The kids are back at school. Catherine Whyte has some tips on how to lush up their lunches
Let’s face it. Being creative with the kids’ school lunches isn’t easy – especially first thing in the morning.
But that’s not to say it can’t be done. Last year, I introduced homemade sushi into the mix. Once you’ve got all the ingredients in your cupboard, it really is a doddle to make: I simply watched a YouTube video and went from there. The only bind is getting up early enough to make sure that there’s enough time for the rice to cool down.
Recently, I received a promo copy of Vegetarian Food for Healthy Kids, which has lots of colourful alternatives to the ubiquitous sandwich, such as cheese and apple scones or Greek pasta pots. You'll find the recipes below, in case you fancy giving them a go.
One of the best investments I’ve ever made was a couple of Thermos food flasks. Soup is so quick to heat up, after which just butter a wholegrain roll and throw in some fruit or a treat. Lunch is now done and dusted.
It’s also Organic September this month. Simply making your kids’ lunch with organic fruit or vegetables (ideally from a veg box) will increase the nutritional content.
If you can’t afford all organic, it’s always best to buy organic cherry tomatoes, apples, grapes and strawberries, remembering that the least pesticide-ridden fruits tend to be mangoes, melons, kiwis and grapefruit. In addition, it’s definitely worth buying organic meat, as the animals enjoy the very highest standards of welfare and graze on organic pasture.
Finally, why not pick interesting alternatives to bread? Say sayonara to sliced and cheer on the chapatti – always choosing wholegrain, of course.
Greek pasta pots (pictured above)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
125g/4½oz/heaped 1¹⁄³ cups dried pasta swirls
2 tomatoes, cut into bite-size chunks
¼ red pepper, deseeded and cut into bite-size chunks
4cm/1½in piece of cucumber, cut into bite-size chunks
1 spring onion/scallion, thinly sliced
1 handful of pitted green or black olives, roughly chopped
1 handful of basil leaves, torn
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and roughly chopped
40g/1oz feta cheese
3 tbsp plain live yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1) Cook the pasta, following the instructions on the packet, then drain and leave to one side to cool slightly. You could cook the pasta the night before if that’s more convenient.
2) While the pasta is cooking, make the dressing. Blend together the feta, yogurt, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water to make a smooth, creamy dressing.
3) Put the pasta in a bowl, add the dressing and turn until the pasta is coated. Add the tomatoes, red pepper, cucumber, spring onion/scallion, olives and basil and turn gently to combine. Divide between two lidded pots and scatter the egg over the top.
Hero Food: Eggs
Eggs are a brilliant addition to a vegetarian diet. Incredibly versatile, the humble egg is an excellent source of protein along with vitamins A, B, D, E and K, as well as the minerals iron, choline, selenium and iodine – altogether an excellent all-rounder.
Cheese & apple scones
Savoury scones make a good alternative to the usual sandwich and these have been pimped up with the addition of cheese, apple and linseeds/flaxseeds. Spread the scones with butter or, to make them more filling, split in half and fill with cream cheese and slices of cucumber. To make sweet scones, leave out the cheese and stir in 2 tablespoons caster/superfine sugar instead.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
200g/7oz/1½ cups self-raising wholegrain flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground linseeds/flaxseeds
50g/1¾oz chilled butter, cubed
1 apple, with skin, cored and grated
90g/3¼oz/generous 1 cup mature Cheddar cheese, grated
100ml/3½fl oz/scant ½ cup milk, plus extra for brushing
1) Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
2) Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl, adding any bran left in the sieve/fine-mesh strainer. Stir in the linseeds/flaxseeds.
3) Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the apple and Cheddar. Gradually, stir in the milk using a fork, then bring the dough together with your hands.
4) Press out the dough on a lightly floured work surface, about 2.5cm/1in thick. Using a 4.5cm/1 ¾ in cutter, stamp out 8 scones. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet and brush the tops with milk. Bake for 20–25 minutes until risen and golden.
Transfer to a wire rack and serve warm or leave to cool.
Hero Food: apples
Much of an apple’s vitamin C content is found within or just below the skin, so it pays to eat the fruit with the skin on. The whole fruit is also a good source of fibre and valuable antioxidants.
Vegetarian Food for Healthy Kids, by Nicola Graimes, is published on September 15 (£12.99, Nourish). You can also grab a copy on Amazon
For further useful information on Organic September visit: soilassociation.org/organic-living/organicseptember