IT is midnight, and all is quiet in the Ahmad household. Most of the members have retired into their own rooms to sleep or enjoy some alone time. Only the kitchen remains a bustle of activity as Mrs Ahmad goes through the whirlwind motions of preparing tiffin for her two daughters. "There'll be no time to do this in the morning; that time is for making sure that my girls get a decent breakfast and still make it to school/work in time."
This scenario is perhaps not new to many. Mothers have been trying to ensure that their children are well fed, and the stubborn little ones have been fighting this noble cause tooth and nail every step of the way, since time immemorial. The age-old lament 'Amar baccha khaii na!' is still heard today, and the school teachers have to face the music every Report Card day, when, on top of queries and complaints about grades, there is that inevitable request that the teachers should see that their precious charges finish their tiffin.
We wanted to take a closer look at this phenomenon that puts the moms and kids on opposite sides of enemy lines. So we ran a survey of around a hundred schoolchildren, their teachers, and we also interviewed some parents so as to get some insight on this issue. To keep things simple, we targeted a school that does not have canteen facilities. Our findings were very interesting indeed.
According to our respondents, the most common tiffin item today is noodles, which is closely followed by chips and then sandwiches and fried chicken. Parents prefer giving their children noodles for tiffin, because it is easy to prepare, filling, and a good source of nutrients, as chicken, eggs and bits of vegetable are usually added to it. Sandwiches require less ingredients, and are also convenient to make, so they are also highly preferred by parents, while fried chicken and chips are popular with the children, and so they sometimes act as a last resort.
The survey results also show that the younger the children, the less junk food they have for tiffin. The older students have their own opinions about what they want to eat, and very frequently these choices generally lean towards fast food. Pizzas, hotdogs and French fries are amongst the candidates that won the most votes for 'favourite tiffin'.
Both working mothers and stay-at-home moms were seen to prefer providing their children with homemade food over store-brought items; however, working mothers are more likely to resort to store-brought tiffin so as to save time.
The drama begins the day before, when mother and child negotiate what items will be put in that lunchbox the following day. This can often blow up into an all-out battle as Mum insists on a healthy and filling paratha, while Junior will have absolutely none of it. Somehow, peace is made, and the lunchbox is packed with fried chicken, and the child is sent off to school, and everyone lives happily ever after, right? Wrong. School ends, and the lunchbox returns…untouched. All hell breaks loose in the household.
'It hurts when all that planning, all that preparation goes into preparing tiffin, and your child wastes it. At that moment, the fact that my child has not eaten takes a back seat to the fact that s/he wasted all that food. We've been taught since childhood never to waste, and we expect our children to pick that ideal up as well,' says a mother.
So why do the kids refuse to have their tiffin? The teachers have some theories to offer. "Peer influence is one big cause,' says Amina, a school teacher. The children like to see what their friends are eating. They will somehow find the tiffin of others more attractive than their own, and try to eat that instead of their own food. Quite often, they want to take tiffin that their friends are taking, and when they don't get it, they don't want to eat what their parents have given them." The teachers deal with this in different ways. Some classes have a 'Sharing Day', when everyone shares tiffin. 'We can't really prevent kids from taking each others' tiffin, but we can at least try to regulate it, because it might start with tiffin, and then spill over to other items. While we want to promote a sharing and caring attitude, we also want to teach our students to respect other people's property," says Sabrina, one of the vice principals.
Another theory is that parents frequently overestimate the amount their children can, and want to eat. You have children bringing whole fried chicken, or maybe a huge carrier filled with fried rice, and the child cannot finish it. One teacher breaks it down quite clearly. "These children get a maximum of 20-30 minutes of recess. Of this, 5-10 minutes are needed for them to settle down and prepare to eat. The child has to rush through the remaining time to finish tiffin, and get a few minutes to interact with his/her classmates. If you give too much food, it slows them down, and this rush itself can be very off-putting. Don't forget that some children are naturally slow or fussy eaters; you can suddenly expect them to transform into chow-monsters during school recess.
The tiffin itself also plays a role here. When your child has just come back from a hard hour's PE under the hot sun, s/he will not really be in the mood to eat, and even less if the tiffin happens to consist of a sweet sticky doughnut, or greasy tehari.
Along with the contents of school lunch, the packaging also needs to be taken into consideration. Interestingly, though perhaps not very surprisingly, children prefer snacks that are packed in attractive lunchboxes. Observe a classroom during recess. You'll find that the largest swarm of interested faces can be found near those lunchboxes that are clean, bright, and attractive. Of course, children vary in their opinions as to what constitutes 'attractive'. Cartoon themes such as the Powerpuff Girls, or Pokemon are very popular amongst the younger children, while the older ones prefer the sleek, 'space-age' look. If you want to increase the chances of getting a satisfactorily empty tiffin box at the end of the day, let your kid pick his/her box.
