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When I became a mother, I also became obsessed with the healthy, delicious picture perfect bento lunches on different food blogs and websites. I loved that it was fresh and healthy. However, I didn’t have the time and patience it took to prepare the way it was presented. So, I experimented and adapted.

I was adamant because I cherish the thought of the children finding “love in their lunches” in the middle of their days. I, in turn, look forward to opening their lunchboxes at the end of the day to see if my “experiments” worked by way of an empty lunchbox.

Firstly, tips to ease your lunchbox prep.

Fried garlic makes a delicious addition to almost every dish. Photo credit: A Beautiful Plate
  1. Have a constant stock of fried garlic and shallots, which are thankfully available at the local shops or markets fairly cheaply. The kids love them and you can sprinkle sparingly or generously onto the rice/noodles or new recipes that you worry may not fly. Japanese seaweed (shredded) helps give food a Japanese twist too!
  2. Include a staple of red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, carrots, tomatoes, spring onions, coriander, cucumbers and fresh lettuce in your groceries. It gives the illusion of fibres and colours. They are easy to prepare as well. Freshly chopped spring onions and coriander, and washed salad leaves, with the water residue carefully drained away, can be stored for a couple of days.
  3. Invest in a food processor if you are able too. It is cheaper in the long run when you can shred blocks of cheese for pasta and sandwiches. Shredded carrots (good for storing for a few days) are a great way to increase the vegetable content in the children’s meals.
  4. Get food containers with compartments (or good friends who know that you have a bento box obsession and buys you gifts of compartmentalised lunch boxes). Otherwise, small containers or silicone cupcake holders from Lazada works just as well.
  5. Train your children to eat food that is not piping hot.
  6. Meal plan. I used to sneer at it, but now I swear by it as it releases a lot of brain space.
Silicon cupcake holders are a great way to compartmentalise a lunchbox. It adds colour too! Photo credit: Serious Eats

Day One: Steamed chicken with rice

Marinate the chicken in soya sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, salt and pepper and steam for 30 minutes. Add rice wine for a non-halal version. I add fried garlic to the rice and additional fried shallots on the side. Add a colourful medley of cherry tomatoes, green pepper and corn. Garnish with spring onions or coriander.

Colourful food makes it more appealing, especially veggies! Photo credit: LovelyWeeDays

Day Two: No meat pasta 

A jar of pesto. I learnt that with some olive oil, additional Italian herbs and fried garlic, the (expensive) jar of pesto can go a longer way. Feel free to ignore the serving label and add the pesto to taste. Boil the pasta and mix everything up. I add in shredded cheese to buff up the protein in addition to the pine nuts in the pesto. If you want, add some cherry tomatoes.

I discovered pesto when I was at university. 20 years later, this simple, humble, delicious sauce is enjoyed by my children. Photo credit: Healthy Food Guide

Day Three: Leftover chicken and anchovies noodles

Boil noodles for eight minutes and soak in a mix of sesame oil, light soy sauce, olive oil and pepper. Mix in the leftover chicken, top it with some fried anchovies (if any) and coriander. As the sauce is salty, I make sure that there are some plain vegetables, such as boiled broccoli, cauliflower or carrots.

Which kid would not like noodles steeped in soy sauce?
Photo credit: theseasonedmom.com

Day Four: Spaghetti Bolognese made from scratch 

Though to be fair, this needs 30 minutes for the aromatic sauce to simmer. My secret ingredients are chicken stock and Italian herbs, in addition to the (over)load of garlic and onions.  For a healthy twist, I blend fresh tomatoes instead of using canned tomatoes, though I tipu with puree. I use minced beef that has been marinated overnight with salt, pepper, and yes, you guessed it, fried garlic.

