The school lunchbox challenge has begun. To keep young brains active and alert during the afternoon, the healthier the lunch the better. The midday meal should provide about one-third of your child's daily requirements of nutrients.
Keep lunches healthy - and keep them cool. Pre-chill if possible. Warm temperatures encourage bacteria to grow and spoil food, often contributing to stomach upsets.
If you're making a sandwich with deli meats or providing a cooked chicken, pasta or rice salad, try to make the lunch the night before. Refrigerate it overnight so it is well chilled before it travels to school. This also saves time in the morning.
Soft, insulated bags or boxes are the best choice for keeping lunches cold. Metal or plastic lunchboxes without insulation aren't as good, but they're certainly better than paper bags.
Small, frozen gel packs are also excellent for keeping lunches cool, or freeze tetrapaks of fruit juice or small plastic bottles of water and pack them in the school bag or lunchbox. Not only will they help keep your child's lunch cold, but by midday the frozen drink will have melted, providing an enjoyable, cold, refreshing quencher.
Jelly is something most children enjoy, and is a tangy treat. Add some seasonal fresh fruits or canned fruits to small plastic pots before you pour in the jelly. Prepare a jelly using half boiling water to dissolve the jelly crystals and half fruit juice, such as orange or cranberry. Pour over the fruit in small plastic containers, preferably with screw-on lids. Refrigerate to set.
CORN SALAD MUFFINS
These versatile muffins are delicious served plain or split, buttered and filled with seasoned tomatoes and salad greens, or cheese and chutney or Vegemite.
Dry ingredients: 2 cups plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of white pepper
1 tsp paprika
Wet ingredients: 1 egg
cup each: milk, finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp canola oil
410g can of creamed corn
1 pickling-sized onion, diced
250g sour cream
Topping: 3-4 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Line a 10 to 12-hole muffin pan with paper liners. Brush with a little oil.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and paprika into a large bowl.
Lightly beat the egg, milk, parsley and oil in another bowl. Add the corn, onion and sour cream. Mix well. Pour into the dry ingredients. Mix until just moistened.
Spoon into the paper liners. Sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Makes 10-12.
1 square wrap, like World Oven
Table spread or melted butter
1 Tbsp tomato paste
50g thinly sliced pizza salami
- cup finely grated cheddar cheese
tsp dried oregano
Spread the wrap with table spread or brush with melted butter. Spread evenly with the tomato paste. Top with the salami, cheese and oregano.
Roll up firmly - ensure the first roll is tight and compact.
Wrap in plastic film. This can be refrigerated overnight. Makes 1.
HAM, CHEESE AND PINEAPPLE MUFFINS
2 plain English muffins
3 Tbsp tomato chutney or similar
2 slices ham, chopped
1 cup grated tasty cheese
12 pineapple chunks, well drained
2 Tbsp each: chopped parsley, mint
Split the muffins, then toast. Spread the cut halves with the chutney. Top with the ham, cheese and pineapple.
Grill until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle with the herbs. Makes 2.
FIVE-MINUTE ROLLED OATS SHORTBREAD
100g butter, chopped
1 cup each: rolled oats, desiccated coconut
cup brown sugar
cup white sugar
Place the butter in a microwave-proof bowl. Cover and heat in the microwave on high power for 45 seconds, or until just melted.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter. Press into a microwave-proof, 20cm square pan. Microwave for 3-4 minutes. Cool, then cut into squares or oblongs. Makes about 20 pieces.
FRUIT AND NUT SPREAD
250g cream cheese
cup each: raisins or currants, finely chopped nuts
2 tsp finely chopped crystallised ginger
2-3 Tbsp orange juice
Break the cream cheese up. Soften slightly in the microwave on medium-low (50 per cent) power for about 30 seconds.
Beat until smooth. Mix in the raisins, nuts and ginger.
Mix in the orange juice, a little at a time, to make a spreadable consistency. Makes about 1 cups.
- The Marlborough Express