SINGAPORE - From traditional Indian dishes to pasta and fried noodles, student Sowmya Raghavan, 17, never really knows what she is going to have for lunch in school.
But one thing is for sure – it is going to be delicious.
That is because her lunch is prepared by her mother, Mrs Ananthalakshmi Raghavan, 50, who wakes up at 5am on weekdays to do so.
She adds that she is one of the few students at Hwa Chong Institution to pack lunch to school, but she is not worried about looking “uncool”.
“To me, the lunch box is a necessity,” she says.
Sowmya, who is a Hindu vegetarian, says her school canteen offers few options that cater for her diet.
“Some students complain that our canteen has only six stalls. I, on the other hand, can eat from only half of them and probably about three dishes in total.”
Moreover, she enjoys the convenience that having a packed lunch box affords her. She can eat whenever she is hungry, even in class when she has back-to-back lectures.
Since her mother is always generous with the amount of food she packs, she has enough to last her even on days when she has Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs).
“I get hungry on days when I have to stay back for my CCAs, which end about 7pm, but the canteen closes at 3.30pm,” says Sowmya, who is on the debate and mountain-trekking teams.
There is a cafe in school that opens till 5pm which sells pastries such as cinnamon rolls, cookies and tiramisu, but they do not appeal to her. She also finds it inconvenient to go out of school for dinner.
Mrs Raghavan, who owns a tuition centre, has been packing for Sowmya and her elder brother, Siddarth, 22, since they were in primary school.
She describes it as a deep-seated maternal need to provide for her children.
“I feel happy and secure when I cook for them and know that they are being taken care of. The joy I get makes me go back to it every morning,” she says.
The cooking takes her about 30 minutes because she assembles the ingredients the night before.
She tells SundayLife! that a boxed lunch, or tiffin, was ubiquitous during her time, about 20 years ago in India.
She packed lunch herself even when she was attending university in Bangalore.
She, along with her family members, moved to Singapore 12 years ago.
Her son, who is now studying engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, is Singaporean and the rest of them are permanent residents here.
“My classmates and I would sit under a tree, open our tiffins and share food with one another. It was a fantastic way to bond. It was the most memorable part of our day,” she recalls.
But in Singapore, the lunch box is more commonly seen in primary schools.
Private tutor Delci Khoo, 41, has been packing snacks for her two children’s recess in school since 2011.
She says that it started because of a request from her nine-year-old daughter, Zoe Sol, who is now in Primary 4.
“There is always a long queue at her canteen and she eats very slowly. Her break is only 30 minutes. If I don’t pack for her, she won’t get to finish her food.”
Ms Khoo packs finger food such as sandwiches, buns and sushi for Zoe and heavier meals such as fried noodles, rice and pasta for her elder child, Ethan, who is in Primary 6. She wakes up about 5.30am and takes about 45 minutes to prepare the two lunch boxes.
To make the lunch boxes look brighter and more cheery, she adds colour in the form of fruit and vegetables such as strawberries and corn, which are also healthier.