Back to School


Can’t bear it, I’ve suddenly realised that the Summer is almost over and like many of you, I have scarcely seen it… 

It’s just somehow passed me by in a blurry maze and now it’s back to school. A time of mixed feelings, although if the truth be told, many children were really looking forward to meeting with their friends again and getting back into a comforting routine after so many disappointments, false starts and abandoned plans whilst fleeing from yet another downpour.

And now, the tyranny of school lunches!

Mums and Dads are racking their brains for some new ideas. Don’t forget the ‘forever favourites’ like simple Cheddar cheese and ham sandwiches with good bread and lots of butter. The latter is essential for brain development despite impressions to the contrary.

If you can get your kids to tuck into a really good breakfast, that’s half the battle.

A grand big bowl of organic porridge with any drizzle they fancy, runny honey, peanut butter, a blob of runny jam or stewed fruit… inexpensive and super nutritious.

Homemade granolas and muesli are easy to make in bulk, ready to shake into a bowl with a good blob of yoghurt, sliced banana, some berries or grated apple.

Apples are in season now; this is a great way to use up your windfalls or a present from a neighbour.

Pancakes or waffles with a few slices of crisp bacon always get a positive response.

Here’s a recipe made with cornmeal that’s absolutely irresistible for all ages.

Eggs in some form, a brilliant protein, filling, and satisfying. ‘Go to work (school) on an egg’ as the slogan goes.

The children’s energy, vitality and ability to concentrate during the morning, will depend to a great extent on the fuel they’ve got in the tank to keep the system going…

Simple hard-boiled eggs are great for a lunchbox with a little pot of flavoured mayo, or maybe Aleppo pepper and flaky sea salt to sprinkle over. Sounds very posh but nowadays many children love spicy food and a little chilli, Aleppo pepper is deliciously perky but not very hot and can be tucked into a lunchbox in a little pot.

Hummus is a definite favourite with several of my grandchildren, sometimes for weeks on end…then it’s something else, best to keep your ear to the ground and lean into the current favourite. Nothing more dispiriting than to discover half eaten sandwiches or worse still not even touched food in the lunchbox.

Add a few dippers of fresh carrots and cucumber sticks. Cherry tomatoes are also brilliant.

Get the children involved in making their school lunch. They’re much more likely to eat every morsel when they themselves have made the choices. 

If you have an apple tree, there should be lots of ripe apples for the next few weeks, fresh apple juice is a revelation. You need a centrifuge – a bit of an investment, but it’ll last for years and it’s brilliant for carrot and beetroot juice too. In fact, all kinds of vegetables even leftover bits from the bottom of the fridge can be juiced, add some fresh ginger to perk up both the flavour and nutrients.

Soups in a flask is another comforting ‘must have’ particularly on a chilly wet, dark day.  Sweet treats are always just that, so many options but in response to a request for my timeless flapjack recipe, here it is. 

A few ideas to add to your lunchbox offerings.

Savoury Muffins

Have a look in your fridge, this basic recipe can be embellished with all kinds of tasty little leftover morsels…

Makes 12-14

225g plain white flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

10g caster sugar

pinch of cayenne (optional)

1 tbsp chives

2 organic eggs

225ml milk, buttermilk, yoghurt or sour cream

75ml sunflower oil

100g grated cheese (a mixture is good e.g., Gruyére, Cheddar event a little leftover camembert or blue cheese) – hold back a little to sprinkle over the top

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. 

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cayenne and chives in a bowl.  In another bowl whisk the eggs with the buttermilk, yoghurt or sour cream and sunflower oil.  Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir to barely combine (don’t overmix or the muffin will be heavy and tough).  Gently fold in the tasty bits.  Spoon into muffin cases, scatter the remaining cheese over the top and bake for 20 minutes or until pale golden.  Cool on a wire rack.  Best served warm.


·      Swap the grated cheese in the above recipe for the same quantity of any of the following (or create your own!).

·      Chopped spring onions and crispy bacon

·      Chopped chorizo, Kabanos sausage, cooked ham or streaky bacon lardons

·      Roasted peppers, basil, a little goat’s cheese and marjoram

·      Chopped rosemary and raisin


Most people don’t realise how easy it is to make your own hummus, For the least expensive and most delicious version, start with fresh chickpeas, soak them overnight and cook them in fresh water next day with a good pinch of bicarbonate of soda or just use a tin of ready cooked, preferably, organic, chickpeas, a bit it more expensive, but very convenient. 

