My Grandchildren are of school going age

Well, Summer is almost over. It’s that time of year again when families are gearing up for the school term, so I can return to one of my major preoccupations, the food we feed our children. Now that some of my grandchildren are of school going age, I’m even more concerned about the endless struggle to protect them from gobbling down rubbish.
What a help it would be to parents if the Minister for Health were to forbid or even discourage the fast food outlets from giving free toys and drinks to their young children. It would also be a heck of a lot easier to get kids to eat a bowl of delicious and nourishing porridge if all the other kids in school weren’t collecting the toys out of cereal packets. What public spirited supermarket chain will take the health of our children seriously and support tormented mothers by removing the crisps, fizzy drinks and sweets off every colour and hue from beside the tills and replace them with fruit. Would the positive PR and the gratitude of demented mothers not be worth the loss of revenue?
What we put in our children’s mouths is much more important than what we put on their bodies or in their brains.
In fact it is increasingly obvious that what they eat affects not only their physical growth and immune system but their behaviour and ability to concentrate.
Jamie Oliver’s television series highlighted the deplorable state of school meals in the UK. The Soil Association, the UK’s most highly respected organic organisation, highlighted the problem when they launched the Food for Life Pilot scheme with five schools in 2003. 
They quickly discovered that children were being fed what Peter Melchett, former Minister of the Environment called ‘muck off a truck’. He used this much quoted term to describe the low quality and low price processed foods that were dominating school dinners served by contract caterers.
This was not a slur on dinner ladies but a condemnation of the food they were forced to feed with a budget of 31p per child for lunch.
Jamie’s tv series sent shock waves through the UK. In an election year the government was quick to respond so the budget has been increased somewhat. Turkey twizzlers and chicken nuggets have been dropped from many school menus and many new initiatives are underway. Better still, it focused everyone’s attention, albeit for a brief period on the deteriorating quality of food as a result of the fixation on producing the maximum food at the minimum cost to the detriment of quality and nutritional content. The reality that much of the food we now eat is nutritionally deficient, a fact well known by the FDA, is gradually dawning on more and more people.
In Ireland few schools provide school lunches so the responsibility falls fairly and squarely on parents to provide a nutritious school lunch which we hope the kids will eat. There is no excuse for schools who sell soft sugary drinks, crisps or sweets to kids, no headmaster or headmistress can plead ignorance at this point. The fact that the profits are reinvested in sports facilities or computers is hardly a logical response.
In the UK the school meal revolution, pre Jamie Oliver, was spearheaded by one feisty dinner lady Jeanette Orrey who is on a mission to improve the food our children eat. She has been catering manager at St Peter’s Primary School, East Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, for fourteen years. She is also schools meals policy advisor to the Soil Association and travels around the country talking about what has been achieved at St Peter’s and encouraging other schools to implement the Food for Life targets. She has won numerous awards, including the Observer Food Award for ‘The Person who has done most for the food and drink industry’ in 2003. She lives in Nottingham with her husband and has three sons.
Jeanette believes in simple, traditional dishes with the occasional modern twist, made with the freshest local, seasonal and –where possible – organic ingredients. Now she has written a unique family cookbook full of tasty, healthy and practical recipes that are easy to make and can be enjoyed whatever age you are.
The book also tells the inspirational story of how Jeanette has become Britain’s most vocal campaigner for good food for our kids. In a climate of rising child obesity and of constant food-related scares, The Dinner Lady’s quiet food revolution reveals how to put Jeanette’s simple ideas into practice. Also included are her tips, after years of experience, on getting even the fussiest children interested and excited by food, both at school and at home; guidance for busy parents on how to make life in the kitchen easier; notes on nutrition, organics and the hidden dangers of processed food; and how to make mealtimes a truly enjoyable experience.

