Tiffin Tales

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
(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
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.

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