ArchiveSeptember 5, 2021

Going Back to School (Part 2)

I ran out of space last week so here we go again, more ideas for school lunches.  As mentioned in my previous column, good nutrition is a vital part of every child’s development – so fill that lunch box with lots of real food – totally exclude all ultra-processed food and anything that purports to be healthy, it probably isn’t.  Invest in real stuff – you’ll spend less on ‘meds’ in the end

Building on last week’s suggestions.  How about sushi balls, also great and really easy to make.  Put a little surprise into the centre, younger children may not love pickled ginger and wasabi but teenagers definitely love sushi.

One batch of sushi rice will make lots but you could do scattered sushi in a bowl the next day.   They also love tacos and tostados, use corn tortillas – they are much more nutritious, easy to eat and fun to top with favourite tasty morsels plus they can be vegetarian or vegan.  Spring rolls made with rice paper wrappers are also fun for teenagers to make.  They can ‘roll their own’ around the fillings of their choice, julienne of veggies, vermicelli noodles, maybe a shrimp or two, Budda bowls with a mixture of rice, prawns, avocado, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots with a perky dressing. 

Mexican wraps are also brilliant with crunchy lettuce, strips of roast chicken, lamb or beef with crisp cucumber and tomato, add a dash of chilli sauce – for those who like it hot and more and more do.

Half or a whole avocado is the perfect lunch box food, super nutritious, easy to digest.  A spoon and a little phial of flaky sea salt is all that’s needed, a few cherry tomatoes are perfect for a pop of juicy flavour. 

An occasional hard-boiled egg – great protein, easy to peel and once again delicious with a sprinkling of sea salt or a dollop of mayo mixed with Ballymaloe Relish.  Draw a funny face or write a name on the shell if you have the energy at 7.30am in the morning!

A little pot of chive or scallion potato salad is great on its own but also a perfect base to add a dice of bacon, chicken, chorizo or cucumber. 

Mini muffuletta with layers of roast peppers, cured meat, cheese – lunch sorted in one bun.

Cheese is of course another valuable protein – Cheddar seems to be most children’s favourite, batons are easy to eat.  Add a few crackers, a slice of brown yeast or soda bread and a little chutney or relish.

Pasta or noodles with a peanut sauce are also a winner and can be a basis for lots of other additions.

Try to include some fruit, a few cherries for a treat or a squashed donut peach when they are in season and of course an organic banana is a worthwhile source of potassium, iron, fibre, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C, all in one easy package.

A slice of really good brown bread and raspberry jam couldn’t be simpler but it’s delicious and loved by everyone.

I should also mention lettuce wraps – easy to eat and particularly delicious with sticky pork and matchsticks of cucumber and carrot – try this recipe.

And finally, don’t forget dates, a brilliant snack.  One or two juicy Medjool or Deglet Noor dates are a rich source of magnesium, calcium, potassium and fibre.  Dried apricots or mango slices and fruit kebabs for a fun and tasty nibble – just thread cubes of fresh and/or dried fruit on a stick.

A wedge of water melon on a lollipop stick is another easy peasy lunchbox treat.

Sausage or frankfurter rolls.

Crumpets and drop scones are all made in minutes, slather with a little butter or peanut butter and honey.

So hopefully there’s lots of ideas in all those suggestions to keep your little dotes nourished and whet their appetites…

Basic Sushi Rice

Easy to do but just follow the instructions.

450g (1lb) sushi rice “No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml (1 pint) water

Vinegar Water

50ml (2fl oz) rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 8-10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml (1pint) cold water for 30 to 45 minutes.   In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off.  Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved.  Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden).  While the rice is still hot, pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon.  Don’t stir.  You must do it quickly preferably fanning the rice with the fan.  This is much easier if you have a helper.  Allow to cool on the plate, cover with a tea towel and use as desired.  (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Sushi Balls

Makes 20-30 pieces

sprig of dill or chervil or coriander

1/2 quantity prepared sushi rice

25g (1oz) smoked salmon, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) squares


10 cooked prawns or shrimps


1/2 cucumber, sliced wafer thin and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces


25g (1oz) roast beef, thinly sliced and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

Lay a piece of parchment paper, about 10cm (4 inch) square, on a clean work surface and place a sprig of chervil or coriander face down and then a piece of smoked salmon at the centre of it.  Put a teaspoonful of sushi rice on top of it.

Pick up all four corners of the parchment paper and gather them in the middle.  Twist the paper to compact the rice and form a small ball.  Repeat the process with the other toppings.

Keep each piece of sushi wrapped in the parchment until just before serving.  Serve with a little wasabi paste or pickled ginger depending on your children’s taste

Scattered Sushi

For scattered Sushi, put some sushi rice into a bowl, scatter with toppings of your choice for example cherry tomatoes, Mozzarella, beef and spring onion, smoked salmon or tuna, spring onions and strips of cucumber…

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Gary Masterson, one of our tutors here at Ballymaloe Cookery School shared this recipe with us, everyone loves it.

