Last week I promised to concentrate on school lunches in my next column so here it comes…
By now all our little dotes are back at school. For many parents, it’s a tumultuous mixture of emotions – a huge relief to be back into a routine once again, but also tinged with sadness if your little one is starting school for the first time and a new anxiety – the daily school lunch!
We are all aware that school lunch represents a third of the child’s daily nutrient intake but there are so many challenges. How to fill that box with exciting, yet nourishing wholesome food, that will be acceptable to kids themselves and not be ridiculed by their peers. Such a minefield – how can food have reached this stage?
One ‘catty’ remark from an opinionated friend can banish the raw cauliflower florets or crunchy radishes from the lunch box forever.
A high percentage of kids want sandwiches, easy to pack, easy to eat and I know I am like a broken record but the quality of our daily bread is crucially important. The standard of most shop bought sliced bread, both brown and white is deeply worrying, squishy, doughy, artificially boosted and in some instances undercooked. Often with an interesting list of ingredients that won’t be found in the kitchen cupboard of any home baker.
Last week, I gave a recipe for Little Brown Loaf, so hope you have already discovered how super simple it is to make and experienced a ‘Ooops of delight’ in your tummy when you took that first loaf of bread out of the oven.
I was so thrilled to hear from one proud Mum that her 11 year old, who watched her making the bread has now decided to take over the making of the daily school lunch loaf – how cool is that! Next step a mini bakery, to develop her entrepreneurial skills…
Sandwiches are so easy to ‘grab, gobble and go’, but try to swap out the super easy, old reliable processed ham and cheese. The, universal favourite combination, is not the problem it’s the quality. Slices of good cheddar and home cooked bacon are the option here. Cook a piece of oyster cut bacon (the lean joint between loin and ham) as a ‘go to’ – keep in the fridge for sandwiches and salads.
Some children go through a phase of not liking crusts but don’t automatically cut them off because they are so tasty and good for children’s chewing mechanism.
Without getting into too much of a knot, one needs to include some protein, carbohydrate, dairy, fruit and vegetables in the daily lunch box.
Hardboiled egg, is a brilliantly easy to eat protein – provide a little pot of mayo, sumac or a mix of flaky sea salt, chili flakes and roasted cumin, depending on how adventurous your kids are. . . .
Let’s not fall into the trap of saying they won’t like that – I’ve found that the question “Who’s brave enough to try the supercool ???” – tempts many warriors to have a go. Avocado is another brilliant lunchbox option, provide a spoon and a few flakes of sea salt or make a simple guacamole. . .
Hummus and variations, now a lunchbox staple for many is the perfect dip for raw carrot sticks, pepper, cucumber as is Tahina… Add some little super fresh cauliflowers florets or sprouting broccoli , they are crunchy and delicious to munch on or dip. But make sure it’s organic or chemical free, otherwise you are giving your children a fine dose of pesticide and herbicide residues to mess up their gut biome.
Slices of salami, salami sticks or little pieces of smoked fish are also delicious and super nutritious and easy to nibble.
My favourite sandwich of the moment is sourdough toast with almond butter, sliced banana, honey and a few sea salt flakes. Vegetable or cheese croquettes are also a big hit, spicy drumsticks or even plain roasted drumsticks are also good and easy to hold. A little crustless quiche or mini frittata will keep them bouncing with energy. Cherry tomatoes, cheddar cheese cubes, bocconcini (little mozzarella balls) all easy nibble. Why not thread the cheese, cherry tomato and basil leaves onto a cocktail stick…
Teeny scones are always appealing and delicious too, while a little flask of nourishing soup is just the thing on a chilly day…so many options but here are a few suggestions to get your started….
Little Frittatas with Chorizo
A perfect little school lunch, almost a soufflé, without flour so it is suitable for coeliacs. Lots of fun can be had with this recipe, substitute the chorizo or bacon with a dice of pumpkin, sweet potato, courgette, cherry tomato…
275g (5oz) soft chorizo, peeled and chopped or diced, cooked streaky bacon
250ml (5floz) a mixture of ½ cream and ½ milk
75g (3oz) mature Cheddar, plus extra for sprinkling on the top
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
6 x small ramekins 110mls (4fl oz) or a muffin tin lined with muffin papers.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
First peel and chop the chorizo or bacon and divide between the ramekins – a good tablespoonful in each.
