Tiffin services for working professionals are a dime a dozen but what about fussy children who make a habit of bartering their healthy dabbas? Since three decades, 60 year old entrepreneur Neeti Sarin has been providing tiffin services to school children in Delhi and NCR.
Meals served by Tiffin's Etc are not only tasty but also nutritious and well-balanced. So you have happy children and happy parents. We decided to find out how she does this (look out for her special falafel recipe at the end):
1. When did you start Tiffin’s Etc and why? Please tell us about the start-up.
I had two young kids who had very different food preferences. Every meal was a challenge to ensure that both of them are fed the right nutrients in fun and innovative ways. Soon after that, I became a regular contributor for Parenting magazine where my forte was how to make regular food interesting for children. It didn’t take me long to realise that I can connect with children with my food. And that is how the thought was seeded in my mind to run a company towards that direction.
Right now, we work with various schools who in turn, charge the parents for the meals provided to children. There is generally a food in charge who we work closely with for day to day things such as menu planning and special events catering. This helps in streamlining the process.
We work on a feedback basis. On a periodic basis, the school food committee gives us their feedback – what children enjoyed etc. In the last week of every month, we take the consolidated feedback from last one month and plan for the menu for the next month. The menu is always kept balanced to take care of the nutrition, two days in a month allocated to world cuisines (Thai, Burmese, Italian, Continental, Oriental) and overall the menu should be exciting.
The best way to kill an appetite is repetitive ingredients such as serving different forms of aloo sabzi in a row. Once we have a menu plan, it undergoes a check from our company nutritionist who approves it for its overall nutritional richness. Then, it is sent to the food committee in the school for their feedback and approval.
We are currently present in Delhi/NCR and our clientele includes Vasant Valley School, Sriram Millennium School, Made Easy Pre School, Saksham Pre School, Supaksha, OPG World School and Presidium School.
2. Do you ever get negative feedback? How do you respond?
From an industry stand point, the reviews can be mixed as food remains a topic judged by subjective parameters like taste, but the parent at schools we are catering to are very happy with the fact that their kids get a wholesome, nutritious, hot and thoughtfully prepared meal at their schools. There are only a few schools which provide this facility and parents feel happy that their kids are one of the privileged ones.
A mother will always consider the food prepared by her for her kid as the most nutritious and love filled meal and we cannot take it away from her, but she also considers our food as the next best thing for her child.
There are many reasons why a menu may not be liked. Many items may not be liked due to age group, differing food preferences in a school, style of cooking etc. It is important to understand the reason for the negative feedback.
There have been times where a certain menu may not work for certain age groups and we have learnt from them. For example we give boondi in kadhi to younger classes, as they find the boondis easier to eat. Children in smaller classes do not prefer many vegetables in an uttappam or chilla but elder children like it.
Tiffin's Etc at school
3. Indians love spoiling their kids with chocolates and chips. How do we change such unhealthy habits?
The battle was never against junk food only. The battle has always been to ensure the children’s nutritional needs are met even during those hours that they are in school. I have always emphasized on using locally grown ingredients in our foods such as sattu, raagi, jowar etc. Fortunately, the awareness of this concept is now gaining cadence among parents and school authorities. We are now going back from processed foods back to our roots.
There are healthy alternatives to junk foods which are loved as much by children; some are readily available healthy alternatives such as makhana and the others are creative ways to make children eat healthy. We provide makhana which children eat as popcorn and it can be given in various flavours such as salted with pudhina etc.
Another option is giving a "sprouts bhel". We initially tried giving just sprouts but the children hated it. When we gave it with bhel, saunth and chutney children started to enjoy it and a lot more of it was consumed.
4. Does Tiffin’s Etc cater only to schools or individuals as well? What are your plans for the future?
We currently cater only to schools. In the future too, we aim to tie up with other similar minded educational institutions who keep the child in the centre of all decisions.
5. Please share your favourite tiffin recipe.
One of the menus which the children love is Falafel & Hummus. It is fairly simple to make and because we add a lot of vegetables to the falafel it becomes nutritious.
250 gms chickpeas
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3-5 cloves garlic
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp black pepper
Pinch of ground cardamom
Rice Bran Oil
Soak the chickpeas overnight. Grind the chickpeas, parsley, basil, and celery. Keep adding olive oil to the grinding mixture to maintain a smooth consistency. Take the ground mixture and form slider shaped patties.
Add them to the heated oil to fry. Once done, put it on a kitchen towel to soak excess oil. Serve with Hummus and Pita Bread.