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Vegan lunch box ideas

For new age parents who have begun to discover food that is healthy, ethically produced, and minimally processed, here are good reasons for going vegan with some attractive vegan lunch box ideas – Bhumika K
Do you suffer anxiety about the ethics and origins of the food on your dining table? Or do you have allergies-prone children? Then, you seriously need to evaluate the benefits of going vegan.

Vegans are people who choose not to eat animal-based products — either because they want to eat cruelty-free food, or believe that plant-based foods are as good or better than dairy and meat products. They believe this way of life can contribute to an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle. There is a growing community of vegans in India, who are getting creative with their food, blogging about it, sharing ideas and resources. And they are also sharing this lifestyle with their children.

Revathi Anne Jagan, a Bangalore-based homemaker and former air hostess, has been vegan since 2011. Her family including children Chiara (11) and Neil (8) chose to go vegan in 2016. They know and understand my reasons for eating ethically. And we watched the documentary Earthlings last year as a celebration of World Vegan Day (November 1), and that converted them to veganism,” says Jagan. On a daily basis, their lunch boxes are very easy to pack — the snack is usually fruit, nuts or seeds. For instance I might pack them pears and lotus seeds. Lunch is usually rice or rotis with a curry of dal/ channa/ rajma/ quinoa/some other lentils or beans — quinoa-peas-potato is their favourite and a vegetable simply sautéed

Once a week, the children get pasta with a sauce in which she hides a lot of veggies. Some days they get tofu-mushroom fried rice. If Im lazy or wake up a little late, they get rasam-rice and a veggie. When they come home from school, the kids get a treat of zucchini bread or chocolate cake,” she elaborates.

Is vegan food nutritious?
Jagan believes veganism can meet the bodys nutritional needs as long as a wholesome plant-based diet with plenty of raw fruit and veggies is followed. My children and I also take a B12 supplement as B12 is found in only animal foods. They play a lot of sports and learn the piano so their week is jam-packed but they still have loads of energy. I believe they are two of the healthiest kids around,” she says.

Rheea Mukherjee, a Bangalore-based writer and vegan baker, and author of the blog ‘Messy Cooking, Always Vegan, concurs. There are so many myths about the nutritional potency of foods such as milk, eggs, and meat. A plants-based diet can be nutritious but first, be open to it and understand it. Children arent rooted to habit the way adults are, which is why it is not so difficult for the next generation to go vegan,” says Mukherjee.

Well-planned veganism

According to Anjali Dange V, consultant nutritionist and founder, Starlite Wellness Centre, Vishakapatnam, just like there are good and bad everyday diets, there are good and bad vegan diets. To ensure children follow a healthy vegan diet, parents have to be very well researched and informed about veganism,” she says, advising parents to ensure that children eat large quantities of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds so that they get all the micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) necessary for physical growth and development.

Children need supplements for physiologically important nutrients such as iron and calcium. Therefore, vegan proteins have to be paired wisely to ensure they receive a complete set of amino acids necessary for muscle growth. Sometimes it becomes necessary to increase fat intake to meet the daily calories requirements of the body. Immunity can get compromised when the vitamin levels drop in meal patterns,” warns Dange.

Bangalore-based Lakshmi Anand, a vegan food blogger, yoga and fitness enthusiast, and her husband have been vegans for five years. Her children Chinmayi (8) and Pranav (6) also took to veganism of their own volition three years ago. I try to balance the carbs, proteins and vitamin-mineral-fibre in their snack and lunch boxes. My advice would be to infuse more natural colours into childrens diets. More colourful fruits and vegetables look attractive to children,” says Anand.

Recommended lunch boxes

Jagan says nut spreads and homemade preserves are very easy to make and children often enjoy making them on weekends. The more involved children are in making food, the more willing they will be to eat it. Almost all recipes can be adapted to veganism. Moreover, there are plenty of vegan cooking websites one can refer for ideas. For an occasional treat, there are vegan goodies such as chocolates, gelato ice creams, cookies, and even vegan sausages in the market,” she says.

