Tuesday, January 24, 2017

10 ways to clean and maintain lunch boxes to prevent spoilage of packed food

Ever since I started posting pictures of lunch boxes on my facebook page and then did a series about lunch boxes for adults here, I have been getting random queries about packing food in lunch boxes.

All these queries may seem mundane but I knew the bottom line is the same. How to make the food stay fresh in the lunch box for 3-4 hours or more, it may be a challenge in the diverse climate we experience through the year. In summer there are chances of the food getting spoiled and in winters it may get too cold and dry, some foods get soggy when packed and some foods become chewy and inedible.

Oh and some foods become smelly and they seem to get the smell of the food that you had packed yesterday in the same lunch box.

While most of us figure out what foods will stay edible till the lunch or snack time, many of us stay clueless about the fact that it is the lunch box, its cleaning and maintenance that can affect the food in certain harmful ways.

If the food gets smelly by lunch time, or gets soggy and tasteless, if the food leaks or stains the insides of the lunch box, you need to take care of a few facts about your choice of lunch box and how you clean and maintain them.

1. Use the most appropriate type of lunch box for your type of food to be packed. You need to eat a tasty filling meal for your lunch or even a snack so please take care to choose your lunch box rightly. There are specific lunch boxes for sandwiches, for curries, for salads, breads and crackers etc.

If your kid brings back her food untouched it doesn't mean she is not interested in food. Most probably the food gets insipid by her lunch time or she finds it difficult to hold the food while eating.

Some really nice sectioned lunch boxes may be the best for kids and adults like, choose the shape and size suits the requirement.

2. Choose good looking lunch boxes and water bottles if your kid is a fussy eater. It helps in most cases as they feel proud of what they bring. Most importantly, the lunch boxes should suit the type of food you are packing for them. A snug fitting leak proof lid is important if you are packing wet foods but if you mostly pack dry type of food you can easily choose cute hand painted steel dabbas too.

Do not use hard brushes and abrasive cleaners if the lunch boxes are hand painted like the ones above.

3. Use appropriate brushes and soft sponges to clean the lunch boxes of all types. The detergent should be non abrasive because the abrasions become the breeding spots for bacteria and fungi that cause food poisoning and make the food spoil, get smelly etc.

Some sectioned lunch boxes come with a superbly snug fitting lid that has the grooves lined with a delicate silicone cushion. These need more attentive cleaning as any food particles stuck to the silicone lined grooves make hidden breeding spots for pathogens.

I have seen a young child whose IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) symptoms were not being traced back to a definite cause but when the lunch boxes started getting cleaned properly her IBS got cured. Better be careful about the cleaning of your kids' lunch boxes and not leave it to the house help who may not be aware of the harm.

4. Do not reheat the food in lunch box for too long in the microwave oven. It is better to avoid reheating but do it quickly if you must, don't ever heat the food too much or for too long. Frequent reheating in a wrong way can cause degeneration of the plastic in the even in the best quality plastic lunch boxes. Also, remember not to freeze food in the lunch boxes too frequently if you want your lunch box last longer and to prevent chemical leaching from the surface. 

5. Pack some hand towels and tissue papers along with the lunch boxes not just to wipe hands after eating but to wipe the empty lunch box too. When you wipe the lunch box with a tissue after eating your food it becomes clean and dry enough to not let any bacteria or fungi breed in it till you reach home and get the lunch box cleaned.

This works like a charm and we follow it diligently. The lunch box smells awful when opened for cleaning if not wiped dry with a tissue paper, so Arvind always follows this simple rule after finishing his lunch.

6. Clean the lunch box asap after reaching home as the waiting time increases the chances of germs breeding in them. The grooves in the lid make the lunch boxes more susceptible to germ breeding than other everyday use utensils.

7. Rinse the lunch boxes with hot water if you pack buttery foods or coconut chutney, oily dips etc.Hot water wash is also needed if you pack foods with strong smells or flavors, foods that leave stains like curries and pickles.

8. Once a week get all lunch boxes dipped into hot water with vinegar and pinch of soda bi carb. It helps dislodge all odours and stains that may be clinging to the surface. Note that the cleaning brushes and sponges also need this treatment so clean them thoroughly to keep them germ free too.

9. Get all the lunch box bags cleaned in a washing machine once every fortnight or as required. Use appropriate wash mode, most bags need a gentle mode and mild detergent. Sun dry them thoroughly before using them again.

10. Drop in a few dry orange rind or dry basil flowers along with the lunch boxes to keep them odour free. Do not use chemical De-odourants of any type for either lunch boxes or the bags meant to carry them.

A pouch of silica gel can be slipped into the bag to keep it dry but be careful in case of children.

Last but not the least, don't forget to comment, give you inputs, ask questions about these issues and enter a chance to this fabulous giveaway.