Reuben’s Deli Wraps

– from The Dinner Lady published by Bantam Press at £16.99
Serves 4

450g (1lb) chicken breast
olive oil
225g (8oz) iceberg lettuce
225g (8oz) white cabbage
225g (8oz) carrots
115g (4oz) Cheddar cheese
115g (4oz) mayonnaise
25g (1oz) tomato ketchup
4-8 tortilla wraps

Preheat the oven to 120C/250F/gas ½

Cut the chicken meat into fine slices and stir-fry in a little oil in a heavy-based pan until thoroughly coated. (If making a larger quantity, bake the chicken strips in the oven preheated to 200C/400F/gas 6 for 5-10 minutes until thoroughly cooked.)
Finely shred the lettuce and cabbage, and grate the carrots and cheese. Mix together the grated vegetables and cheese. Mix together the mayonnaise and tomato ketchup to make a sauce.
Brush the tortilla wraps with a little oil and put in the low preheated oven for 2 minutes to warm through.
Spoon a little of the sauce over the wraps, lay a slice or two of the chicken strips along the wrap and put a spoonful of the vegetable and cheese mix on top. Wrap up and serve.

Real Chicken Nuggets

This is one of the simplest recipes in the book. Get the children to help you make them – they love tossing the chicken in a bag of breadcrumbs. Serve with some home-made tomato sauce or relish.
Serves 4

225g (8oz) bread (brown or white)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 egg
125ml (4fl.oz) milk
900g (2lb) diced chicken

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6

Slice the bread, then toast it until light brown. Break up into pieces, crusts and all, and reduce to fine crumbs in the food processor. Add the garlic powder and paprika, and whiz again. Place the breadcrumbs in a large plastic freezer bag or deep tray.
Beat the egg in a large bowl with the milk, and add the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary. Transfer the chicken pieces to the bag or tray of breadcrumbs and toss to coat evenly.
Arrange the crumbed chicken on a lightly greased baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until browned and crisp, and cooked through.

Cheesy Yorkshire Puddings

Jeanette says ‘When I make these, I always leave the batter mixture to rest for about 20 minutes. Then, just before I put the liquid into the tin, I give the batter one last whisk. The puddings always seem to rise better this way – try it! Serve with some good local sausages, mashed potato and seasonal vegetables.
Makes about 24 small puddings
Serves 4 

225g (8oz) plain flour
a pinch of ground pepper
2 eggs
600ml (1 pint) milk
115g (4oz) cheddar cheese
olive oil

Sift the flour and pepper together into a bowl. Add the eggs and half the milk, and beat well until smooth. Beat in the remaining milk. Leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven well to 220C/425F/gas 7. Grate the cheese.
Grease patty or Yorkshire pudding tins with olive oil and put into the hot oven for 5 minutes. Take out of the oven and divide the batter mix between the tins. Quickly add a little cheese to each Yorkshire, and bake in the very hot oven until well risen and golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Tuna Pasta Bake

This is a firm favourite with the children and teaching staff alike and is so easy to make.
Serves 4

225g (8oz) spring onions
olive oil
2 x 185g cans tuna in brine
225g (8oz) frozen peas
450g (1lb) dried pasta

Cheese Sauce
115g (4oz) cheddar cheese
25g (1oz) butter
25g (1oz) plain flour
600ml (1 pint) milk
a pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 3

Cut the green of the spring onions into 5mm(¼in) lengths, and finely slice the remaining white onion. Stir-fry the spring onions for 1-2 minutes in a little oil.
Drain the tuna well, and flake into a bowl. Grate the cheese for the sauce.
Cook the peas in boiling salted water until tender, about 5 minutes. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente.
To make the sauce, melt the butter, add the flour and cook until sandy in colour and texture. Add the milk, whisking all the time, and when it is smooth and has thickened, add the cheese, keeping a little back for the topping. Stir in the cayenne.
Mix the pasta, peas, spring onion, tuna and cheese sauce in a deep dish, sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and bake in the preheated oven until golden on top, about 25 minutes.

Cowboy Casserole

This is very easy and children love it. If you buy good quality sausages and bacon, less fat will come out of them. If you do see some fat, drain it off before adding the beans. Use low sugar and salt baked beans for this recipe, and serve with a jacket potato.
Serves 4

16 thin sausages
225g (8oz) diced lean bacon
2 x 400g cans baked beans

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.

Cut the sausages into small pieces. Put these into a deep tin with the bacon, and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until just golden brown.
Add the beans to the sausage and bacon, cover with tin foil or a lid, and cook for a further 25-30 minutes. Serve hot.