There are many recipes out there for a quick and easy Bolognese.
Photo credit: Errens’ Kitchen

Day Five Lunch: It’s a wrap with Bolognese wraps

I spread butter to prevent the Bolognese from soaking through. Lay the lettuce, put the meat, but not the sauce, and sprinkle some shredded cheese.  I add corn which is boiled the day before by putting it in boiling water for eight minutes. The water from the boiled corn makes good stock as well.

My son loves wraps because they can use their hands to eat. I love wraps because I can make leftovers go further.
Photo credit: Natural Balance Foods

Remember to assemble a medley of fruits in your kid’s lunchbox. It is not only for the added vitamins but for the vibrant (and appetising) colours too.

There you have it – five easy, quick, healthy, lunch ideas that also contribute to a zero food waste home policy!

Many parents would like to look for natural remedies for their families when they are under the weather. Makchic talks to naturopath Amanda Teh about the concept of natural remedy and how it can benefit the whole family. 

How did you get started on your journey?

20 years ago my father was diagnosed with nasal cancer.  Back then information was limited and we were left depending fully  on doctors.  I am not saying Western medication is wrong, we were frustrated at his lack of progress.  No one told us that cancer patients can improve their quality of life without having to be stuck on drugs.  After his passing I felt at a loss and felt like  I  should do something to come full circle with the feeling of hopelessness.  That was when I decided to quit my job as a Java programmer to delve deeper into treating cancer or its symptoms naturally. I studied at Nature Care College for a 5-year degree and the rest is history.

Amanda during her study at the Nature Care College

How is this different than homeopathy?

Naturopath is a complete lifestyle treatment system with a medical background. It doesn’t just treat the symptoms but also looks at how we can help manage our patients’ quality of life. During the consultation alone we would spend 1-2 hours going through patient’s physical symptoms, medical records, stress markers, also mental health. The remedies can be in a form of supplements, Bach flower remedies, probotiocs, etc. Our treatment also goes hand in hand with the medical field – if we feel it is necessary, we would refer you to a hypnotist, a chiropractor, or a dietician.

Is the treatment effective, especially for kids and babies?

Most definitely. As naturopaths ensure the wellbeing of patients, mothers can continuously keep up their kids’ immune system using natural treatments from their own kitchen. Natural medicine is best for children above the age of 1 as there are some herbs/natural food that are unsuitable for babies.

How would a naturopath suggest mothers treat these ailments for their families?

Runny nose/phlegm: 

  • For the common cold, eucalyptus/peppermint oil diffused or rubbed on chest (diluted in coconut or olive oil). Only for kids 2 years and above, and always watch the dosage.
  • For babies below 2, Amanda suggests a salt water spray, and to introduce probiotics to speed up the healing.
  • Onion soup is good as it contains quercetin, which is anti-inflammatory and helps to loosen up the mucus.
  • Chopped onion left besides the bed (in the room) also helps with congestion.

Fever: 

  • Fever is a normal immune reaction and is also part healing process; we want to facilitate the symptoms, not suppress it. However, always monitor the temperature, observe the symptoms and make sure the child is active.
  • Place a cool, damp washcloth on your child’s forehead while she rests.
  • Lots of fluid, like coconut water.
  • Drink a cup of hot ginger tea, which also induces sweating and brings down the temperature. Alternatively, Roselle tea, which is high in Vitamin C, also helps to boost the immune system and speed up healing. To make the tea, steep a half-teaspoon minced ginger root in 1 cup just-boiled water. Strain, then drink.

Constipation: 

  • No sugar-added prune juice is great for kids.
  • Introduce some good fat : Avocado, chia seeds, flaxseeds (ground) in their food – for kids older than 1 year.
  • Smoothies: Dragon fruit/ Pear/Apple + Oats + Chia (Soaked in the fridge overnight)
  • Withholding is a common problem, so train the children to go to toilet at the same time everyday.
  • Watch out for any food intolerances or food sensitivities, such as to dairy, wheat and gluten.