Please don't forget to leave your mail id or keep a tab on the upcoming blogposts about lunch boxes to know what you have won. There are some nice lunch boxes waiting to become yours.

So tell me what do you do to maintain your lunch boxes? Did you find this blogpost helpful?

Tell me what lunch box related queries do you have? I might include the queries and suggestions in the next blogposts, this series will continue till the end of the next month.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

a green chutney with sesame and its multiple uses

Sometimes we do everyday discoveries just because we are driven by necessity. This green chutney with sesame seeds is one such serendipity that happened out of compulsion of eating sesame everyday. After the Chik-V sickness that we suffered last year in August we have been eating sesame, flax seeds, nuts and loads of healing foods everyday without fail, it has helped too but it is a slow process of healing. More about that later, I wanted to share this green chutney that proved to be a real pleasure to stock in the fridge.

So I had loads of green garlic and green coriander growing in the garden and I asked the cook to grind a coarse chutney combining these with some sesame seeds. The good thing is that she (the new cook) comes from a region known for sesame cultivation and she took great interest in this green chutney along with all things sesame I have been doing. My motive was to use this chutney for the everyday raitas and sprout salads but it turned out so good that it was made twice again, the only grudge is that I couldn't take pictures of all the things we did with it.

a green chutney with sesame and its multiple uses

green chutney with sesame seeds 

100 gm green garlic with all leaves and bulbs, cleaned
200 gm green coriander with the stems, cleaned 
4-6 green chilies or as per taste
200 gm sesame seeds preferably raw or lightly roasted
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)


Chop the green garlic and green coriander roughly, mix with other ingredients and pulse in a food processor or mixie jar to make a coarse paste. This chutney is great as it is, served with an Indian meal or used like a pesto.

Store in a glass jar and refrigerate for 3-4 days.

The best use we found for this chutney was a twist to the everyday alu matar (new potatoes and fresh peas) stir fry that makes a great lunch box meal.

Boiled new potatoes are stir fried with fresh peas in a tempering of cumin seeds in mustard oil, a generous amount of this green chutney with sesame is the only seasoning added. The taste is so good that it gave way to more potato combinations with this chutney.

a green chutney with sesame and its multiple uses

Check out the lunch box series and the giveaway that is up for you. This picture was clicked for that purpose luckily but I am sharing more ways to use this chutney for you.  

Here are some ways we loved this green chutney with sesame..
  1. Smear this chutney liberally over crisp toast to make a filling breakfast. A smear of this chutney and a few thin slices of paneer or cooked chicken makes a great grilled sandwich too.
  2. One heaped tbsp of this chutney mixed with 1/2 cup of sprouts and 2 tbsp crisp puffed rice makes a great evening snack with tea. Try that sometime.
  3. Two heaped tbsp of this chutney mashed up with 2 medium sized boiled potatoes makes a great stuffing for alu paratha. Have it with plain dahi and see how great it is.
  4. Add 2 tbsp of this chutney to steamed chopped cabbage to make a delicious salad, a drizzle of olive oil on top helps make it even more delicious. 
  5. Mixing this chutney with rice makes a great quick meal. About 1/4 cup of this chutney with 1/2 cup of rice makes a filling meal for one. 
  6. I loved this green chutney in the roasted eggplant and yogurt dip that I make with added tahini sometimes. The herbs in this chutney transformed this dip completely. For 1/2 cup of roasted, peeled, mashed brinjal, 3/4 cup of hung yogurt you need 1/4 cup of this green chutney to make a delicious dip.
a green chutney with sesame and its multiple uses

This dip was also used for one of the lunch boxes being shot and hence I have a picture incidentally. I packed this dip along with avocado and roasted tomato mash to be relished with bajra roti in lunch box.

a green chutney with sesame and its multiple uses

I will be sharing more ideas about how to pack millet based lunch box meals. There is a lot to be shared, time has been a great constraint but I am trying to overcome that and bring some more useful recipes and ideas for you in the new year. The new lunch box series is worth following and keep an eye on the giveaways too.

There are many more blogposts in the series and hopefully you all will like it this time too. The last lunch box series got a tremendous response and I kept getting more requests and more queries, hopefully I will be able to answer most of the queries this time.

Stay tuned friends.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

how to pack raw foods and cut fruits in lunch boxes | 15 ways to prevent nutrient loss in cut fresh produce

Many of my readers have been asking me for years about the possible nutrient loss in cut fruits and vegetables. I have been packing cut fruits and vegetables in lunch box for years and even get vegetables chopped for making our curries well in advance sometimes.

how to pack raw foods and cut fruits in lunch boxes

I had once come across a study that claimed that the nutrients are preserved better when they are frozen but that may feel like a marketing ploy by frozen food companies in the west. For cut fruits and vegetables to be consumed within a few hours everyday the nutrients are preserved pretty well. A study in 2006 suggests that there is insignificant nutrient loss when we cut the vegetables and fruits to be consumed after a few hours. See this to understand better.

how to pack raw foods and cut fruits in lunch boxes

Honestly speaking, I would prefer packing cut fruit in my lunch box for the simple reason that if I pack a whole apple and a whole papaya, cantaloupe or even mosambi (sweet lime) I wont feel like eating it in the busy work schedule. If I cut them and pack them with a fork, I would eat it regularly. So even if there is a 5-10% nutrient loss I will not mind that.