Great as a dip with a few mini pita breads or veggie dippers, also delicious with kebabs or meatballs… 

Serves 4-8 (depending on how it is served)

175g chickpeas, cooked, save the cooking liquid

freshly squeezed juice of 2-3 lemons, or to taste

2-3 large or small cloves garlic, crushed

150ml Lebanese tahini (we use Al Nakhil)

1 tsp, dry roasted and freshly ground cumin


62ml iced water


pitta bread or any crusty white bread

Drain the chickpeas, save the cooking liquid. Whizz up the remainder in a food processor with the freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little cooking water if necessary. Add the crushed garlic, tahini, cumin and salt to taste. Add the iced water and blend to a soft creamy paste. Taste and continue to add lemon juice and salt until you are happy with the flavour; it should be soft and silky.  Enjoy or keep covered and refrigerated and use within 3 days. 

Spicy Roast Chickpeas

These chickpeas are seriously addictive, kids love them too – I’ve used freshly ground cumin and coriander here but garam masala, smoked paprika, chilli powder, chopped rosemary or thyme leaves are also delicious.   The chickpeas get crispier as they cool.  Perfect as a lunch box nibble or sprinkle over sprinkle over a salad. 

Enough for 4-6 as a nibble or add to salads.

Makes 100g roasted weight

400g can chickpeas

1-2 tsp each of cumin and coriander seeds, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.


Drain the chickpeas, rinse under cold water and drain again. Lay on kitchen paper, shake and pat gently until dry. Spread the chickpeas out in a single layer on a small baking tray, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and the cumin and coriander seeds (if using). Shake to coat. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool, taste, add more salt and spices if necessary. Store in an airtight jar.

Best Ever Cornmeal Pancakes with Butter and Maple Syrup

These pancakes inspired by Chez Ma Tante in Brooklyn, New York, are the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, so I wanted to share them with you. This recipe uses coarse polenta, also known as polenta bramata, really good and nourishing.

175g plain flour

175g coarse polenta (cornmeal)

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 organic, free-range egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1 tsp salt

1 ½ tbsp baking powder

2 tbsp melted butter

300ml whole milk

225g clarified butter (see recipe)

butter and maple syrup, to serve

Put the flour, polenta and sugar into a bowl. Whisk the egg and egg yolk together and add the salt and baking powder. Stir into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon, along with the melted butter. Don’t beat the mixture – it can still be slightly lumpy.

Heat a heavy cast-iron pan over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Pour in a generous 3mm of clarified butter and allow to heat through. Pour about 60ml batter into the pan for each pancake and allow some space between each one. Cook for 3-4 minutes until bubbles rise and burst and the edges start to crisp. Flip over carefully and continue to cook on the other side for about 2-3 minutes until both sides are nicely brown and crisp at the edges. You will probably get about two pancakes in the pan at a time, so you will need to cook them in batches until you have used all of the batter.

Serve immediately on warm plates allowing two pancakes per person. Slather some butter on each one and drizzle a little maple syrup over the top. Quite simply sublime!

Clarified Butter

Melt 225g butter gently in a saucepan on the hob or in a Pyrex jug in the oven at 150°C/Gas Mark 2. Leave it to stand for a few minutes, then with a spoon, scrape the crusty white layer of salt particles off the top of the melted butter. Underneath this crust there is clear liquid butter which is called clarified butter. The milky liquid at the bottom can be discarded or used in a bechamel sauce. Clarified butter is excellent for cooking because it can withstand a higher temperature when the salt and milk particles are removed. It will keep covered in the fridge for several weeks.

Homemade Potato Crisps

Making chips at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips but mind your fingers! 

Serves 4

450g large, even-sized potatoes

extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying


Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180°C.

Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.

If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.

Darina’s Flapjacks

Here it is, these super nutritious biscuits keep really well in an airtight tin.  Kids of all ages love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter because the flavour is immeasurably better.

Makes 24-32

450g rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)

350g butter

1 tbsp golden syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

175g caster sugar

Swiss roll tin, 25.5cm x 38cm lined with a strip of parchment with overhang at each end

Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and pure vanilla extract, stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread into a large Swiss roll tin and bake in a preheated moderate oven (on low shelf), 180°C/Gas Mark 4, until golden and slightly caramelised, about 30 minutes. Cut into 24-32 squares while still warm.


Note: Make half the recipe if a 23cm x 33cm Swiss roll tin is used.

Chocolate Briskies

Cut the oatmeal biscuits into squares.  When cool, dip diagonally into melted chocolate.

Coconut and Oatmeal Biscuits

Substitute 20g of unsweetened desiccated coconut for 25g of oatmeal in the above recipe

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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