Diarrhoea: 

  • Up the fluid intake, such as with Chamomile tea/Fennel tea
  • Applesauce and bananas are high in pectin which helps to absorb the excessive fluid and reduce the diarrhea
  • Carob  is high in tannin (which helps to stop the diarrhoea), tastes awesome and is easily incorporated in your food
  • Cut out dairy, wheat and gluten from diet, introduce more liquids, such as soup and water

Stomach flu:

  • Use propolis and probiotics to deal with the infection
  • Manuka Honey with antiseptic properties (above 1 year)
  • Chamomile or fennel or ginger tea is great for stomaches  and to reduce  bloating

Eczema: 

  •  For temporary relief of eczema,  run a calendula or oat bath: put calendula or oat in a stocking and apply it on the skin in the bathtub.
  • Keep a spray bottle filled with chamomile tea and spray on affected skin. Alternatively, try an oatmeal bath, in which you soak the oat in water, strain the oats, and use the water to bathe your baby in. It helps soothe itchy skin.

 

Want to know more natural remedies? Purely B is running a special early bird promotion and giveaway for their Natural Home Program until September 9th. The online program is 100% natural, with plant-based tried and tested home remedies using simple ingredients that you can find in your kitchen. It is currently going for RM69 instead of the usual RM199, and you stand to win a wellness retreat in Fiji Islands or Bali worth USD$6000 with your purchase. Head on to Purely B’s Natural Home Pharmacy page to find out more!

 

Medical Disclaimer: Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or ailment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on websites.

I’ve never cooked confinement dishes before and as my eldest daughter, January, approached her due date, I agonised over what to cook during her confinement period. I found myself searching for confinement food recipe online, hunting for recipe books at bookstores, consulting some friends and even recalling my own confinement experience. There was so much to consider and I worried over giving January the wrong food.

Once January and her twin babies came home, we found a routine and didn’t have time to worry. As both of us coped with our new roles – January as a new mum and I as a first-time grandparent – we had to learn things quickly. I made her fried rice because that was my favourite dish during my own confinement and it was easy to make. Preparing January’s confinement meals gave me new skills in the kitchen: how to steam fish and double-boiling soup. I also stocked up on a lot of sesame oil and old ginger (tip: the best ginger comes from Bentong, Pahang).

There’s no need to slave over the kitchen stove, really. Complicated confinement food recipe and those that use too many ingredients confuse me. I essentially made dishes that are easy to prepare. In retrospect, preparing my daughter’s confinement meals weren’t as difficult or as daunting as I thought it would be.

Here are three recipes that worked really well for me, and I hope they’ll work well for you too.

 

Menu - Rice

 

Method:

  1. Heat up sesame oil and sauté ginger until fragrant. Add beaten eggs into oil.
  2. When eggs are almost set, add the rice and stir until well heated through.
  3. Add the light soya sauce and stir until well combined. Add spring onion and coriander leaves to garnish the dish.

Note: You can also add minced meat of your choice. Cook before adding the beaten eggs.

++

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.06.25 AM

Method:

  1. Fill up a pot with enough water before adding sesame oil, old ginger slices and a dash of black pepper.
  2. When water begins to boil, add the prepared vegetables. Scoop out after three to four minutes.
  3. Serve hot.

++

Menu - Steamed Fish

Method:

  1. Heat water in steamer. Once water starts to boil, put fire on medium.
  2. Pat fish dry, inside out. Stuff fish stomach with white end of the spring onion and some of the ginger strips.
  3. Pour the sesame oil and light soya sauce all over the fish.
  4. Place fish in the steamer and steam for 12 to 15 minutes on medium fire.
  5. Remove from steamer and garnish with spring onion and coriander leaves.

Note: You can also use ikan kurau (threadfin) steaks.

What’s your favourite confinement food? Let us know in the comments section below.

Cecilia Low is a mother of three; and more recently, a grandmother of twins. Her heart lies with her family, between Phuket and Kuala Lumpur.

Image credit: Flickr user Martin Cathrae

[This article was originally published October 14th, 2013]