Educating our Children to Eat Well

As children around the country return to school, two of Ireland’s top food organisations are taking action so that ‘back to school’ does not have to mean ‘back to junk’. ‘A is for Apple: Educating our Children to Eat Well’ was the topic for discussion at the 4th National Food Forum & Fair at Brooklodge, Co. Wicklow, which is organised annually by Euro-toques Ireland, the Irish branch of the European Community of Chefs.
At the forum Euro-toques called on the government to take urgent action to work towards changing children’s diets and proposed a national programme throughout primary schools to educate children about all aspects of food and eating. Euro-toques, in conjunction with Slowfood Ireland, today also launched a pilot programme of School Food Workshops. Ireland’s two major food organisations, which collectively represent chefs, food producers and consumers, will visit 10 schools around the country during the autumn term carrying out workshops which cover origin and growing of food, food tastings, food preparation & healthy lunchbox ideas. These workshops take a hands-on approach which empowers children to make good choices about what they eat. 

Speaking at the event, Euro-toques Commissioner and Chef/Proprietor of Chapter One Restaurant Ross Lewis commented; “We feel that the situation in terms of children’s diets and eating habits is reaching crisis point. Eating unhealthy food is set to create a massive public health crisis and we feel this must be tackled pro-actively from the ground up. But for Euro-toques this is not just about obesity and health problems, it is about an overall attitude to eating and food culture. That is why we advocate a holistic approach to educating children about all aspects of the food chain and giving them an appreciation of food and taste”.

“With my own children I have aimed to introduce them to a wide variety of food from a young age”, he added, “We believe that all children should have access to a wholesome and balanced diet”.
The recent National Children’s Food Survey carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance shows that:
One in four girls and one in five boys between the ages of 5 and 12 in Ireland are now overweight or obese. 
Children are consuming 40% more fat than they need and that one fifth of their calories is obtained from biscuits and other high fat treats. 
salt intake is too high.
Fruit and vegetable consumption is half what is required, and some children eat no fruit and vegetables whatsoever, many are malnourished despite adequate or excessive calorie intake, as their diet is made up of processed foods which are low in nutrients. 
If this trend continues we are certain to seeing growing rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. . This is, of course, partly due to changes in lifestyle and a decrease in physical activity, but diet also has an obvious part to play. 

The discussion was opened by Euro-toques Commissioner-General Martin Dwyer who spoke of the need for parents to take control of what their children are eating and to bring children back to the table; “Appetites educated on the high sugar, high flavour foods which hide under the label of convenience will never enjoy the gentle subtlety of crunching into a sweet young carrot, or relish the mouthful of the ocean that is a piece of fresh fish”.

Restaurants were increasingly being asked to serve chicken nuggets, funny fish and burgers to children who refuse to eat anything, because they are constantly grazing between the fridge and the microwave. Anne O’Hara who is responsible for the food of 300 children in Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham, made a plea for vending machines to be banned in schools unless they can be used for healthy snacks.

The Forum continued with a panel discussion chaired by John Bowman. The panel included executive council member of Slowfood International Giacomo Mojoli, Mairead McGuinness MEP, Chairman of Unilever Foods Paul Murphy, Food Writer Hugo Arnold. The event also included a colourful day long Farmers Market featuring about 50 small food producers from across Ireland. Among the large and varied range of stall-holders were Govenders Indian Delights, The Gallic Kitchen, Irish Seedsavers, The Organic Herb Company, Denis Healy’s Organic Vegetables and Oisin Healy’s Pancakes, Straight Sausages, Wicklow Fine foods, Glenboy Goats Products and many more too numerous to mention them all. The farmhouse cheesemakers too were well represented, among them were Corleggy, Gubbeen, Cratloe, Ardsallagh and Crozier Blue cheeses, Sheridans Cheesemongers were there also. 

Evan Doyle owner of Brooklodge at Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow, served a delicious buffet which included some local food in season and delicious fresh organic vegetables from Gold River Organic Farm in Aughrim, Co Wicklow. Brooklodge also had a stall selling their own organic brown bread which is baked in their licensed organic bakery on the premises.

Euro-Toques was established in 1986 in Brussels as a guardian of European culinary heritage and as a lobby group addressing the concerns of Europe’s top chefs about food quality and the future of food.  

