods into the dust bin else out of the school bus window on their way back home, Mom would never know. Did somebody say thinking out of the box?
All this was obviously for foods coming in at a low rank on the popularity scale. Topping the charts at the other end of the scale, the ‘extras’ made the tiffin bearable and school worth going to in some phases. However like all popular stars these too faced threats and from the most unexpected sources...
One has heard of petty thefts at school- a new pencil, eraser, handkerchief etc etc. But this incident took the cake, almost literally...
A strange phenomenon occurred while my child was in class four. As the school was some distance away I used to include an additional small snack to cater to any food pangs during the return journey. All was well for a few days but soon this food went ‘missing’ from the tiffin. For the first couple of times I was excused as probably having forgotten but when the tiffin lacked this vital ingredient day after day, things got serious. Soon more kids were affected and action was called for. After verifying from authorities (Moms) that food was indeed put into the tiffin, the kids concluded that there existed a food thief among them. To add insult to injury, this person ate up only the goodies in the tiffin leaving subjees for the real recipients. No one would have complained if subjees had gone missing...
Teachers were informed, the principal brought into the loop but kids decided to take some action. The laddus were doctored at home to have a core of chilli powder. Chocolates were removed from wrappers and replaced with stones, papers or other similar stuff. They took turns in ‘guarding’ the classrooms when kids went out for other activities. It was not really clear what finally succeeded but one fine day all kids got their full tiffins and the pain was over. Some said it was one of the kids, others spoke of a monster and with kids’ overactive imagination there were new culprits and causes daily. The academic session ended very soon and the entire batch dispersed to new places and the matter ended there.
Tiffins continued into college days as well but now I had added help in the form of aluminium foils/ cling films/absorbent tissues and zip lock bags, containers all in fancy ‘food grade materials’. There were times when I had to make do with canna or banana leaves to wrap food- they make an excellent wrap by the way. Even now the tussle of what to put into it went on as before. The security of having Tiffin full of tasty food is the most comforting thing for a child away at school/college and worth Mom’s every effort. Every full Tiffin reflects maternal love and each tiffin returning home has a tale of its own to tell.