Rehaan ka Dabba in the world of Maggi

Re has just entered the fascinating world of the dabba. I should say school, for it sounds more politically correct and milestone-ish, but no, dabba it is. No, he is not one of those children who ‘Doesn’t do food’, much as moms these days seem to display it as a feat. Re digs food and all the credit goes to me (thank you!). The OPU will just about eat to live, although sometimes I have heard him make appropriate sounds while eating (if I am awake at that unearthly hour).

For the first two weeks of school, I hung out with Re in class (no, I didn’t choose one of those Nazi schools where they don’t let you step beyond the threshold) and watched the proceeds unfold, and was equal party to it, with my own little snack and thermos of tea. I have now been relegated to the garden area, where I have my tea under a tree and write (yes, it’s all getting very idyllic and Ruskin Bond-ish and I love it).

By day three, Re figured out that the dabba was indeed, an exciting part of his day and a great reason to go to school.  Of course he was pushing it when he asked to eat his dabba within half hour of entering school, but I managed to convince him to wait for the appointed hour. “Else what will you eat when others are eating?”, I asked. He saw my point and agreed.

On day two, I began to eavesdrop on other dabbas. I always do that. Have always done it. I judge people by their dabbas. Go, judge me.

The dabbas were of course, all nice, colourful, attractive, in sizes ranging from the microscopic to the gargantuan, shapes from basic squares and circles to  houses, ships, pigs, phones and butterflies. Some with 3-D images on their tops, some with multiple layers, matching cutlery and water bottles.

What was inside the dabbas left much to be desired though. Here is what I saw. Chivda. Chips. French fries. Biscuits. Kelloggs chocos. Maggi. Bread jam. Maggi. Bread-cheese. Farsan. Potato smileys. Kurkure. Maggi. Cheese balls. Little hearts. Kurmura chivda. Biscuits. And yes, the occasional idli or chapati roll or cut fruit, the only things that smelt of home.

I thought of my mother ever so fondly and how exciting she used to make my dabbas. For as long as I can remember, going to school was always about ‘What’s in my dabba?’ Mine was a working mom, but my dabba never reflected that.  I never had biscuits or bread-jam in mine. Some days, there were idlis smothered in molagapodi or dosas stuffed with potato filling. At other times, there was the fluffy cabbage upma (my mom’s top 5 tiffin items, write for recipe in comments section), or poha speckled with coconut or shev and coriander, or with lots of peanuts or crispy potatoes or uttapams with stuffings of this and that. There was tomato rice and lemon rice and tamarind rice (again peanuts ruled) and curd rice with grated carrots or cucumber bits. Some days, there were even cutlets or medu vadas (mostly Saturdays, when mom was home). My favourite was still sabudana khichdi, and I loved eating the potato bits and then getting to the rest of it (shockingly, Re does the same).

My zest for the dabba continued through college, through internship, through my moving out of home and cooking for myself, till my last job and is the same even now. What I enjoyed the most about my pregnancy was the legitimisation of multiple dabbas and the fact that I could eat when I wanted, no eyebrows raised. In fact what motivates me about getting Re ready for school is what will I pack in his dabba today?

I still remember in one of my many jobs, I had a dabba partner and we ordered a dabba from this Gujarati lady, Bhavnaben who would send us hot phulkas smothered in ghee, two vegetables, a dal or kadhi, rice and papad for a measly 35 rupees. He was the only man who could match me morsel for morsel, and every afternoon, it was a race for who would get to the dabba first (there was some thrill at getting first dibs at the least perspiring chapatti or the biggest chunks of aloo).

Re and I have a similar race with our food. Sometimes, he robs me of peanuts in my lemon rice, or the crust of my dosa, sometimes it’s the crispy aloos in the sabudana khichdi or poha, sometimes it’s the dollop of butter on my aloo paratha, or the dahi.

