Going Back to School (Part 1)


What a year our children have had to endure.  It’s been difficult for everyone in a myriad of ways but the poor little dotes have been deprived of interaction with their friends, sport and much of their natural behaviour for months on end.  Consequently, many are displaying signs of anxiety and mental illness.  Parents did their very best while they themselves battled to keep going often in a haze of confusion. 

Now it’s back to school time again in a mixture of excitement, apprehension and the extra challenge of providing healthy, wholesome, exciting school lunches every day.  We are all aware that it’s more important than ever to boost our young people’s immune system – it’s all about yummy healthy wholesome, nutrient dense food, our secret weapon to help them resist viruses, colds, flu and to cope with anxiety. 

So let’s do everything we can to source chemical-free, organic food.  The investment will be well worth the effort and occasional extra expense.  A growing body of research indicates beyond a shadow of doubt that the less we spend on nourishing wholesome food, the more we spend on meds and supplements.

Once again, I repeat the mantra ‘our food should be our medicine’ and when I say food, I don’t mean the ultra-processed food that is undoubtedly damaging our health. 

All very fine but it all takes thought, time and effort.  So here are a few suggestions…get the kids involved as soon as possible. 

If lunch is to include a sandwich – good bread is vital.  Soda bread, teeny weeny loaves, scones or bunnies are made in minutes and take only 10-15 minutes to cook.  Most 10 year olds could master it easily and enjoy the fun.  Ideally every lunch should include protein, carbs and fats.  Lots of options but how about an egg and chive mayo, a delicious sandwich filler but could also be a dip or a salad.  Ring the changes by adding a dice of cucumber or a sprinkling of smoked salmon, mackerel as an extra nourishing bounce.

Good nutrition is a vital part of a child’s development. 

Easy pop-ins:

1. A little jar of natural yoghurt – add some stewed fruit or berries occasionally or add a teeny pot of honey.  Those little mini glass pots are brilliantly useful – one can be refilled all year with a relish, sauces, jam or a dip.

2. Peanut butter or a mix of peanut butter and honey to slather over cold toast – yes believe me, it’s delicious.

3. Pitta Pockets are also a favourite, fill them with a mixture of veggie and maybe a few slices of salami and perhaps a sliver or two of cheese.

4. Hummus in its many reincarnations is also a popular choice for vegetable stick dippers. Chickpeas, beetroot, white bean and pea are all delicious…

It’s also worth making a batch of crispy chickpeas – a delicious little nibble as are nourishing nuts, make your own ‘trail mix’ and add some raisins to the nuts, maybe add some sunflower seeds too.

5. Swap out water kefir or kombucha for coke – the super cool fizzy drink for cool kids. 

6. Chips and dips are also a hit, tortilla chips, made from corn are certainly nutritious.  You can make your own for a fraction of the price.  Same with potato crisps, a few slivered potatoes will make a carrier bag full.  Steer well away from the commercial crisps with lots of phony flavours.

7. Chicken drumsticks or wings are also a great favourite to nibble.  Add a little spice if your kids enjoy Asian flavours or add a little pot of Ballymaloe Relish mixed with mayo. 

8. When the weather gets chillier, our kids love a little flask of soup and they are also enthusiastic broth guzzlers.  Save all your bones, vegetable scraps and herb stalks and keep a slow cooker bubbling – it’s magic stuff full of collagen to build healthy bones and teeth.

9. A batch of energy balls are also perfect to pop into a lunch box and we still love flapjacks or oatmeal biscuits – they keep really well, taste delicious and can be drizzled with chocolate occasionally for a special treat.

There’s so much more but I’ve run out of space.  I’ll have to do another column very soon, meanwhile, here are a few tasty bites to try out – let me know what reaction you get and don’t forget to pop in a little piece of fruit…

Teeny Weeny Soda Scones

The soda bread base only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make. Teeny weenie brown or white scones take just 10 – 15 minutes to bake, depending on size and are irresistible to children and adults alike.  Maybe brush the top with buttermilk or egg wash and dip in grated cheese or a mixture of seeds.

Makes approximately 40 teeny weenies but one could make a mixture of shapes or half the recipe

1lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon teaspoon of salt

1 level teaspoon teaspoon of bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 350 – 400ml (12-14fl oz) approx.

4cm (1 1/2 inch) cutter approximately

First fully preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured board.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up then flip it over. Flatten the dough into a round, about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and stamp out into teeny weeny scones. Bake in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes (approx.) or until cooked through. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

Cool on a wire rack.

Chopped fresh herbs e.g.; rosemary, thyme or olives may be added to the dry ingredients to make delicious little herb scones.