The spices transform the mince into something irresistible, to scoop up with fresh lettuce leaves. Minced chicken can also be used; I prefer the brown meat but, of course, white meat is delicious too – just bear in mind that it needs a shorter cooking time.  Use less rather than more chilli for children.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin or vegetable oil

30g (1 1/4oz) fresh ginger, grated

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

500g (18oz) minced chicken or pork (I use brown meat, but use white if you prefer)

4 makrut lime leaves, shredded

50g (2oz) palm sugar or soft light brown sugar

juice of 1 organic lime

2 tablespoons fish sauce


3–4 handfuls of Iceberg lettuce or butterhead leaves

a good handful of mint leaves

a handful of coriander leaves

2–3 spring shallots, finely sliced on the diagonal

a handful of toasted peanuts or cashews, roughly chopped

1 organic lime, cut into wedges

Heat the oil over a high heat in a large (26cm/10 1/2 inch) frying pan. Add the ginger, garlic and chillies and stir-fry for a minute or two to release their flavours. Add the minced chicken or pork and cook over a high heat until it starts to colour, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go.

Add the shredded makrut lime leaves, sprinkle in the sugar, squeeze in the lime juice and add 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce. Reduce the heat and cook everything down for 5–10 minutes until the mince is sticky and delicious. Season to taste with the remaining fish sauce, if necessary.

Transfer the mince to a lunch box with accompaniments, add lettuce, herbs, shallots, peanuts or cashews and lime wedges so that they can assemble their own little parcels.

Pizza Rolls

A delicious tasty bite – perfect for school lunches or a picnic.  The filling can be as simple as grated cheese or a mixture of tomato sauce, chorizo, pesto, spring onion…

This makes approx. 9 rolls but they freeze well for future lunches.

225g (8oz) pizza dough


175-225ml (6-8fl oz) concentrated tomato sauce or Tomato Fondue

1 teaspoon chopped annual marjoram

a good pinch pepper flakes (optional)

300g (10oz) diced pepperoni, tiny dice

75g (3oz) grated Mozzarella

25g (1oz) Parmesan or Cheddar cheese

Egg Wash, beaten egg with a generous pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 or use a fan oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough into a 1cm (1/2 inch) thick rectangle on a floured board. It should be roughly about 23cm long x 17cm wide (9 inches by 6 1/2 inches) but no need to reach those exact dimensions).

Spread the well-seasoned tomato sauce evenly over the dough keeping it in 2.5cm (1 inch) from the long side.  Sprinkle with marjoram, red pepper flakes (if using) evenly over the sauce.  Brush the edge with egg wash.  Sprinkle the diced peperoni and cheese in an even layer over the sauce.

Roll the dough from the long side into a tight spiral. Transfer the dough to a baking tray and refrigerate for 20 minutes.  Brush with egg wash.

Use a serrated knife to slice the chilled dough into 9 even rolls (about 2-2.5cm/3/4 – 1 inch wide). Transfer to the prepared baking tray allowing a little space between each one for expansion.

Bake in the preheated oven until the rolls are golden and the filling is bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or wrap in parchment for school lunches.

Mini Muffuletta

The New Orleans speciality makes a perfect chunky sandwich. One can vary the fillings but there should be lots of it.

1 round rustic bun or brioche

Filling of your choice – could be…

pesto or Ballymaloe Relish

lettuce or a mixture of salad leaves and rocket

red and/or yellow pepper (roasted, peeled and roughly cut into chunks)

salt and freshly ground pepper

slices of cheese

salami, ham or chorizo, thinly sliced (approximately)

Cut a lid off the top of the little round loaf or bun.  Remove the soft crumb and keep for breadcrumbs.

Smear the pesto or Ballymaloe Relish over the base and the under-lid of each loaf.  Then arrange layers of salad leaves, roasted peppers, cheese and salami, ham or chorizo.

Pop the lid on, wrap tightly with parchment paper, keep chilled until you pop into the lunchbox.  Divide each muffuletta into five or six wedges.

Rice Bowl and lots of good things

Rice bowls, buddha bowls, poke are all riffs on a theme, a delicious little meal in a bowl.  A rice bowl will have a base of cooked rice, could be white, brown, topped with many good things, raw, cooked or a mixture flavoured with a well flavoured dressing.   They can be vegetarian, vegan or include meat, fish, game… other pulses can also be used – bulgur, freekah, pearl barley, farro, quinoa, lentils, pulses – all make a delicious and super nutritious base for a variety of toppings.  Make sure the rice is well seasoned otherwise the end result be bland and boring.

You can do infinite variations on the theme depending on the child’s taste. Thin slices of chicken or duck breast, rare beef, cured or smoked fish, vegetables, raw or roast, greens, spring onions, sliced omelette, avocado, pickled ginger.  Occasionally some mango or apple slices.  A poached, fried or hard-boiled egg for extra protein. 

Occasionally add a crispy element, a few tortilla chips, prawn crackers, crispy chickpeas….

A tasty dressing or maybe tahini, teriyaki, rayu or satay sauce is pretty essential to liven up the bowl and maybe a sprinkling of seeds, sesame, sunflower or toasted nuts.

Rachel’s Drop Scones

This is Rachel’s brilliant recipe for drop scones.  The children can easily make the batter and cook them.

Makes 12

110g (4oz) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

25g (1oz) caster sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg

110ml (4fl oz) milk

drop of sunflower oil, for greasing

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix.  Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge.  Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.

Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat.  Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.

Remove from the pan and serve warm with butter and jam, apple jelly, lemon curd or if you are like my children, chocolate spread! (If you wish, wrap the drop scones in a clean tea towel to keep warm while you make the rest.)


Past Letters