Lunch boxes take me back to my school days and the AMAZING lunches my mum used to pack for us whenever we had after school activities, and couldn’t eat lunch at home. When I moved out, first to study, then to live and work abroad, I adopted the all too common approach of regularly skipping breakfasts, grabbing something quick and ready-made for lunch, and ending the day with a very late, and very large dinner. But the traditional saying “breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper” is proving rather accurate, as the mounting research† in favour of intermittent fasting shows.
Frontloading your calory intake to the first half of the day reduces risk factors for heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. People who don’t eat large meals in the latter half of the day also tend to sleep better, suffer less digestive issues and show less signs of ageing. This, and all the research I have been reading about children performing better at school, being better behaved and less prone to falling ill when they have a healthy breakfast and nutritious lunch, has convinced me to start making an effort to pack my family some decent lunches. Here are some ideas, which I put together for the team at Compass Fostering to help inspire parents to pack a punch on the lunch box front.
Lunch box 1
Fruit water (cucumber and mint)
Lightly salted popcorn
Ingredients for the rainbow wrap
wholemeal wrap or flatbread
1 – 2 tablespoons hummus or red pepper hummus
small handful baby leaf spinach
1 small carrot, coarsely grated
1/4 red pepper, cut into long strips (the long Romano variety works well here)
1. Spread the hummus evenly onto the wrap, leaving a border along the top end.
2. Place the spinach leaves down in a single layer, pile grated carrot into the centre and lay pepper sticks across.
3. Fold the bottom half over the fillings, ensuring you have a tight roll, then roll upward towards the top end. Cut in half or slice into thirds.
Fruit water (lemon and lime)
Pineapple wedges, raspberries
Wholemeal pesto pasta salad with salmon and peas
Natural Greek yoghurt with pumpkin seeds and raw honey
Ingredients for the pasta
medium bunch basil
small bunch dill, thickest part of stems discarded
medium bunch parsley, thickest part of stems discarded
1 small garlic clove, peeled
salt and pepper
about 80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
cooked salmon (left-overs work well here)
cooked wholemeal pasta (save some of the cooking liquid)
handful of frozen peas
- Put the herbs, garlic, pinch of salt and black pepper in a food processor and blitz until roughly chopped.
- With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until you reach your desired consistency (the green “pesto” sauce should be loose enough to fold into cooked pasta).
Combine the pesto with cooked pasta, cooked salmon or deboned trout, and defrosted frozen peas.
- Add a little more olive oil and pasta cooking liquid if it needs it.
Lunch box 3
Fruit water (raspberries and blueberries)
Cucumber and carrot sticks with guacamole
Trail mix (sunflower seeds, coconut chips, chopped dates)
Mini frittata with broccoli and feta
Ingredients for the frittata
1 tablespoon water
small pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
small knob of butter
handful of steamed broccoli florets (left-overs are great for this) 25g crumbled feta
- Whisk the eggs with the water, salt and pepper. Stir in the sliced spring onions.
- Heat the butter in a small ovenproof skillet or pan over a medium heat until sizzling, then pour the egg mix into the pan, and scatter over the broccoli and feta cheese.
- Cover the pan, turn the heat down and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the egg has just set.
- Pop the pan under a hot grill for half a minute if you’d like, to add some colour. Cool, turn out and slice to serve.
This post was written in collaboration with Compass Fostering. All opinions, words and images are my own.
My biggest gripe with classifying something as an of-the-moment superfood, is that it inevitably leads to that food going “out of fashion” at some stage. It is such a shame, as many so-called superfoods really are fantastic, nutrient-dense foods that have a lot to offer. It was kale this and kale that for quite some time, but this wonderful veg seems to have fallen out of favour. Don’t be a fashion victim! Add this brunch dish, that I developed for the M&S Super Brunch Campaign, to your Boxing Day brunch, and rediscover an old favourite.
The Caesar-style dressing is delicious with the astringent greens and complemented by the sweet potato pancakes. I used the tiny copper pan from the new M&S chef range to make perfectly shaped individual portions.
This is a fantastic meal, be it for breakfast, brunch or a light supper. Like most things in life, it tastes even better with an egg on top.
Serves 4 – 6
Ingredients for the rösti
4 medium (about 800g) sweet potatoes, peeled
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 medium eggs, lightly whisked
40g (about 1/4 cup) wholemeal spelt flour or flour of your choice (I use a gluten-free mix)
butter or ghee for frying
Ingredients for the kale
5 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained and chopped
1 small garlic clove, peeled and chopped
small pinch of coarse salt
60ml (1/4 cup) mayonnaise, preferably home-made
15ml (1 tablespoon) freshly squeezed lemon juice
15g (1/4 cup loosely packed) finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
300g kale, thick stalks discarded and torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces
- For the kale: make the dressing, by placing the anchovies, garlic and salt in a mortar and pounding them together until you have a paste.
- Stir in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Parmesan and pepper, and set aside.
- For the rösti: boil two of the sweet potatoes in a little water until they are just tender around the outside (do not let them get too soft!). Remove from the pot and allow to cool.