Brush the tops with egg wash and dip in grated cheddar cheese for yummy cheddar teeny weenies.

Blathnaid’s Energy Balls

Special thanks to my highly energetic sister Blathnaid Bergin who shared this recipe with me.  A batch of these will keep for several weeks and can be popped into lunch boxes on a whim.

Makes 24 x 50g (2oz) balls

280g (9 3/4oz) cocoa butter or chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa (64%)

85g (3 1/4oz) cocoa powder

160g (5 1/2oz) peanut butter, smooth or crunchy

8 tablespoons of honey or 12 tablespoons maple or agave syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract


260g (9 1/4oz) – use 1 or a mixture of cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan, roughly chopped

60g (2 1/2oz) raisins or dried raspberries

100g (3 1/2oz) dried apricots, preferably unsulphered, roughly chopped

40g (1 1/2oz) Medjool dates, roughly chopped

100g (3 1/2oz) dried figs, finely chopped

pinch of salt

1 x loaf tin – 24cm (9 1/2 inch) lined with parchment paper

Half fill a large saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and turn it off.  Melt the cocoa butter or chocolate in a bowl over the simmering water, stirring every now and then.  Add the cocoa powder, peanut butter, honey (or maple or agave syrup), vanilla extract and mix well.

Add the chopped nuts and fruit mixture to the melted cocoa butter and stir well.  Pour immediately into the prepared tin.  Allow to set in a cool place and chill in the fridge.  Cut into squares or roll into balls.

If you like you can roll the balls in a little desiccated coconut. 

Store in an airtight box in the fridge.

Tortilla Chips

Corn tortilla chips are full of goodness and make an excellent alternative to crisps, they will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Serves 4

6-8 corn tortillas

oil for deep frying

1 teaspoon salt

Cut the tortillas into eighths.

Heat the oil to 200°C/400°F. 

Fry the pieces until they are pale golden.  Stir occasionally to ensure that all the tortilla chips colour evenly.  Drain on absorbent paper, season and toss with the salt.   


Proceed as above, toss with 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) and/or 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne if required. 

Nibble as they are or use to scoop up a dip.   

Chips and Dips

Children love dips, there are lots of options, tomato salsa, guacamole, satay sauce, hummus but you might like to try this spicy dip. 

Spicy Peanut Dip

Use batons of carrots, cucumber, peas in the pod, roast sweet potato wedges, potato crisps, tortilla chips…

Makes 600ml (1 pint approx.)

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1-2 tablespoons red curry paste

1 x 400ml (14fl oz) tin of coconut milk

140g (scant 5oz) creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon fish sauce, Nam Pla

1-2 tablespoons honey


Gently heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the curry paste, stir and cook until the paste begins to stick to the base of the saucepan, 2–3 minutes.

Whisk in the coconut milk and continue to cook, until the mixture turns a shade darker and reduces slightly, about 3 minutes.  Take off the heat, whisk in the peanut butter, vinegar, fish sauce and honey. Season to taste with salt and add a little more honey if necessary.  Cool and store in the fridge – it will keep for 5-6 days. 

Homemade Potato Crisps

Making crisps 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 (1lb) 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/350°F.

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.

Roast Sweet Potato Wedges

Serves 4

Quick and easy and super nutritious and once again terrifically versatile – a delicious little snack or starter or use as a dipper.

Pumpkin wedges can be swapped for sweet potatoes.

2 sweet potatoes (approximately 450g/1lb in weight) (orange fleshed, if possible)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary or thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon freshly roasted ground cumin and coriander

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Wash the sweet potatoes and cut them into quarters lengthwise.  Pop into a bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with the chopped herbs or chosen spices. Season with sea salt and toss into a roasting tin.   Bake for 10-15 minutes turning once until completely tender and lightly golden.

Egg and Chive Mayonnaise

I can’t resist egg sandwiches.  I love them with lots of chives or spring onions but many kids are wary of green bits in their food so just leave them out if that’s the case.

Serves 2-4

4 free range eggs

3-4 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

1 tablespoon of finely chopped chives or spring onions

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Lower the eggs gently into boiling salted water, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 10 minutes.  Drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water.  (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked). When cold, shell, and chop coarsely.  Mix with the mayonnaise and chives or spring onions.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.


These nutritious biscuits keep very well in an airtight tin.  Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.

Makes 24-32

450g (1lb) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)

350g (12oz) butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

175g (6oz) castor sugar

Swiss roll tin, 25.5cm (10 inch) x 38cm (15 inches) 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/350°F/Gas Mark 4, until golden and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm.

Note: Make half the recipe if a 23cm (9 inch) x 33cm (13 inch) Swiss roll thin is used.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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