Slowfood, founded in 1986, is an international organisation whose aim is to support artisan and traditional food producers and protect from the homogenisation of modern fast food and life. It encourages its members to slow down and sit down to enjoy meals with family and friends around the table. Through a bio-diversity of initiatives it promotes gastronomic culture, develops taste education, conserves agricultural biodiversity, and protects traditional foods at risk of extinction. Slow Food is gathering momentum around the world and now boasts over 80,000 members in over 100 countries.  

Some lunchbox or after school recipes to tempt those reluctant eaters. 

Foolproof Food


Play around with whatever fresh fruit you have, at its simplest it could be just banana and yoghurt. A few blueberries would be delicious just now.

Banana and Yoghurt Smoothie

Serves 1-2
225ml (8fl oz) natural yoghurt
1 ripe banana
1 teaspoon honey (optional)

Peel the banana, chop coarsely, blend with other ingredients in a liquidizer until smooth.
Pour into a beaker and cover tightly.

Fruit and Nuts
For a healthy lunchbox snack mix together a few raisins, hazelnuts and cashew nuts.

Frittata with Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Chorizo and Goat’s Cheese

Frittata is an Italian omelette. Kuku and Spanish tortilla all sounds much more exciting than a flat omelette although thats basically what they are. Unlike their soft and creamy French cousin, these omelettes are cooked slowly over a very low heat during which time you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it! A frittata is cooked gently on both sides and cut into wedges like a piece of cake. Omit the tomato and you have a basic recipe, flavoured with grated cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs. Like the omelette, though, you’ll occasionally want to add some tasty morsels however, to ring the changes perhaps some spinach, ruby chard, Calabreze, asparagus, smoked mackerel, etc. The list is endless but be careful don’t use it as a dustbin - think about the combination of flavours before you empty your fridge!
A mini frittata cooked in a muffin tin makes a tasty and nutritious addition to the lunch box or an after school snack. Children will have their own favourite additions. 
Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) ripe or sun-blushed tomatoes 
1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs, preferably free range
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
4 teaspoons thyme leaves
2 tablespoons basil, mint or marjoram
110-175g (4-6oz) chorizo, thickly sliced, cut into four
40g (11/2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
25g (1oz) butter
110g (4oz) soft goat’s cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Non-stick pan 10cm (7 1/2in) bottom, 23cm (9in) top rim

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Arrange in single layer in a non-stick roasting tin. Cut the tomatoes in half around the equator season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast for 10-15 or until almost soft and slightly crinkly. Remove from the heat and cool. Alternatively use sun-blushed tomatoes. 

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, chorizo and grated cheese into the eggs. Add the tomatoes, stir gently. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs. Turn down the heat, as low as it will go. Divide the cheese into walnut sized pieces and drop gently into the frittata at regular intervals. Leave the eggs to cook gently for 15 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.

Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set and barely brown the surface. 
Slide the frittata onto a warm plate. 
Serve cut in wedges with a good green salad and perhaps a few olives. 
Alternatively put the pan into a preheated oven 170°C/325°F/gas 3. Alternatively cook mini frittata in muffin tins (for approximately 15 minutes). Serve with a good green salad.

Variation for a yummy vegetarian alternative omit the chorizo and add 110g (4oz) grated Gruyère cheese to add extra zizz.

Top Tip: The size of the pan is very important, the frittata should be at least 3 cm (11/4in) thick. It the only pan available is larger, adjust the number of eggs, etc.

Tomato and Basil Soup

We worked for a long time to try and make this soup reasonably fool-proof. Good quality tinned tomatoes (a must for your store cupboard) give a really good result. Homemade tomato purée although delicious can give a more variable result depending on the quality of the tomatoes. Careful seasoning is crucial so continue to season and taste until you are happy with the result.

Serves 6

1¾ pints (750 ml) homemade tomato purée or 2 x 14 oz (400 g) tins of tomatoes, liquidized and sieved
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ oz (15 g) butter
8 fl ozs (250 ml) Béchamel sauce (white) (see recipe)
8 fl ozs (250 ml) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
4 fl ozs (120 ml) cream

Whipped cream
Fresh basil leaves

Sweat the onion in the butter on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the tomato purée (or chopped tinned tomatoes plus juice), Béchamel sauce and homemade chicken stock. Add the chopped basil, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.

Liquidize, taste and dilute further if necessary. Bring back to the boil, correct seasoning and serve with the addition of a little cream if necessary. Garnish with a tiny blob of whipped cream and some basil.