On day one of school, Re had hummus with cucumber and carrot sticks. Everyone turned to look at him scooping out his hummus. I wasn’t trying to show off, there was leftover hummus from Sunday dinner, and I figured why not make a dabba out of it? I am not a gourmet cook and do the regular upma, dosa, uttapam, chila, idli (in its various avatars), poha and sabudana khichdi, aloo and sprout chaat. Sometimes, he gets home-baked cake or cookies.

I meet more mommies now than ever before. At school. In parks. In cafes. At brunch.  In parking lots. In elevators. In bookshops. We often get chatting. And they often talk about food as being one of their biggest woes. When mothers whine that their kids don’t eat breakfast, I ask them what did you eat? They mumble something about a glass of milk or cereal or cornflakes. Then I ask them, does food make you happy? They look at me like I asked them about their sex life.

And it’s not that I wake up at 5 am and slog away in the kitchen. I am just intelligent and Nigella about it. A baked cake is dabba for four days. Cookies can go for a week. Hummus and Tsatsiki can be converted into sandwich spreads. And sandwiches are a mommy’s best friend (but you can do better than jam/cheese). Idli/dosa batter is the most versatile thing to have in your fridge. And there is no end to the goodies you can add to an upma or a paratha. Spinach. Carrots. Sprouts. Peppers. Beans. Peas.

Go figure. Food is intuitive. At least that’s how it should be. Try different things and figure out what works for your child. My tip is, make it visually exciting. Make it look good. All you need is colours. So a red and green upma with carrots and peas will score over an insipid gooey mush of a Maggi any day.

This week, we had a strawberry bonanza, so Re’s dabba has gone fruity. Every day, he gets chopped strawberries with one other fruit (it has to be a different colour, else Re says, “Where are my happy colours?”)

Which brings me to the moral of the story. If you don’t have a passionate relationship with food, there is no way your child will have one. So if you want your child to eat well, it’s time to start your affair with food. Size zero be damned. Pre-pregnancy weight be damned.

So stop whining and start cooking. If you can’t cook, surely you can think? Or read books, look up the internet, delegate, get involved. There is nothing cool about saying “I can’t cook”. For your own good, I hope the husbands can.

In any case, a Nigella mom is always sexier than a Maggi mom. And it’s never too late to start.


45 thoughts on “Rehaan ka Dabba in the world of Maggi

  1. I would love to fill my son’s dabba with such nutritious options – that is when he actually has teeth – but I fear I am going to be the chips and chakli kind of mom. I have a passionate relationship with food that does not include the making of it. The most I can extend myself to is healthy meals, I have a feeling snacks shall be unhealthy. Fruit, however, sounds doable.

    • You will get the batter at most kirana shops, but one portion of rice to one-fourth portion of udid dal is standard for idlis. For dosas, it’s one to half. Soak separately, grind in blender or wet-grinder (if u have). For dosas, a few methi seeds soaked with the rice make the dosas crisper. Best to soak in the afternoon, grind in the evening and allow to ferment overnight and make next day. Leftover batter can be converted to uttapams by adding whatever u want.

  2. “Else what will you eat when others are eating?” – 🙂 Thanks, Lalitha… I’ll remember this when the new children come to school in June and need to be kept away from their dabbas.

  3. this is an excellent, excellent post. there are so many things here that i’d love to pat you on the back for. the fact that you spend time on Re’s dabba, the fact that you fearlessly say there is nothing cool about saying “i can’t cook”, that you give a rap on the knuckle of mums who proudly say their kids don’t “do” food (you echo my sentiments there). for the first few months of my daughter’s playschool, she took healthy snack boxes. and then she reached a point where she would bring hitherto favorites uneaten. so we did the sausages/bread jam/chapati roll routine. it broke them monotony and now we’re back to fruit/nuts/other healthy things in her snack box. apart from being good for her, it makes me feel better about myself 😛 that said, i am guilty of considering wholemeal bread and cheese is not all that unhealthy; that goes towards her daily dose of calcium and fibre.

  4. such a refreshing read… i always preach there’s nothing to be proud of the “i cant cook” state of being its a bloody life skill…. and yes, kids emulate so parents had better lead by example… i have no kids… but i see the difference in children who have parents who make the attempt to put variety on the table and the ones who choose maggi made shortcuts!