Sneaky Pie

Jeanette calls this pie ‘sneaky’ because of the veg it has in it. They are ‘hidden’ in the baked beans. Use low sugar and salt baked beans.
Serves 4

225g (8oz) plain flour
a pinch of cayenne pepper
55g (2oz) butter or margarine
55g (2oz) vegetable shortening
25ml (1oz) water

Filling and topping

900g (2lb) potatoes
50ml (2fl.oz) warm milk
25g (1oz) butter or margarine
1 small onion
1 carrot
1 courgette
½ red pepper
½ green pepper
olive oil
1x 400g can baked beans
115g (4oz) cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 3.

For the pastry, sift the flour and cayenne pepper into a bowl. Cut the margarine and vegetable shortening into cubes, add to the flour and rub in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and mix with a knife until you have a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge to chill, before rolling it out and using it to line a 20-23cm (8-9in) flan tin. Neaten the edges and bake blind (lined with foil and baking beans or dried beans) in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes. Remove, and turn the oven tup to 200C/400F/gas 6.
Peel the potatoes and cook in boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. Drain and mash the potatoes with the warm milk until very smooth, then add the butter or margarine.
Peel the onion and carrot. Trim the courgette and seed the peppers. Dice all the vegetables into small pieces, and sweat to soften in a little olive oil.
Pour the baked beans into the flan case then layer the vegetables over them. Finally smooth the potato on the top. You can sprinkle a little grated cheese over the flan if liked. Bake in the hot oven for about 20 minutes.

St. Peter’s Mud Pie

This is a dessert that’s fun to make with kids.
Serves 4

225g (8oz) digestive biscuits
55g (2oz) glace cherries
175g (6oz) butter
1 tablespoon drinking chocolate
115g (4oz) castor sugar
115g (4oz) mixed dried fruit
115g (4oz) milk chocolate

Break the biscuits into smallish pieces. Wash the glace cherries of their sticky coating, dry them and chop into smallish pieces.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the drinking chocolate and the sugar to the pan and mix together, then add the dried fruit, broken biscuits and chopped glacé cherries. Mix until all the ingredients are combined.
Line a 20-23cm (8-9in) round flan tin with foil, and pour in the mixture. Press down with the back of a spoon and place in the fridge for about 2 hours.
Break the chocolate into pieces and melt over an indirect heat (in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water). Pour the melted chocolate over the top of the chilled mixture, and spread, using a palette knife. Chill until set. Cut into pieces.

Jam Roly-Poly

This is a firm favourite in the winter term, served with fresh custard made with local milk.
Serves 4

350g (12oz) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
175g (6oz) butter or margarine
200ml (7fl.oz) milk
350g (12oz) raspberry jam

If baking, rather than steaming, preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5

Sift the flour and baking powder together, then coarsely grate the butter or margarine into the flour. (This can be done easily if the fat has been kept in the freezer). Mix to a soft dough with the milk.
Roll the dough into a rectangle of about 30x20cm (12x8in). Lift onto a baking sheet covered with greaseproof paper. Spread the dough with jam, leaving a border of 1cm (½ in) all round. Brush this border with water, and fold over a little dough at either end to seal the jam inside. Roll the dough up like a Swiss roll, using the greaseproof paper. Wrap in loose foil and seal with string at each end.

Bake in a roasting tray in the preheated oven for 1 hour.
Foolproof Food

Jane’s Coleslaw

Jane makes this every day for the children and they love it. It can also be made up to a day in advance and kept in the fridge.
250g (9oz) red cabbage
175g (6oz) carrots
2 tomatoes
½ cucumber
110g (4oz) dried apricots
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Finely shred the red cabbage and put into a large bowl. Peel and grate the carrots, and add to the bowl.
Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds, then chop the flesh roughly. Split the cucumber lengthways and remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut into long strips then cut across to make fine dice. Chop the apricots into dice.
Add the tomato, cucumber and apricot to the cabbage and carrot with the mayonnaise, and mix well.

Hot Tips 

Vegetable Seed Saving – Sunday 4th September at Madeline McKeever’s, Ardagh, Church Cross, Skibbereen, West Cork.
Help preserve our heritage varieties by saving your own seeds. You’ll learn about the biology of pollination and how to separate, dry and store your own seed. You’ll also be developing West Cork’s unique local food.
Contact Madeline on 028-38184  

New Farmers Market in Youghal on Friday mornings from 10.00am in Barry’s Lane

Irish Blueberries now in season – feast on them while you can.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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