*Tinned tomatoes need a surprising amount of sugar to counteract the acidity.
* Fresh milk cannot be added to the soup – the acidity in the tomatoes will cause it to curdle
Note: This soup needs to be tasted carefully as the final result depends on the quality of the homemade purée, stock etc.

Tomato and Mint Soup
Substitute Spearmint or Bowles mint for basil in the above recipe.

Béchamel Sauce

1 pint (300 ml) milk
Few slices of carrot
Few slices of onion
3 peppercorns
Small sprig of thyme
Small sprig of parsley
1½ozs (45 g) roux (see recipe)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

This is a wonderfully quick way of making Béchamel Sauce if you have roux already made. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion, peppercorns, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken to a light coating consistency by whisking in roux. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

Tomato and Coconut Soup

Substitute Coconut milk for béchamel in the above recipe


110 g (4 ozs) butter
110 g (4 ozs) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.


These have a high sugar content which gives them their delicious and characteristic crust, so keep for an occasional treat.
32 ozs (100g) butter
7 ozs (200g) golden organic castor sugar
2 eggs
2 teasp. pure vanilla extract
2 ozs (55g) best quality dark chocolate
3 ozs (85g) white flour
2 teasp. baking powder
3 teasp. salt
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) chopped walnuts

1 x 8 inch (20.5cm) tin lined with silicone paper

Melt the chocolate in a pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water.

Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the lightly whisked eggs, the vanilla extract and melted chocolate. Lastly stir in the flour, baking powder and chopped nuts. Spread the mixture in the square tin and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for approx. 30-35 minutes.

Cut into 2 inch (5cm) squares for serving. 

Cruditees with Dips

Cruditees simply means raw vegetables, but to be really delicious you’ll need very crisp and fresh vegetables. Cut the vegetables into bite-sized bits so they can be picked up easily. You don’t need knives and forks because they are usually eaten with fingers. Garlic mayonnaise is great but you could use a variety of yummy dips.
Pack them in deep plastic containers or a bright spotty beaker, a nutritious and delicious way to make a little vegetable go a long way.

Use as many of the following vegetables as are in season:

Very fresh button mushrooms, quartered
Tomatoes quartered, or let whole with the calyx on if they are freshly picked
Purple sprouting broccoli, broken (not cut) into florettes
Calabrese (green sprouting broccoli), broken into florettes
Cauliflower, broken into florettes
French beans or mange tout
Baby carrots, or larger carrots cut into sticks 5 cm/2 inches long, approx.
Cucumber, cut into sticks 5 cm/2 inches long approx.
Tiny spring onions, trimmed
Red cabbage, cut into strips
Celery, cut into sticks 5 cm/2 inches long approx.
Red, green or yellow pepper, cut into strips 5 cm/2 inches long approx., seeds removed
Very fresh Brussels sprouts, cut into halves or quarters
Whole radishes, with green tops left on

Typical Cruditees might include the following: 4 sticks of carrot, 2 or 3 sticks of red and green pepper, 2 or 3 sticks of celery, 2 or 3 sticks of cucumber, 1 mushroom cut in quarters, 1 whole radish with a little green leaf left on, 1 tiny tomato or 2 quarters, 1 Brussels sprout cut in quarters, and a little pile of chopped fresh herbs.

Wash and prepare the vegetables. Arrange on individual white side plates in contrasting colours, with a little bowl of garlic mayonnaise in the centre. Alternatively, do a large dish or basket for the centre of the table. Arrange little heaps of each vegetable in contrasting colours. Provide a little tub of garlic mayonnaise in the centre and then your friends can help themselves. 

Hot Tips

West Cork Leader Co-op is launching an exciting new initiative website for primary schools to encourage healthy eating among children. The package is called  which takes the approach to presenting food in a fun and interactive manner. The pilot programme is currently being run in 3 West Cork schools and 1 Cork based school. Other schools please take note! 

Food Safety Authority of Ireland have recently produced an information leaflet with simple advice for convenient and nutritious lunchbox ideas – available from the helpline 1850 404 567 or on line at  

Green Festival in the Northwest – running 16 - 25 September, celebrating our environment , heritage, culture, food and economy, on – Sunday 25th there will be an Organic Fair at the Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim – Stalls of food, wines, crafts and much, much more - this is the single biggest organic event in the country and attracts hundred of visitors.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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