  5. Can I have the recipe for that scrummy sounding cabbage upma please? I’m always looking for innovative things to do with cabbage since the humble aloo-gobi sabzi always gets the turned up nose at my dinner table 😦
    My daughter’s school has a set snack list for the dabba so that the kids don’t kill each other for their tiffins during break time, and most of the moms are always pestering the teachers to include ‘simple’ snacks like biscuits and chips. One time they had pasta in the snack list and the teacher nearly got mauled. I think I’m going to direct some of those moms here to this eminently sensible post.

    • Hahaha Manasi, happy to help. Please direct the biscuit and chips mommies here, although I might just earn a few more enemies.
      For the cabbage upma: Chop a quarter of a cabbage fine (greener the better, just for aesthetics). In a pan add ghee (one tbsp, i think) and rai and udid dal and allow to splutter. Add a pinch of hing, then add chopped cabbage and a finely chopped piece of ginger. Sautee well, but don’t overcook (it tastes nicer when cabbage is slightly crunchy). Now add four cups of water to this mixture and salt to taste and a pinch of sugar, mix well and bring to boil. Into this, add one cup of pre-roasted rava, stirring well so that no lumps are formed. The liquid will soon be all soaked in, but keep stirring. Switch off gas, cool upma by stirring further, and garnish with fresh coconut if you like (I usually don’t do it)

  6. its so fabulous to read this post of yours. And cant agree more with the fact that dabba thoughts are so exciting. I am not a food lover, but I love cooking, makes my affair with food very interesting. My daughter loves her dabba’s, her fascination for them is so much that even in the evenings at home she sometimes wants to snack from the dabba.. 🙂

  7. Great post! I have cribbed about the crap packed into dabbas to anyone who cares to listen. It really does not require great cooking skills, just some thought and motivation to make sure chemical crap does not go into your kid’s stomach!

    ps have been silently reading your blog after you sent me the link on fb – but had to comment on this one.

  8. you are amazing. i am not quite a maggi mom, but far away from being a nigella mom. a fact i realised a few days ago much to my mortification. am slowly trying to improve. your post further inspired me.

  9. was nodding my head in agreement all through this post.
    i think i come from another planet….but isnt maggi the worst kind of crap to give toddlers? i mean…its boiled maidapreservativenonsense for heavens sake!! and yet my son’s playgroup classmates have it in their dabba’s so often:(

    there was a phase where my son was crazy about biscuits….i would put in a couple in his tiffin along with paratha/ idly/upma etc…but only the biscuit would come back eaten…rest intact. Now its always fruit plus the other solids. the fruit is always eaten clean…alongwith most of the other item 🙂

    i agree 100% that kids enthu for food has to come from what they see around them. if you eat all veggies…ur kid is that much more likely to try them.

  10. Great Post Lalitaaa. Sometimes i get paranoid on what to give my son, when i am left alone with him (once in a while). But again, wifey makes sure she keeps stuff handy, like Parathas, Chocos with milk etc. We dont have to send a dabba to his school, as the school serves the breakfast. however whenever we inquire of what he had, there is only one patent reply pohaaa khaye and pura finish kiye lols.

    Keep it up Re and Lalita

  11. my favouritest post till date i say 😀 😀 no marks for guessing why!
    i looove food and i love ‘dabbas’ and i miss them so much since i work from home now. and i was so much like Re as far as eating within half an hour of being at school, college or work 😛 (and i used to eat from others’ dabbas when actual dabba time happened! shameless me! :P)
    i love the way you have talked about food in general and for children (esp. the passion and affair bit). i sooo agree! people need to re-look at their perspectives and behaviour patterns. Cooking is so much fun 😀 Not married no kids yet but i find myself planning dabba menus for kids quite often! it was whole lot of fun reading this one! thanks :-))

    • Hey Kalyani, thank you! So glad to find a kindred spirit. Also you don’t have to miss dabbas just coz you work from home. Just carry one and go off to the beach or the park or even (sic) the mall (i still do that, even i work from home). It makes work more exciting.
      I envy your (to be) kids. We shall swap dabba ideas!