To wrap up this study, we asked a few teachers what they think the ideal tiffin should be. 'Something light and still filling, like sandwiches or noodles, with a side order of fruit," says Amina. Most teachers concurred that a small helping of fresh fruits helps keep the kids feeling fresh, especially in the heat we're experiencing these days. When we asked the kids, they demanded more pizzas, more hot dogs, more sausage…you get the picture. Kids will be kids, and what can we do but hope that they learn to appreciate the time and effort that goes into keeping them well fed?
This article has focused mainly on younger children, and the dilemma of mothers and teachers. Check out the Rising Stars this week as we take a look at the other dimension of school lunches: canteens.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
Photo Credit: Zahidul I. Khan
Special thanks to Sunbeams school for arranging this photo shoot.
diary of a food obsessed person
It has been years since I have left school, but during those impressionable years one particular impression sure left a huge imprint on my mind. Obviously its related to food. The foodie that I am, it is not really that surprising, is it diary?
Actually I don't like to think of myself as a foodie, I prefer the euphemism "food expert".
Anyway what I am talking about is…tiffin. One of my fondest memories of my school life is, my mother giving me, as a treat, one whole taka for tiffin, with which I would buy one bottle of coke with forty paisa and one burger from Moti bhai for 60 paisa. Standing in queue, in sweet anticipation with my friends, even parting with my crisp note didn't seem that bad. And after the final transaction with Moti bhai between the always freshly painted green bars, holding the chilled coke in one hand the burger in the other, ooh!, the joy and feeling of pride, still gives me goose bumps. And diary, why I mention the "always" freshly painted bars is, it was Holy Cross School, you know. Nothing was ever shabby. Everything had to be perfecto. Can't you tell diary? Look at me! The product of Holy Cross. Perfection personified. As my mother daily reminds me, I should be on my knees, thanking her, for admitting me in the highest echelon of education. Anyway, back to my tiffin days. Not everyday was a good day with tiffin. There were days when simple bread, jam and butter would have to do. French toasts were a welcomed break, but chicken sandwiches were my fav. But did I dare voice my displeasure the days when I didn't like my tiffin? No way!!
But now-a-days, now that we are mum's ourselves, how we cater to our children. Even before they can utter what their highnesses would like for their tiffin, it is there. How we spoil our bratty offspring. Anyway here are a couple of my son's fav items which he loved for tiffin during his growing up years. Now at eighteen he's more like, " mom going out for lunch at pizza hut with Omar." Bye baby. Hello to adulthood.
Have a good day & happy cooking.
No Bake Fridge Cake
200 gms of butter
500 gms of icing sugar
4 tbs of cocoa power
300 gms of marie biscuit (broken)
Melt the butter, add the icing sugar & cocoa.
Then beat in the eggs.
Lastly stir in the biscuits coarsely ground. Pour into a dish and stick in the freezer.
Fun Cup Cakes
1, tsp baking powder
1 ½, oz custard powder
7oz icing sugar
3 eggs lightly beaten
1, tsp Vanilla essence
6oz butter softened
7oz icing sugar sifted
A few drops of food colour (optional)
Sift flour, custard powder into a bowl. Add caster sugar and mix to combine. Add eggs, milk essence and butter to flour mixture and beat well till mixture is light and smooth.
Spoon mixture into cup cake trays or paper cup cake holders and bake for 1 hr. or till cakes are cooked.
To make icing, place icing sugar and butter in a bowl and mix to make the icing spreadable. Mix in food colour if using. Spread icing over top of cold cup cake.
4oz butter softened
4oz brown sugar
1 tsp Vanilla essence
1 egg lightly beaten
1oz cocoa powder
4oz candy (gems) available in the local markets.
Place butter, brown sugar, sugar and essence in a bowl and beat until fluffy. Gradually beat until fluffy. Gradually beat in egg. Sift together flour and cocoa. Add flour mixture and candy to butter mixture and mix well to combine. Cover with plastic food wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins or till mixture is firm.
Drop tablespoons of mixture onto lightly greased trays and bake for 8-10 mins. or until cookies are firm. Cool, before eating.
Choco Rough Muffins
4oz butter softened
2 eggs lightly beaten
8oz sifted flour
1, tsp baking powder
1oz Cocoa powder sifted
5oz chocolate chopped
Place butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until fluffy. Gradually beat in eggs. Combine flour, cocoa and baking powder. Add chocolate bits and milk to butter mixture. Add also flour mixture and mix till combined.
Spoon muffin mixture in muffin pans and bake for 35 minutes or until cooked.
A couple more quick recipes for tiffin
(A) Stir fried sausages in Bar-be-cue sauce.
After boiling the sausages, in a frying pan, pour some sauce, add the sausages till they start to blister,
(B) Fried chicken (8 pieces)
Boil the chicken pieces with salt, pepper Soya sauce (2tbsp) and ginger/garlic.
Then dip the chicken pieces into lightly beaten eggs and crumbs and fry. I prefer cornflakes crushed for frying purposes.