- In the meantime, coarsely grate the other two sweet potatoes and mix with the spring onions, eggs and flour.
- Finally, coarsely grate the slightly softened sweet potatoes and carefully combine with the rest of the ingredients.
- Heat a little butter or ghee (or coconut oil) in a frying pan until hot (but not smoking), then add enough batter to make a patty shape. Press down on the batter to ensure it is compact and will hold together.
- Fry for roughly 5 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy. Carefully remove with a spatula and keep warm while frying the rest.
- Whilst your final rösti is frying, gently wilt the kale in a little water over a medium heat. As soon as it is tender, drain, return to the pan and stir through the dressing.
- Serve the dressed kale on top of the rösti with or without eggs.
*This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S. All content and photos my own.
Writing a book about greens has helped me rekindle relationships with some vegetables that I have neglected somewhat, such as this little beauty, the romanesco. It looks like the strange yet stunning lovechild of Mr Broccoli and Ms Cauliflower, but is indeed a unique Italian variety of broccoli that develops multiple compact heads that can be individually snapped off. Each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in a logarithmic spiral, and this pattern continues at several smaller levels. To retain the gorgeous green hue after blanching or steaming, be sure to shock the florets in ice cold water. Nutritionally, romanesco is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, dietary fiber and carotenoids.
Mackerel and romanesco with preserved lemon dressing
Ingredients for the salad
85g (1/2 cup) wild rice, rinsed, soaked in fresh water overnight and cooked until tender
3 smoked mackerel fillets, skin discarded and flaked
one large handful of rocket per person
150g large green olives, pitted and halved
45g (a heaped 1/4 cup) organic raisins
1 small head of romanesco, cut into florets and lightly steamed until tender, then shocked under ice cold water (90g reserved for dressing)
Ingredients for the dressing
2 small preserved lemons, pulp discarded and peel roughly chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
90g (about 3/4 cup) cooked romanesco
125ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
45ml (3 tablespoons) lemon juice
1 – 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 – 3 teaspoons raw honey
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
small bunch of dill
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt to taste
- Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
- Combine all the salad ingredients, season with salt and gently toss with enough dressing to coat.
Note: It is possible to enjoy wild rice – the seed of an aquatic grass and not a grain at all! – in its raw form, if you allow it to sprout (or “bloom”). Rinse the rice well, then soak in fresh water for 2 to 3 days, changing the water twice daily. You will know it is ready when most of the rice kernels have split open and are soft.
Do you often have a bite of a tomato and wonder why you even bother buying them? Although beautifully uniform and bright red, commercial tomato varieties often lack taste.
One of the reasons for this was the move by tomato growers in the 1930’s towards tomato mutations with a “uniform ripening” gene, which ensured the fruits would ripen evenly from stem to tip, without leaving a harder, green part around the stem, deemed undesirable by consumers at the time. Unfortunately this mutation has a side-effect: by disabling the gene that creates the darker green colour around the stem, the chlorophyll (or chloroplasts), which converts sunlight into sugars for the plant, is removed, leading to a less sweet and tasty fruit. Thankfully some families and growers have passed the seeds from older varieties down from generation to generation because of their valued characteristics and taste. These heirloom varieties – now available at most markets – are usually much more tasty, albeit a little more expensive.
We’ve had a few very wet days lately, which meant the wonderful summer produce I bought at the market over the weekend had to find a rather more wintry purpose. I’ve always loved roasted tomatoes, but stuffing these beauties elevates them to the most perfect light meal imaginable.
If you cannot find heirloom tomatoes for this recipe, use 4 large regular tomatoes. For the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, cut 2 punnets of cherry tomatoes in half, toss in red wine vinegar and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then roast cut sides up in a medium hot oven until caramelised (about 1 – 2 hours). I usually have a jar of these in my fridge, but you could also replace them with 60g of finely sliced marinated sun-dried tomatoes and increase the amount of rice slightly. Use the scooped out tomato flesh in your next batch of tomato soup or sauce, or blend with a pinch of salt and strain through a muslin cloth to make the most delicious tomato broth.
2 heirloom beef tomatoes (about 800g), cut in half horizontally and flesh scooped out carefully
Ingredients for the filling
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, oregano etc.)
125g oven-roasted cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 cup firmly packed)
85g (1/2 cup) cooked brown long-grain rice
1 – 2 teaspoons lemon juice
100g tin sardines in brine or olive oil, drained and broken up slightly with a fork
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and dill
150g fresh ricotta cheese, preferably made with unpasteurised milk from grass-fed animals
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/360°F.
- Heat a glug of olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, salt and dried herbs, and cook until softened (about 5 to 10 minutes).
- Now mix together all the ingredients for the filling, except the ricotta, and allow to cool.
- Fold the ricotta into the filling briefly, leaving it in tact as much as possible.
- Spoon the filling into the tomato halves, place into an ovenproof dish that fits them snugly and bake at 180°C/360°F for about 30 to 40 minutes (or until the tomatoes are very tender). If the filling is starting to get too brown after about 20 minutes, cover with foil.
