The 7 am lunchbox for your kids
Obsessed with what to pack for your kid's dabba? Two Mumbaikars have a morning tiffin service ready for you
At the mention of Mumma's Dabba, Sujata Modi talks in a continuous sigh of relief. The 47-year-old home baker, a Dadar resident, who has been availing of the tiffin services of Wadala-based Jinisha Shah for over a fortnight, it seems that the only thing Shah could have done better is launched it a decade ago.
Modi's 17-year-old daughter, who studies in Std XII at Vile Parle's Jamnabai Narsee School, has the strict schedule of most Mumbaikars: leave home at 6.02 am, catch the 6.08 am train from Wadala station to reach her school, which starts at 7 am. This means that Modi's day would begin at 5.30 am in order to put together her daughter's dabba. Some times, she is up till midnight finishing the orders. Like most working women who have a day packed with work and a fitness regime, waking up at that hour "is just something you're not capable of".
Fortunately for her, Shah's dabba, reaches her home at 6.01 am on the dot.
Jinisha Shah wakes up at 3.30 am to prepare the dabbas, a task that needs to be finished before 6 am, which is when the food is packed and sent for delivery. To connect with the service, call 9819504011. Pics/Ashish Raje
Filling a vacuum
Mother to seven-year-old Shreya, Shah, 33, a French teacher who recently turned home chef, knows how tough it is to prep meals for a school-going child. The long hours at schools mean that kids need to carry snacks. Often, in a rush to meet their own hurried schedules, Mumbai parents are left with little option but to hand over lunch money to spend at the school canteen. Shah knows that if adults find healthy food choices difficult to make, kids are even more prone to picking a burger over idli. And, having grown up wanting to become a chef - her dad ran a restaurant in Pune - now seemed like a good time to start something new.
Husband Chirag, who runs a contact lens business, announced the business on local networking WhatsApp groups, and within three days, they received 150 enquiries. Many wanted to start the service the next day. But, much care needed to be put into the service, which currently extends from Wadala and Sion to Matunga and Dadar.
For the last two years, Rashmi Bakshi has been meeting the dabba needs of her neighbours at her Goregaon West building. If you live between Andheri and Malad and would like to avail of her service, call 9819396687. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
The couple went through a series of tiffin boxes to find one that would keep food fresh, was leak-proof and would be easy for children to open and shut. Additionally, every child gets two sets of boxes: when the new set arrives in the morning, they have to return the previous day's dabba, washed. But, the Shahs know that kids will be kids and may forget or lose the dabbas, and so there are back-ups. They also know that kids are fussy eaters and variety is the secret to a full tummy. So, a menu is prepared for the entire month, with each day sporting a different subzi and snacks (could even be fruits or sprouts), with enough care being taken to ensure that proteins, vitamins and good carbs get their due. Because Fridays are casual in the corporate world, students are allowed junk food. For instance, a mini burger with a vegetable pattice that's lightly fried, pizza or even nachos.
Rashmi Bakshi, caterer
Modi, who took up Shah's invite to have a look at her kitchen, is happy with the hygiene standard, as it reflects her own. What she likes about the dabba that Shah sends is the attention to detail and quiet pampering that her daughter gets. "She even peels and cuts the bananas, which makes my daughter happy. Also, Jinisha is open to customising the dabba. For instance, once she had planned to send rice and dal, but my daughter, who often eats lunch during her tuitions, says it would have been inconvenient for her to mix the rice and dal in class. So, Jinisha sent a dry lunch instead." In order to support a female entrepreneur, Modi wants to publicise the service as much as she can.
If the adults are happy, so are the kids. Aarna Popat, the 14-year-old daughter of Sion resident Ssanket Popat, says the mini burger made for the perfect snack, ensuring she didn't get hungry before lunch.
For Ssanket Popat, a 41-year-old single father, managing the morning dabba for his two girls, Aahana, 9, and Aarna, 14, can be quite a task. Mumma's Dabba brings to the kids a snack variety including upma and mini burgers. Pics/Ashish Raje
A sensitive lunch
The challenge in cooking for children is that care needs to be taken for not just health and presentation, but also taste and spice levels. Rashmi Bakshi, a 53-year-old home baker in Goregaon West, has been packing dabbas for the children in her building for the last two years, and though it's a challenge, she manages it only because she enjoys it. "We have to ensure that the food remains fresh until the time the children eat their lunch. Consistency has to be perfect as well. For instance, while making pasta, I need to ensure it's neither sticky nor runny; it can be semi-liquid. One has to account for the fact that children, unlike adults, don't have access to microwaves at the school, and so, what they eat should remain tasty even at room temperature." Bakshi's day begins at 4.30 am, because most Mumbai schools don't allow outside dabbas to be delivered at the gates. So, the delivery needs to happen before the school bus arrives.
While Bakshi charges Rs 100-Rs 150 per dabba, Shah's service is at Rs 120-Rs 150 a day. The price depends on the subscription you choose. They even offer quarterly rates. Both serve only vegetarian dabbas. Shah has been requested to bring in meat from another caterer and add it to her dabba, but it's not something her religious practice as a Jain will allow her to do. But, even the family that made the request is utilising Shah's service. Such is the need for a morning tiffin service in a city that doesn't let you sleep.
The art of prepping a child's meal
Consulting nutritionist and clinical dietician Pooja Makhija's 2017 book, Eat Delete Junior: Child Nutrition for Zero to Fifteen Years, addressed the pertinent problem of what to pack in your child's lunchbox. Makhija says, whether it's hiring a service or cooking it on your own, you need to ensure that the "five fingers of nutrition" - carbs (idli, dosa, rice, rotis, poha), proteins (dal, fish, chicken, paneer), fat (from cooking or nuts), vitamins and minerals (fruits and veggies) - are present to ensure adequate fuel for physical and mental performance at school and later. The dabbas, she says, should ideally be of steel as chemicals from plastic, aluminum foil or cling wraps leech into the food. And the only way to prevent food from going bad in Mumbai's heat and humidity? Using insulated containers or ensuring a short time between prep and consumption.
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