  12. nice blog…re dabba…i feel the same. i am not “fond” of cooking in a big way. but love doing kids dabbas (7am school). we do the idli dosas upmas(the mangloreans do million type of dosa-the OPU in our home is a mangy), but what i enjoy is coming up w/ something when there is no prep! coz i need breakfast and dabba at that early hour, and try not to do the same for both. the son does complain that they call him south indian (not that i am complaing abt my dabba, my friends and me, we like it he sez).. so what do they get thats interesting “oreos, chips” he says. sigghhh reminds me of my time…we too complained of “healthy” dabbas!
    this morn i did a pizza sandwich for dabba, as they had dosa for bkft. w/ whole wheat bread tawa toasted w/ cheese+chopped onion, capsicum, grated carrot and some oregano/chilli/flakes and some ketchup smeared under the top slice… u have a recipe section in ur blog…will go look…

    • Your reply is yummalicious! I am going to try the sandwich tmrw. No, I don’t have a recipe section (no time to update one regularly, which is imp), but i do have a section called “Lesser Morsels” in my other blog which has recipes. It used to be an old food column that i managed to archive. Let me know what you think.

      • heheh i just came back here from reading those…love the doodhi in yogurt…made a variation w/ turai this morn! a punju friend told me abt it. love the love the delhiites have for their winter veggies….!
        also noticed u are a pharmacist…great u made the transition to writing….i walked the science path for about 18yrs…! am into teaching nw, tho what i wd really love is to rip apart the edu system…sigghhh! lack the initiative/courage! learning is sucha burden, am surprised that we have folks going to college at all! esp now when “graduation” is not such a reqt as it was say 20yrs ago!

  13. Great post Lalita. My son would start pre-school soon and I am told they have a fixed snack list. I am already packing food for his day care and it really surprises me that despite not having great culinary skills, I still love making stuff for him, especially his dabba. The cabbage upama recipe sounds fun, so am going to try that out soon. Meanwhile, would love more suggestions on stuff that I can pack in the dabba.

  14. Hey. It is great to read your blog…thank god my daughter is a good eater like your son. I get strange looks from moms when I say she eats hummus n pita bread n prefers kiwis to bananas and doesn’t eat sauces n synthetic jams. I guess it depends on us totally like you said. N yes I feel really proud.

  15. Brilliant, as always! Loved this post, and while I am nowhere close to having a kid, I certainly love my food and make it a point to cook. Sabudana kichdi continues to be my favorite too! 🙂

  16. Goodness! I thought I was the only one crazy! The moment my son started going to school (Playgroup, and I talk like a grown up’s mom!), I was excited about two things – packing his lunch box and label-stickers! Unfortunately, this school gave us a menu for 5-6 days – makes it all the more exciting to innovative. It has become my personal playground – making smiley faces in colored rice, making roti-cutlets, mickey-mouse dosas and what-not!

  17. Pingback: Pulse fiction: How I fell in love with my legumes all over again | mommygolightly

  18. Hi, I loved this post and I so agree with you….I am also a mom who loves to give something different to my daughter in her dabba everyday so as to keep the excitement intact. My daughter also loves food…she enjoys all the healthy things even soups as much as she enjoys junk food which I give her once in a while.. 🙂

  19. Reblogged this on Raindrops and commented:
    எங்க வீட்டில கூட விதவிதமாக சாப்பாட்டு டப்பா நிரப்பப்படும். சமைப்பது ஒரு தவம்.சாப்பிடுபவர்களுக்கு அதுவே வரம்!

  20. Your post took me back to the days when my mum used to pack my dabbas – and whether for school or at home, maggi was never an option as a snack. I barely had any maggi growing up, and I’m guessing, for that reason, I don’t like it at all. Reading this, I think my mum did a good job filling my lunch box with the likes of aloo parathas and poha 🙂

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