Eleven-year-old Niharika Prabhu looks forward to Mondays, because of her favourite food in the tiffin box — a vegetarian cheese wrap along with marble cake. The meal is nutritious, as the cake is made using multigrain instead of refined flour and the wrap is filled with colourful veggies. But it’s not homemade. Her mother, a busy software professional in Pune, has tied up with Mumma’s Box, a tiffin service company that serves delicious meals for the child’s lunch box.
Mumma’s Box, which promises organic food and ensures healthy food in all their lunch boxes, started in 2016. It’s a start-up that delivers food directly to homes as early as 6 am before the children are packed off to school. The food is prepared from the freshest of ingredients with a great thrust on nutrition—there is no use of refined sugar, saturated fats or artificial flavours. Vegetables, millets and nuts are integrated into the meals in innovative ways to provide children a healthy and balanced diet. Food options include paneer bellpepper wrap with apple walnut salad and banana pancake; spinach corn quesadilla with herbed potatoes; honey-tossed apple, etc. Organic produce, however, comes with a steep price tag: a three-course meal for a month at Mumma’s Box is priced between Rs 2,300 and Rs 2,700, depending on the age group.
Clearly, school lunchtime has moved beyond the boring sandwiches and staid paranthas packed in stainless steel tiffin boxes. Now, start-ups like Mumma’s Box are making school children’s lunch not just more interesting, but healthy and nutritious too. And parents are lapping it up.
For Pallavi Shivanna, the mother of three school-going boys, travelling out of town for work always meant stressful days. Shivanna, who works with a fintech firm in Bengaluru, would fret over what her boys would eat during school hours in her absence. Her worries were valid, as the children would invariably end up eating junk food or takeaway meals, a complete no-no in the Shivanna household. Two years back, however, all that changed. During a parent-teacher conference at her children’s school, she came to know of sCoolMeal, a Bengaluru-based start-up, which delivers fun, wholesome, piping-hot and nutritious vegetarian lunches to school children aged between two and 17 years. Shivanna quickly got in touch.
“They promised to deliver nutritious meals to the school as and when required. So now, whenever I travel, I book my kids’ meals a day in advance through their website. It’s stress-free and my kids are happy, too, as they get an interesting menu,” says 42-year-old Shivanna, adding, “It’s hygienic, as well as nutritious… next best to home-cooked food.”
Started in August 2015, sCoolMeal (whose parent company is sCoolMeal Food Ventures) caters to 2,500 children across 40 schools in Bengaluru. “Children these days are very demanding in terms of the variety, as well as the exotic cuisines they want to eat, which are sometimes difficult to make at home. Add to that the complexity of both parents working and it becomes a major problem. That’s where we come in,” says Swaminath Trivady, co-founder, sCoolMeal.
Interestingly, it was the co-founders’ own experience of grappling with their children’s “lunch box hassles” that led to the germination of the start-up. “We are parents of school-going children too and know the challenges that parents like us have to face every morning. First, to wake up early morning, then to cook a nutritious lunch… and even after all this trouble, most often, children return home with their lunch boxes half finished or not even touched. With sCoolMeal, we are trying to solve this problem,” says Trivady, who started the company along with two of his batchmates from a programme they all attended on innovation and entrepreneurship at Stanford Business School, US, in 2015. The start-up is backed by early-stage seed funding by a Silicon Valley-based angel investor.
All parents need to do to avail their services is register on their website and download an app that provides information on the menu. Some of the interesting food options are wholewheat pesto pasta, fusion food like parantha-pizza, and snacks such as puffed quinoa and ragi chips. There are different packages on offer: a one-day lunch plan is priced at Rs 118, while the monthly (20-day) plan costs Rs 1,888.
Then there is Chennai-based BiteFresh. The start-up regularly sends nutrition reports of children to parents based on their choice of meal. The service, which has Indian and Oriental menus on offer, has as many as 16 dishes to choose from in the main course itself. They have meal combos like stuffed mushrooms and date pancakes, or vegetable biryani with sprouted salad and raita.
It’s not surprising that these start-ups are becoming increasingly popular with parents. With increasing health awareness, these entrepreneurs understand that the key to succeed in the market, especially metro cities, is a keen focus on nutrition and health, with the highest priority given to food safety.
At sCoolMeal—which has partnered with Mysuru’s Central Food Technological Research Institute to design its menu, recipes and food safety standards—most meals are designed as per the age and calorie requirement of a child. “It differs from restaurants, takeaways or school canteens because healthy meals for children are prepared based on menus designed by paediatric nutritionists,” says Shivanna. The company also periodically takes feedback from children and tweaks the menu as per their choices. So if a particular dessert is mentioned as ‘less sweet’, sCoolMeal tries to find out ways to sweeten it without using refined sugar.
Another start-up delivering delicious and healthy meals for school children is Chennai-based MC’s Lunchbox. A month’s meal plan is sent to parents in advance and the tiffin is directly delivered to the school. The food options include dishes like chilli mayo soyabean wrap, noodles in primavera sauce, coconut cake, etc. The portions are categorised as per the age of the child—five- to eight-year-olds; nine- to 13-year-olds; and 14- to 19-year-olds—and the prices vary from Rs 85 to Rs 225 per meal.
Preparing meals for children, however, has its own challenges. “Children are the toughest customers when it comes to food… plus, there is the complexity of ensuring their nutritional needs. The trick is to mask the healthy ingredients in interesting ways. Our USP is ensuring that the food is nutritious and tasty. Presentation is also very important,” says Anuj Sarin, CEO, Tiffin’s Etc, a Delhi-based company, which provides meals to several educational institutions across Delhi-NCR. “We have a nutritionist who vets our menu and recipes to ensure that the meals we serve are balanced,” says Sarin, adding that they recently introduced empanadas, a Mexican dish, which became an instant hit with the children. “Twice a month, we serve international cuisines. We have introduced kids to cuisines such as Burmese, Thai, Italian, Mexican and Lebanese, to name a few,” says Sarin.
These entrepreneurs know that delivering innovative yet healthy meals is the key to a child’s heart and a parent’s pocket. As a result, they are cleverly innovating with the recipes. At Tiffin’s Etc, for instance, ketchup has been replaced with homemade tomato chutney. “In pao bhaji, we add pumpkin, bottle gourd, cabbage and carrots so that these essential greens can be consumed by children by masking their look. Even the puris are stuffed with urad dal,” says Sarin.
Lunch just got more interesting with wholesome quinoa panirayams and millet pizzas packed in colourful boxes!