School’s back and it’s time to fill lunchboxes with healthy food. Here are my tips to make the job a little easier.
Firstly, get your kids involved as much as you can. They will be more likely to eat what they have made and packed for themselves.
Children from the age of eight can make their own lunches, supervised by an adult. Some younger children will also be able to do this task, enjoying the satisfaction and sense of independence this gives. Everyone learns valuable skills about making healthy food choices, which will be with them for life.
When there is little time available in the morning, lunch can be made the night before and refrigerated. This is also a good idea for refrigerating or freezing water bottles, especially during the hot weather in first term. Try freezing a tub of yoghurt, as a cool treat.
Plan ahead to make sure you have plenty of healthy ingredients in the fridge. I like to have prepared foods in easy to see storage containers. For example, grated carrot, sliced cucumber and celery, cooked chicken, washed lettuce leaves, hardboiled eggs and omelettes (see recipe below). Cheese can be stored in small containers and makes a good snack with crackers. Homemade dips are a healthy way to add flavour to sandwiches and rolls.
Stock up on lunch box sized seasonal fruit. At its peak both in flavour and nutrition, it is also relatively cheap. At this time of year look for sweet cherry tomatoes, grapes, strawberries and stone fruits, small bananas and mini sized apples, too. Watermelon and honeydew can be chopped into large pieces and kept in a container in the fridge, then packed for school in a sealed container or ziplock bag.
When it comes to sweet treats, there is no need to buy packaged products, as you can easily make your own. See the muesli bar recipe below. Homemade muffins are delicious and can be made on the weekend, ready for the week ahead.
With a little forward planning, you’ll have school lunches organised in next to no time.
**An important note that a concerned reader brought to my attention: some children suffer from severe nut allergies. You can make these muesli bars without using nuts or hazelnut meal.
Cranberry and almond muesli bars
Make your own muesli bars and you get to add all your favourite natural and healthy ingredients. Use up any leftover cereal, such as crushed Weetbix. Cut into bars or make them bitesize.
½ (half) cup honey
¼ (quarter) cup raw sugar
1 ½ (one and a half) cups natural muesli
1 cup crushed breakfast cereal (e.g. Weetbix)
2 tbsp ground hazelnut meal
½ (half) tsp cinnamon
1/3 (third) cup dry roasted almonds, chopped
1/3 (third) cup cranberries or other dried fruit
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
Preheat oven to 180C fanforced (200C conventional).
Line a 17 x 26 cm slice tray with baking paper.
Place honey, sugar and butter in a small saucepan over low heat and cook until butter has melted and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.
Mix together muesli, cereal, hazelnut meal, cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit and seeds. Pour in honey mixture and stir until well combined.
Place the mixture in the baking tray and press down firmly to flatten and compact.
Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden and set. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tray. When cool, remove from tray and slice into 12 bars.
Pear and raspberry muffins
Muffins are a mainstay of school lunches, easy to make on the weekend for the coming week. Get the kids involved and use this recipe as a base, substituting different fruits to change the flavour. Remember that the best muffins are gently hand mixed. Do not over mix or your muffins will be tough.
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ (half) cup canola oil
¾ (three quarters) cup buttermilk
zest 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup tinned pear pieces, chopped
1 cup frozen raspberries
2 tbsp rolled oats for topping
2 tbsp raw sugar for topping
Preheat oven to 170C fanforced (190C conventional).
Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
Mix flour with brown sugar in a large bowl and set aside.
Whisk eggs with oil, buttermilk, lemon zest and vanilla.
Gently stir into flour mix until just combined. The mixture will be thick and slightly lumpy. Do not over mix or your muffins will be tough.
Fold through pear and raspberries.
Place in 12 muffin cases. Sprinkle oats and raw sugar over the top. Bake in oven for 20 -25 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
Soft rolls with omelette and prosciutto
This recipe is delicious using soft rolls, a thin omelette and super thin slices of prosciutto or ham. Make the omelette the night before and refrigerate, if you’re short on time. Add grated vegetables or herbs to give extra flavour. This is a great way of getting eggs into the lunchbox, without any eggy smells.
1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp chopped mixed fresh herbs e.g. parsley, basil
ground pepper to season
1 soft long roll e.g. panini
2 thin slices prosciutto or good quality ham on the bone
2 cos lettuce leaves
Break eggs into a medium bowl, add milk and lightly beat with a fork. Add herbs and season with pepper. Heat a non stick pan over medium heat, spray with a little cooking oil and pour egg mixture into pan. Allow mixture to cook for about 3 minutes until set, then remove from pan onto a plate and refrigerate until cold.
Slice roll lengthwise, almost all the way through, keeping one edge attached. Fold omelette in half and place in the roll, add a couple of slices of prosciutto and some lettuce.