However we must take care to cut and pack the fruits and vegetables in such a way that the nutrient loss is minimal. Articles have been written about the perfect way to chop fruits and vegetables too. The oxidation of nutrients in fresh produce also depends on how they have been handled during transport from the farm to your table, so choose your fruits and vegetables well when you buy.

how to pack raw foods and cut fruits in lunch boxes

Considering all the concerns above, I would list a few precautions and the right way to chop and store fruits and vegetables if you plan to eat them within a few hours.
1. Be careful when you buy fruits and vegetables. Already overripe and damaged fresh produce wouldn't keep well after chopping. So use the overly mature and slightly damaged produce of cooking or for immediate consumption. It is not a good idea to store them even in uncut form.
2. Ensure a clean dry chopping board to chop the fruits and vegetables you are planning to pack in lunch box. Chopping boards are known to transmit E. Coli and Listeria innocua, especially where raw food is handled in bulk amounts. You wouldn't want upset stomach after eating raw foods.
3. Use a clean dry and sharp knife to chop. While cleanliness of the knife is to be ensured for the same reason as above, keeping the knife sharp is to minimize damage to the fruit and vegetables being chopped. More damage to the cells means more oxidization during storage.
4. Use clean, dry, opaque and airtight boxes to store and carry cut fruits and vegetables. Exposure to sun and air fastens the process of oxidization.
5. Sterilize your storage boxes or lunch boxes, chopping boards and knives properly at suitable intervals.  
6. Use a salad dressing to prevent nutrient loss from some of the cut fruits and vegetables. The acidic oily dressings ensure preserving the nutrients better and even help in better absorption of nutrients as well.
7. Hand tearing of lettuce and surface peeling of carrots is reported to be relatively free of bacterial contamination. The naturally torn surface of fresh produce cause minimal damage to the cells and it doesn't support bacteria growth.
8. Keeping the cut fruit chilled helps a lot. Do not pack cut fruits if you have to keep the lunch box in a hot place or in a car that is parked in the sun.
9. If mixing raw leafy greens or chopped onion, tomatoes etc to chickpea or black eyed peas salads, take care to cool down the cooked beans first and then mix with raw ingredients. It helps retain the texture and freshness of raw ingredients and prevents any unwanted fermentation or bacterial or fungal growth too. 
10. Try pairing carrot sticks or raw broccoli etc with interesting dips or hummus so you don't get bored of eating healthy. 
how to pack raw foods and cut fruits in lunch boxes
11. Local and seasonal produce is more likely to be fresh and retains its nutrients better. Try and include only locally grown fruits and vegetables generally and for cut salads too. We can depend fruits and vegetables grown within the country if not within the town.
12. The lunch box should be made of nonreactive material. This is a commonsense and I really don't need to enlist it since most of us use lunch boxes made of either stainless steel or good quality nonreactive plastic, but do remember that all plastic is not nonreactive and most plastic lunch boxes can be harmful when they are used for deep freezing and reheating in microwave ovens. It is better to pack food that can be eaten at room temperature. Reheating should be done for a really brief spurt of time if needed, dry food should not be reheated in MW ovens and too much reheating should be avoided absolutely.
13. The lunch box should be non abrasive material, and non abrasive cleaning devises should be used if using good quality plastic lunch boxes. If the lunch boxes get abrasion on the inner surface it helps breed pathogens, fungi and bacteria and any raw food kept in them is not safe for consumption. Liquid detergents and a soft brush is good to clean plastic (Tupperware) lunch boxes.  
14. Adding chopped nuts and seeds to chopped salads ensures the lunch box meal is filling and nutritious both. Same applies if you include a peanut butter or tahini based dip with carrot sticks or broccoli etc.
15. Sprouts make great raw and fuss free lunch box salads so keep including them to your chopped salads if you don't want to spend much time on assembling the lunch boxes. Pomegranate seeds are great additions to such salads.
how to pack raw foods and cut fruits in lunch boxes

I will be sharing a few more useful posts about packing healthy lunch boxes after this, there are a few exciting giveaways too so stay tunes and comment on all these posts sharing your concerns and experiences. It is a series of 4 blogposts and comments on each post will be eligible to enter the giveaway.

Keep commenting and enter a chance to win a useful set of lunch boxes. Share your ideas about how you pack fruits and raw vegetables in lunch boxes, how you like them and what precautions you take while packing such lunch boxes.

Don't forget to provide your mail id if you are entering the giveaway.