Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

We’re now heading into the fourth week of school and many of us are struggling to come up with healthy, inventive, appetising lunch box meals for our little ones.  Sandwiches are the safest bet but can be pretty tiresome.  It’s really hard to strike that perfect balance of healthy and appetising, a total minefield when even the smallest of children can have the most diverse of tastes.  My 5 year old is a pleasure to pack a lunch for as he adores all (and I mean all!) fruit and vegetables AND is an adventurous eater.  The 3 year old is a different matter entirely.  No fruit passes his lips, ever.  I have tried all manner of disguises but he will not be duped.  “Cormacs don’t eat fruit”- direct quote, I kid you not. He is currently attending Montessori two mornings per week and I have tried and tested a number of lunches with mixed success.  I think the key is to keep putting different things in that little Star Wars lunchbox until we have built up an arsenal of healthy lunches that he will actually eat.  Trial and error I suppose.  One thing he is sure to gobble up is hummus.  Most kids love to dip and this ticks that box.  I usually toast some wholemeal pittas and slice them into soldiers along with cucumber sticks.  I like to slice the cucumber lengthways and scrape out the watery seeds as they can be come soggy and unappealing after sitting all morning in a plastic container.  Bonus feature: the anti viral properties of the raw garlic as well as the vitamin C from the lemon in the hummus help their little immune systems ward off coughs and colds during the Winter months.

ingredients:

1 tin chickpeas drained

juice of one lemon

2 cloves minced or finely chopped garlic

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

1 tablespoon natural yoghurt

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Method:  place all of the above in a food processor and blitz until fairly smooth.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.  The hummous will hold for about 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

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The next recipe is not really a recipe, more a tip than anything.  Children tend to like pastry and little golden parcels with different fillings have been popular with my little boys.  Get a roll of pre made puff pastry from the supermarket, from the fridge or freezer.  (Bear in mind you’ll need to thaw the frozen one- no renditions of “let it go” now please!)  I like to cut the pastry into squares and lob a big spoonful of my filling of choice into the middle.  Next, brush the edges with egg wash, fold one corner over to meet the other corner and press to seal.  Brush over the triangles with egg wash.  The filling could be ham and cheese, chopped spinach and cream cheese with a pinch of nutmeg or whatever you (or your children) fancy.  This is also a great way of using up leftovers such as chicken curry or roasted vegetables.  Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees celcius) for about 15 to 20 minutes or until puffed up and gloriously golden.

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“Do you know the muffin man?”

“The muffin man?”

“THE MUFFIN MAAANN!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

One of my favourite parts of Shrek, the interrogation scene with the the Gingerbread Man.  Anyway, muffins are a great way of sneakily getting fruit into people.  Here’s a recipe for wholesome blueberry and apple muffins.  You can substitute with different fruits of choice, maybe blackberries instead of the blueberries or you could just do an all Apple variety, just use 2 grated apples instead of one and omit the berries.  Throw in a pinch of cinnamon with the apples while you’re at it.

Ingredients:

175g plain flour

100g wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

85g blueberries

1 large apple, grated

275mls milk

75mls sunflower oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.  Line a bun tray or muffin tin with cases.  2.  Place the flours, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.  (You can sift in the plain but not the wholemeal flour as it’s too coarse).     3. In another bowl, add your eggs, sunflower oil, milk and vanilla extract and with an electric mixer or whisk, beat until frothy.  4. Add the wet mixture to the bowl of dry ingredient and stir carefully until just incorporated.  Stir in the grated apple and blueberries.  5. Spoon mixture into cases, being careful not to over fill.  Bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes or so or until a skewer comes out clean.  Depending on the size or your bun cases/ muffin cases, very large muffins will take longer ao add on another 5 minutes.  Allow to cool in tthe tin for a few minutes before putting onto a wire rack.  If you’re not run ragged and heading to work post school run,  be sure to have at least one muffin aside for yourself for that hard earned cup of tea.

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Eggs.  My children are big fans.  We regularly have eggy breakfasts such as omlettes, pancakes, French toast or the trusty frittata.  You can add lots of things to a frittata; tomatoes, ham, peppers, cooked bacon, cheese, mushrooms or finely chopped spinach.  My favourite is broccoli (leftover, steamed from dinner the night before!) and cheese.  Preheat your grill and be sure to use a smallish, non stick frying pan.  You want your frittata to be thick, like a pastry-less quiche and it will get lost on a larger pan.  In a large jug or bowl, gently whisk 4 medium eggs, a splash of milk and a good handful of grated cheddar.   Season with salt and black pepper. Throw in your broccoli.  Heat a little oil on your frying pan and add the mixture.  The egg will start to cook very quickly and when the bottom part starts to set and take on a nice golden colour, use a fish slice to gently lift it up and let the runny, uncooked part slide in under to cook.   After a few minutes, most of the egg will be cooked, apart from the very top.  Pop your pan under the grill to finish that off, adding an extra little sprinkling of grated cheese to the top if you wish.  Allow to cool a little before eating/ slicing and placing in lunchbox.

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