On her blog ‘Cook It Up With Love, Anand offers a large repertoire of vegan lunch box ideas — vegetables stuffed parathas with cashew cream, multi-grain bread sandwiches, millet dosas, red rice idlis topped with cashews and grated carrots, momos stuffed with cabbage and capsicum, idiappam (string hoppers), kurma with coconut milk, and puttu (steamed rice cake) with black channa curry.

Susmitha Subbaraju, chef and co-owner of Bengalurus vegan restaurant, Carrots, suggests making vegan food as colourful, interesting and attractive looking as possible. Including some raw fruit and vegetables helps,” says Subbaraju, who also blogs at Veganosaurus. Send some chocolate flavoured nut-based mylk (vegan non-dairy milk) shakes in little bottles for lunch. They never fail to please children. The trick is to ensure that your child feels pride and joy in having her lunch, and could be an example to other children to demand healthier food choices from their parents,” adds Subbaraju.

Challenges and criticism

Finding recipes for vegan lunch-boxes should not be a problem, as any parent who needs to pack a vegan meal can read up or access the necessary information on the Internet, says Shilpa Mogilishetty, co-founder of Jus Amazin Foods and Beverages, a Bengaluru-based start-up focused on providing nutritious food for people with special dietary needs.

In the Indian context, the main challenge of accessing vegan ingredients and products that will make for varied, delicious, healthy, and wholesome vegan meals,” says Mogilishetty who also conducts workshops for parents. Very often, parents quickly develop a basic repertoire. Problems start when children get tired of the same vegan recipes. Then parents need to expand their repertoire.

Then there is the question of changing mindsets. Jagan does get criticised for being a vegan mum — but it only comes from people who dont understand or havent researched veganism. Age-old thinking of high protein requirements still holds sway. My response is to tell them to think of horses and elephants — some of the strongest in the animal kingdom — who get all the essential amino acids (protein needs) and nutrients just from leaves, grass and the sun!” says Jagan.

Millet and vegetables whole-wheat wraps

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup chopped vegetables such as carrots, beans, potatoes, broccoli, capsicum, etc for the stir fry (1 inch pieces)
1/4 cup foxtail millets
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 tsp roasted cumin powder
1/2 tsp pepper powder
1/2 tsp red chilly powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1-2 green chillies
2 tsp lemon juice
Coarsely chopped coriander leaves
Few mint leaves
1/4 cup peanuts
5 or 6 deseeded dates
1 tsp oil
Salt to taste

Preparation guide

Mix the whole wheat flour with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Slowly add warm water, mix and knead well for five minutes till you get a smooth dough. Set aside for 15 minutes

To cook the millets, first wash and soak for 10 minutes. Then drain the water and add 3/4 cups water, salt to taste and pressure cook for three whistles. Set aside.

In a pan, dry roast peanuts till they are crunchy, but not overly roasted. Remove from the pan and cool.

Blend the roasted peanuts, chopped dates, mint leaves, a pinch of salt, red chilly powder, and grind nicely. Add some water and blend to get a smooth sauce. The peanut-dates sauce is now ready.

To make the salsa, mix chopped tomatoes, onions, and green chillies, cumin powder, salt, lemon juice, and coriander leaves in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat a teaspoon of oil in an iron wok. Add turmeric powder. Now add the chopped vegetables one by one and sauté. Make sure they are cooked and yet maintain a crunch. Add salt, pepper powder, and mix well. Lastly, add the cooked millets and mix well.

Now make slightly thick rotis with the whole wheat flour.

For making the wrap, take one roti, spread the peanut dates sauce, sprinkle some salsa, and place the stir fried veggies and millet mix neatly in the middle. Wrap the roti around it, and dive in!

As a variation, you could use other sauces such as tahini, or hummus, or cashew cheese. Instead of millets, you could use red rice, or rajma, or kabuli channa too.

(Recipe and photo: Lakshmi Anand, Cook It Up With Love)

The article was published in the print version ofParentsWorldSeptember 2017 issue.

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