Whisk the eggs, cream and milk; add the grated cheese and parsley and salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.
Just before cooking, stir the batter and pour over the chorizo, sprinkle with grated cheese and pop into the oven for 15 minutes.
They will puff up and be nicely golden on top.
Cool and enjoy! These can be made the night before and popped into the lunchbox.
Made in minutes guacamole is super nutritious and makes a delicious dip. The avocado must be really ripe and preferably organic…
1 ripe avocado (Hass if available)
1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander or flat parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Scoop out the flesh from the avocado. Mash with a fork or in a pestle and mortar, add lime juice, olive oil, chopped coriander, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Otherwise, cover the surface of the guacamole with a sheet of plastic to exclude the air. Cover and keep cool until needed.
A little finely diced chilli or tomato may be added to the guacamole.
Ballymaloe Sausage Rolls
Makes 8 – 16 depending on size
450g (1 lbs) Good Quality Pork Sausages (90% pork meat) or homemade sausage meat – see recipe
450g (1lb) Puff Pastry
Make the homemade sausages or remove the sausages from their casings. Then form into rolls, either regular or jumbo size to fit the pastry.
Roll the pastry into a rectangle about 4mm (1/6 inch) thick. Lay the sausage along the wider side 5cm (2 inch) from the edge. Brush with egg wash or water. Fold over the excess pastry, press to seal and cut along the edge. Flake the edge with a knife or seal with a fork. Brush the top of pastry with egg wash and prick the surface with a fork at 1” (2cm) intervals. Cover and chill. Repeat with the remainder. Before cooking cut into 8’s or 16’s .
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450F/Gas Mark 8.
Cook for 20-25 minutes depending on size.
Ballymaloe Homemade Sausages
Sausages made from 100 percent lean meat may sound good, but for sweetness and succulence one needs some fat. The addition of breadcrumbs is not just to add bulk, it greatly improves the texture, too.
(Makes 16 Small or 8 large sausages)
450g (1lb) good, fat streaky pork (rindless), minced
2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, rosemary and sage)
60g (21⁄2oz) soft white breadcrumbs
1 large garlic clove
1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
1 organic egg (optional – helps to bind – reduce breadcrumbs to 50g/2oz if omitting egg)
dash of oil for frying
50g (2oz) natural sheep or hog casings (optional)
Chop the herbs finely and mix through the breadcrumbs. Crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Whisk the egg, and then mix into the other ingredients thoroughly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry off a little knob of the mixture to check the seasoning. Correct if necessary. Fill the mixture into natural sausage casings and tie. Twist into sausages at regular intervals. Alternatively, divide into 16 pieces and roll into lengths to make skinless sausages. Cover and chill.
Homemade sausages are best eaten fresh but will keep refrigerated for 2–3 days.
When ready to eat, fry gently on a barely oiled pan on a medium heat until golden on all sides.
Pop in a little pot of homemade ketchup or bramley apple sauce to dip.
A wonderfully nutritious and filling dip to add to lunch boxes, add breadsticks, carrot sticks, celery sticks or chopped peppers to dip.
Serves 4 – 6
1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chickpeas, drained (or 200g/7oz of dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight, then cooked in fresh water till soft – reserve cooking liquid)
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 good tablespoons of tahini paste
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Check for seasoning. Thin to required consistency with chickpea cooking water.
Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Bites
A yummy bite…
Thread a fresh basil leaf a ripe cherry tomato and a bocconcini or a cube of mozzarella onto a cocktail stick and pop into the lunch box….easy!
A little treat but more nutritious than most.
Makes 6 – 8 – gluten free
3 large eggs
125ml (4flozs) coconut oil
2 bananas peeled and mashed
3 dates stoned and chopped
Scant 2flozs of maple syrup
25g (1oz) of coconut flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
25g (1oz) of walnuts, chopped
Cupcake tin lined with papers.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350F/gas mark 4. Whisk the eggs with the coconut oil and maple syrup, add the mashed bananas and chopped dates. Stir in the coconut flour, salt, sieved bicarbonate of soda and chopped walnuts. Mix well. Divide the mixture between the cases. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until puffed and golden.