- Serve with a crisp green salad and green beans, or on toasted sourdough.
Ok, full disclosure: I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day.
I used to, but that was before I married another Capricorn at the end of January. By the time Christmas, New Year’s Eve, our respective birthdays and our wedding anniversary have been duly celebrated, we are usually ready for a break.
I am a HUGE fan of romantic dates, however. Any time, any place. And if Valentine’s Day happens to be the next available opportunity to spoil your sweetheart, then make the most of it with this easy peasy, super sexy stay-at-home picnic for two. Open fires and games of scrabble optional.
The Ruby Noir
Makes 2 cocktails
60ml (1/4 cup) 100% pomegranate juice, chilled
30ml (2 tablespoons) damson, plum, blackberry or sloe vodka
1 teaspoon sweetened lime juice (squeeze out half a lime and stir in 1 teaspoon honey)
Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
1 teaspoon pomegranate seeds
2 small and fine rosemary twigs (optional)
- Mix the pomegranate juice, vodka and lime juice, then divide between two champagne flutes, pouring through a funnel if you want to keep it extra neat.
- Top up with Champagne, by carefully pouring the bubbly into the glass over the back of a metal spoon to “float” it on top of the pomegranate mix.
- Carefully float a few pomegranate seeds on top and finish with a rosemary twig, if you like.
Spiced rye crackers with figgy goat’s cheese
Ingredients for the crackers
Makes about 18 small crackers, but feel free to double or triple the recipe – they keep well
50g (1/3 cup) stoneground rye flour
pinch of salt
pinch each of caraway seed, aniseed and cumin
10g (about 2 teaspoons) cold butter, cut into small cubes
15ml (1 tablespoon) or thereabouts milk of your choice (I used almond milk)
Ingredients for the figgy goat cheese
Enough for 2 people
70g (1/3 cup) soft goat cheese
1 large soft dried fig, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley, leaves only
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
aged Balsamic vinegar to serve (optional)
- For the crackers: preheat the oven to 220°C / 420°F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the flour, spices and salt. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine bread crumbs.
- Add the milk and knead the dough until it comes together in a soft ball – not too sticky, and not crumbly.
- Roll the dough out thinly and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Place these on the prepared sheet.
- Bake for roughly 10 minutes, or until the edges have turned golden, then remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
- For the goat cheese: while the crackers are baking, mix all the ingredients for the cheese in a bowl, adjust seasoning and set aside.
Scallop pops with avocado aïoli
What can be more seductive than nibbling on a sizzling scallop lollipop? These guys are the perfect mess-free picnic food and add just the right amount of spice to wake up the senses. Serve with a plate of gorgeous roasted mixed beets.
Ingredients for the marinade
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (deseeded and membranes removed if you prefer it milder)
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
splash of olive oil
For the pops
6 large or 8 small scallops
knob of butter, preferably organic
4 to 6 wooden skewers
Ingredients for the avocado aïoli
1 small ripe avocado, mashed
1 – 2 tablespoons garlic aïoli or mayonnaise, preferably home-made
squeeze of lemon
- Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and rub it into the scallops. Set aside for at least half an hour.
- While the scallops are marinating, mix together the ingredients for the avocado aïoli and refrigerate.
- When you are ready to fry the scallops, pick out the garlic slices, as they burn too easily, and heat the butter in a heavy bottomed skillet or pan over a medium heat.
- Fry the scallops for a minute or two on each side – do not overcook them! – then slide one to two onto each skewer. Season with sea salt and serve with the avocado aïoli.
Chocolate-drizzled pear and raspberry lollies
For me, a romantic dinner has to be delicious, yes, but definitely not too filling. Who wants to feel stuffed and uncomfortable on a date? These refreshing, yet luscious lollies will hit the spot.
Makes 4 small or 2 large lollies
Ingredients for the lollies
teaspoon of coconut oil
2 pears, peeled, cored and quartered
1 teaspoon molasses sugar or dark brown muscovado sugar
80g (1/2 cup) frozen or fresh raspberries, plus a few extra
60ml (1/4 cup) milk of your choice (I used almond milk)
Ingredients for the chocolate drizzle
10g / 10ml (2 teaspoons) coconut oil
20g (about 6 squares) dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
- For the lollies: heat the coconut oil in a heavy based saucepan until hot, then lay the pear quarters down, sprinkle over the sugar and do not turn until they’ve developed a lovely golden colour and the sugar has melted (about 5 to 10 minutes).
- Turn over and fry on the other side for another 5 minutes.
- Now blend the pears, raspberries and milk until smooth. Stir in the remaining raspberries (crush them if they are frozen) and fill the ice lolly moulds.
- Freeze for at least 4 to 5 hours.
- For the chocolate drizzle: put them coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat over a low heat until melted.
- Add the bits of chocolate and continue to warm over a medium heat until melted.
- Give it a quick whisk, then set aside to cool slightly.
- Run hot water over the moulds to remove the lollies. Using a spoon, drizzle some chocolate sauce over each and give it half a minute or so to set.