May 15, 2019 6:30 am Leave your thoughts
What’s in your child’s packed lunch today? Hard-boiled quails’ eggs? Mini pots of hummus and olives? Home-made seed and nut flapjacks? Or string cheese, sausage rolls from the local garage, and a Kit Kat?
And have you got one eye out for the lunch-box police?
Those of you without young children may not be aware of this new, 21st century arm of law enforcement. Following the efforts of Jamie Oliver to revolutionise school dinners, the battleground has moved on slightly – to lunch boxes.
In some primary schools, there are teachers inspecting the contents of all lunch boxes, confiscating or sending back home items deemed ‘unhealthy’. In other schools, it’s the dinner ladies who get this task. In some rare cases, it’s older children.
Now, Prue Leith, School Meals Tsar, has waded into the fray. Speaking in March at ‘Biting back: transforming food experiences for Scotland’s children’, a conference held at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh, she pulled on her high-vis bullet-proof vest, picked up her riot shield, and prepared to pull no punches.
Packed lunches should be banned ‘with immediate effect’, she proposed. Parents were sending children with absolute rubbish and Would Not Be Told. Efforts to promote healthy eating had to ignore the family setting – parents were simply ‘too hard and expensive’ to reach, she said, euphemistically.
Prue didn’t stop at lunchboxes, either. She called for choice to be removed from school menus (except for pupils with dietary requirements). Everyone else should eat the same, staff and pupils together, and should sit down to do so, using proper table manners and without their phones. Ideally, a sixth-former should read aloud from a classic novel during the meal and at least one comment should be made in French by each pupil. (The latter suggestions are not necessarily Prue’s, but I think she’d approve.)
Many of our customers will agree with everything she says. But many will have no choice but to keep on providing packed lunches – in an awful lot of cases, they’re simply much healthier than the school meals on offer. If you’re in this situation, how do you go about handling the lunchbox police – and how do you make sure your packed lunches are genuinely healthy?
Beat the lunchbox police!
One problem some parents are encountering is that many of the ‘lunchbox police’ seem to lack an understanding of nutrition. There’s often a worrying and widespread belief that anything labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘low sugar’ is de facto healthy. From this viewpoint, heavily processed ‘low fat’ ready-made commercial diet food, stuffed with sweeteners and stabilisers, is healthy and to be encouraged. A simple cheese sandwich, on the other hand, is considered ‘unhealthy’, as proper cheese ‘contains fat’. A cake bar branded ‘low-fat’ or ‘healthy’ by its manufacturers, packed full of artificial sweeteners, preservatives and flavours, passes the test. But a square of organic dark chocolate is unhealthy and must be returned home.
Once you’ve worked out what’s banned from lunch boxes, you have to exercise considerable ingenuity to work out what you can put in. It’s got to get past your kids, of course, as well as the school police. Luckily, we’re bursting with ideas! Here’s all you need for inspection-proof, delicious and nutritious packed lunches.
Sandwiches – and beyond
For healthy sandwiches, you need wholemeal bread, with proper fillings – proper cheese, cold cuts of unprocessed meat, hummus and other spreads.
Try out some interesting bread: kids tend to love pitta breads – our previous blog How to make pitta bread is all about making your own, with a recipe that’s easy enough for kids to manage alone (with help at the cooking point, obviously). We’d also suggest trying out making your own focaccia or pizza dough.
When you’re utterly bored of sandwiches, try ‘deconstructing’ them, sticking alternate pieces of bread and filling on a blunt skewer, like a kebab.
Or move onto crackers, crispbreads or breadsticks. We’re also a big fan of homemade cheese scones and cheese straws (and indeed, little homemade quiches) in the place of sandwiches. You can find a good recipe for cheese scones here and for cheese straws here.
Straying beyond bread and pastry, we’d suggest par-boiling some wedges or chunks of potato or sweet potato. Season as far as you dare (some kids love garlic, rosemary and thyme, or a dash of cayenne pepper – others will just about manage salt and pepper). Drizzle with oil and roast in the oven. They’re great hot, but lovely cold too. Cold potato rosti is another really delicious option – use this recipe here.
Meanwhile, cold pasta, couscous or rice salad, or leftover bulgar wheat or quinoa, are often popular. Mix the cold pasta or couscous with some kind of dressing or oil so that it doesn’t clump together. Throw in some bits of cheese, meat, fish or vegetables. If you’re serving cold rice, make sure the lunchbox contains a cool-block, so that the rice stays safe to eat. And don’t forget to include a spoon or fork!
Step away from processed meat
We sell a great range of vegan pates, which might well appeal to your children. If you’re still at the basic-cheese-&-ham stage, however, you may need to broaden horizons more gradually. Instead of processed meat, put in some strips of cold, proper meat. Include cold home-made chicken nuggets or mini-burgers: see this great recipe for nuggets here and this one for homemade burgers here. For both of these, a tiny pot of homemade fresh ‘salsa’ – even if it’s nothing more than tinned tomatoes with the tiniest hint of spice – makes a great dip.
Ten a day
If you’re bored of seeing the same cherry tomato and apple travel to and from school each day, it’s maybe time to be a little more adventurous….
How about a rainbow salad? Help your kids slice or grate some raw cabbage or lettuce, with carrots and peppers, for an appealing, colourful mix.
Or try individual pots of salad: many kids like their salad clearly separate, rather than combined in the more adult versions we’re used to. An individual pot of tomatoes, plus one of carrots and one of cucumber, may stand more chance of getting eaten than a mixed salad bowl.
Think a little outside the (lunch)box too – how about shredded raw cabbage? Raw mushrooms? Or frozen peas that defrost nicely just in time for lunch?
A potful of berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries) is a good option, or individual servings of grapes and satsuma pieces, rather than the same old apple or banana. A selection of fruit on a (blunt) skewer looks appealing too. And Naturally Good Food has some great little pots of fruit puree, which, if you put in a spoon, are another unusual way to include a fruit option.
We also have our unbeatable range of dried fruit. Try a few sticky, toffee dates, a handful of raisins or sultanas, or some dark, caramelish, unsulphured apricots. More exotically, we’ve got dried mango and banana chips.
What’s for pud?
If your kids don’t yet count fruit as pudding, and if you’re allowed to include something sweet in a lunchbox, then the best possible advice is to make your own pudding, wherever you can. You can see our full range of baking ingredients here.
Naturally Good Food is particularly famous for its flapjack recipe (see it here). This is a great option for lunchboxes, because it’s a chewy kind of flapjack, rather than the crumbly sort that turn right back into muesli by break-time.
A small flapjack, with a square of dark chocolate, is a real treat – and one that I’m absolutely sure Prue would be happy to endorse!
Tags: apricots, banana chips, breadsticks, bulgar wheat, cayenne pepper, couscous, crackers, crispbread, dates, dried fruit, dried mango, flapjack, fruit puree, Jamie Oliver, lunchbox police, organic apricots, organic dark chocolate, packed lunch, pasta, perfect chewy flapjack, pitta bread, Prue Leith, quinoa, raisins, Rice, rosemary, school dinners, school lunch, spice, sultanas, thyme, tinned tomatoes, vegan pate, vegan spread
This post was written by Yzanne