JUST like their bright-eyed children heading off to new classrooms, most parents start the school year with an A+ attitude to the lunchbox.
They devote plenty of time to ensuring their children have the best possible brain food and energy-packed goodness for their day.
But by Easter, parents' effort, enthusiasm and imagination can start to wane to a C-.
The cheerful ritual of providing a well-balanced, neatly packed meal starts to become a daily chore of throwing together a variety of packaged and processed convenience foods.
Over the course of your child's schooling, they'll need 2400 lunches for about 40 weeks a year, five days a week, over 12 years (not counting prep, preschool, kindergarten or childcare).
And your child would deserve an award if they had to put up with that many Vegemite or peanut butter sandwiches.
But The Clever Packed Lunch author Hazel Key is determined to ensure parents pass the lunchbox test with flying colours.
She believes that for the amount of time parents spend shopping for convenience foods, they could be making their own healthy lunchbox delights.
The mother of two children aged 11 and 14 knows better than most parents how hard providing tasty, nutritiously healthy food can be. She ran a school tuckshop for a year, setting out the new menu and creating the variety of fresh delights from scratch from wholly organic ingredients.
"I learnt a lot about what children like to eat," she said.
"They like food that is familiar and recognisable."
Hazel said familiar and recognisable foods - even pizza - could be healthy, using quality ingredients and organic where possible.
"We're using too much sugar and gluten in our diets," she said.
"People think they are saving time by buying these packaged things but that's not necessarily so.
"If they get organised, they're not going to notice (the time) because there's not that much difference.
"They're also going to save a lot of money."
Hazel said she had done her own research on muesli bars, for example, and discovered that they were priced on average at 71cents each.
But she could make her homemade muesli bars using organic ingredients and without "the 36 different ingredients - emulsifiers, preservatives, antioxidants, anti-foaming agents ..." for 26 cents each.
She said she could quite understand that parents who did not like cooking would struggle to prepare a diverse selection of lunchbox goodies that were tasty and healthy.
But she said parents could be inspired if they set aside a little time to flick through her own or other cookbooks or go online for recipe ideas.
Cooking and baking on weekends or school holidays, getting the children involved in the planning, could all help overcome the daily lunchbox grind, she said.
The Clever Packed Lunch, edited and approved by nutritionist Beata Sinclair who runs Brisbane Nutritional Health, is full of easy lunch ideas to help parents support their children's learning.
It includes a two-week menu plan, with full-page photos, and a resource of healthy recipes gathered over many years.
Plenty of time-saving ideas are provided in the book, such as a clever system for "Plan-Ahead" sandwiches, and recipes that can be adapted for evening meals.
The eBook can be used on mobile phones to allow parents to access a pantry checklist and shop for specific recipes while in the supermarket.
Contact Hazel on 0412 840 765, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Clever Packed Lunch is available as a soft-cover book for $24.95 or online as an eBook from lunchideasforschool.com for $9.95.
Gluten-free Sushi Rice Slice - 6-12 serves (12 slices)
- 3 cups cooked medium-grain white rice*
- 3 lightly beaten eggs
- 150g fresh filleted salmon or 1 x 200g can (finely sliced/roughly flaked)
- 3 tablespoons sushi vinegar or sushi seasoning
- 2 tablespoons chives or spring onion (snipped: use scissors)
- 2 sheets nori seaweed (cut into short fine strips: use scissors)
1. Heat the oven to 200C (gas mark 5).
2. Line a 23cm square or round baking tin with non-stick (baking) paper so the mixture won't stick.
3. Put the cooled rice into a medium bowl and using a fork, stir in the beaten egg, breaking up the lumps as you go.
4. Add all the other ingredients stirring gently, just enough to combine.
5. Transfer to the baking tin and spread to the edges.
6. Bake for about 25-30 minutes (slice) or 20-25 minutes (cakes) until golden brown on top.
7. Cool before freezing in a sealed container between layers of non-stick paper.
These will keep for two months in the freezer (at -18C) but don't store in the fridge for more than a day. Defrost them in the fridge overnight ready for the lunch-box next day and serve with Tamari.
Note on cooking the rice: One cup of uncooked rice = about three cups cooked rice. Sushi Rice would normally be used for a recipe like this, but it is much more expensive and I've found ordinary Medium Grain Rice works just as well.
Beef and Spinach Meatballs - Makes 7 serves of four meatballs each
- 500g lean minced beef
- 200g frozen chopped leaf spinach
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about two cloves)
- 3 cups (250g) grated cheddar cheese
1. Mix all the ingredients together.
2. Pre-heat the oven to moderate (180C/gas mark 4).
3. Using about 2 tablespoons of mix, roll into balls and place on to prepared baking trays.
4. Cook for 20-30 minutes until nicely browned.
5. Cool completely before freezing in a sealed container between layers of non-stick paper.
These are delicious served cold.
Serve with pita bread or rice, a mixed salad and some organic egg mayonnaise. However, if you do want to serve them hot, wrap in foil and place in a moderate oven for 20 minutes then put straight into the lunch box. If you use an insulated container, and pre-heat it with boiled water, they should stay hot until lunch-time.
Crunchy Cereal and Chocolate Chip Cookies - Makes about 26 cookies
These are truly delicious. They're lovely and crunchy and because they contain very little sugar you can really taste the dried fruit, the butter, the seeds ... they're a real, healthy, treat.
To save time, cookies can be baked in a lamington pan, as a slice, instead of individual cookies and then sliced when cold.
Note that if you use this method, and like your cookies crunchy you may need to increase the cooking time by about 5 minutes.
- 220g (8oz)
- unsalted butter
- ½ cup
- Rapadura sugar
- 1 cup wholemeal flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pinch salt(omit if using salted butter)
- 1½ cups porridge oats
- 1 cup low-sugar breakfast cereal
- ½ cup good-quality dark chocolate chips, frozen ideally to hold their shape
- ½ cup mixed seeds(mix of linseeds, sunflower, sesame, poppy, and pumpkin )
- ½ cup any dried fruit, chopped smaller if needed (cranberries add wonderful colour, and flavour, as well as extra nutritional value)
- 2 eggs,lightly beaten
1. Prepare two baking trays so the dough won't stick (eg by greasing or lining with non-stick baking paper).
2. Heat oven to Moderate.
3. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat.
4. Meanwhile put the 1 cup of flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and pinch of salt into a large bowl, stir in the 1½ cups oats and 1 cup cereal followed by the ½ cup each of chocolate chips, seeds, and dried fruit.
5. Place the 2 beaten eggs into a small bowl and add the melted butter mixture and mix.
6. Add to the dry mixture, stirring until combined.
7. Place golf ball sized quantities of the dough, spaced out, onto the baking sheets and flatten lightly with a wet fork.
8. Bake for 12-14 mins until golden.
Cool before freezing in a sealed container between layers of non-stick paper.