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.
The quality of the water we drink is something everyone ought to give some thought to. Although tap water is, on average, of high quality in the US and in Europe, it often exceeds regulations for nitrates (from agricultural fertilisers and manure) and pesticides. Rather disturbingly, our water also contains increasing amounts of traces of over-the-counter and prescription medications (including hormones). The effect of this on human health has not been measured, but these traces are capable of changing the sex of fish and tadpoles in rivers. See this study if you are interested in learning more about the purification and potential contamination of drinking water.
Bottled water is not the answer, in my honest opinion, as it is environmentally and economically unsustainable, and the quality of the water is often no better than that of tap water. A good home filtration system is probably your best bet. There are many to choose from, depending on your requirements and budget, but whatever you decide to go with, remember to include lots of clean water in your daily diet. I recently worked on some water-based recipes for an e-book published by Kinetico, a supplier of home water systems. This spicy little number is one of my favourites!
250ml (1 cup) water
scant tablespoon chia seeds
250ml (1 cup) cold pressed unfiltered sweet apple juice
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 – 1 teaspoon galangal juice, depending on how spicy you prefer it (to make the juice, use a juicer, or grate and squeeze out with a muslin cloth or nut milk bag)
- Whisk the chia seeds into the water and allow to soak for at least 10 minutes. Whisk every couple of minutes.
- When the chia seeds and water have formed a very soft gel, whisk the rest of the ingredients into the mixture and divide between 4 glasses.
- Serve with thick straws and a slice of lime.
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.
The Christmas cheer usually overwhelms me right around the beginning of December. We get out the cherished decorations, adorn the front door with a wreath, and start building the anticipation with advent candles and calendars. For me, Glühwein (mulled wine) or Rumpunsch (rum punch) are as much a part of the festive season as Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and St Nicholas Day on the 6th of the month. Feeling somewhat cheated, my son asked me last year to make a special Christmas punch for the little ones. This recipe makes four cups and will keep the youngsters happy. At least for another few years…
750ml (3 cups) boiling water
3 teabags of fruit tea or, to stave off winter colds, berry and echinacea tea
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
strips of orange peel
250ml (1 cup) freshly squeezed orange juice (about 3 – 5 oranges, depending on their size and juiciness)
- Put all the ingredients, apart from the orange juice, in a small pot and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- Either strain the tea or scoop all the bits out with a slotted spoon.
- Divide the orange juice equally between four cups and top up with hot spiced tea.
I’ve always loved the idea of taking what nature has to offer and creating something that feeds not only the body, but also the soul. Herbal and floral infusions are a wonderful way of restoring harmony within. Below are three blends that serve different purposes, but can be enjoyed at any time by anyone after a couple of minutes’ steeping in hot water. I have included information on some of the ingredients, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, so do get in touch if you would like to know more.
Chamomile is mostly known for soothing cramping tummies, for its mild sedative effect to aid in a good night’s sleep and because it relaxes the muscles. It is also antibacterial and improves immunity.
Rich in manganese, iron, calcium, and fibre, cinnamon improves glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, but also lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglyceride concentrations, and overall cholesterol levels without affecting HDL (good) cholesterol. Cinnamon is also antimicrobial and anti-fungal.
Dandelion tea detoxes and eases congestion of the liver, helps to purify the bladder and kidneys, improves digestion and aids weight loss. It contains calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, vitamins B and C, and helps to purify the blood, regulate blood sugar and improve blood circulation. It also helps to ease bloating and aching joints.
Rich in bioflavonoids, elderflower is a powerful antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory herb. The most common uses are for colds and flu, sinus infections, and other respiratory disturbances, as well as allergies. As a supplement, elderflower can be used as a diuretic and its laxative properties can be helpful in relieving occasional constipation. Elderflower also reduces blood sugar levels, very similar to the way insulin works.
Anti-bacterial fennel tea helps expel mucous, is useful in reducing gastro-intestinal tract spasms and flatulence, and in larger doses can help remove obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gallbladder. Fennel tea is a diuretic and also helpful in treating anaemia. It is said to stimulate milk production in nursing mothers and has long been used to prevent infant colic. Fennel tea can help relax the smooth muscles in the uterus, thus relieving menstrual cramps and discomfort during pregnancy. Fennel tea can help relieve conjunctivitis and sore eyes.
Stinging nettle is one of the most powerful herbal infusions available to us. It is a diuretic and decongestant, an anti-histamine and a tonic. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, anti-allergenic, and anti-spasmodic, and helps alleviate respiratory tract disease and asthma. It stimulates the lymph system, which in turn boosts immunity. In pregnant and lactating women, it helps to strengthen the foetus and promotes milk production, and is also said to reduce bleeding. In other women, it can relieve menopausal symptoms and help with menstrual cramps and bloating. Nettle is said to aid sufferers of gastrointestinal disease, IBS, and constipation, and also supports the kidneys and helps break down kidney stones. Nettle furthermore supports the adrenals, and the endocrine health by helping the thyroid, spleen and pancreas. Some research also shows that nettle relieves neurological disorders like MS, ALS and sciatica.
A wonderful tea for those trying to conceive, those carrying a wee babe, and those having produced one, raspberry leaf tea is said to increase fertility, relieve morning sickness, strengthen the uterine wall to improve chances of healthy implantation and the process of labour nine months later, and repair it thereafter. It is also rich in vitamins A and the B complex, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium in an easily absorbable form to help your baby grow and increase nutrient value of breast milk. Even for those not in the reproductive stage, it helps balance hormones.
The Mellow Rose
1/2 cup dried lemon verbena, crushed slightly
1 heaped tablespoon dried nettle
1 heaped tablespoon dried dandelion
1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers, torn into smaller pieces
6 slices dried orange, chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons crushed cinnamon bark or cassia
1/3 cup dried lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 heaped tablespoon whole ginger, roughly chopped
1 heaped tablespoon dried elderflowers
1 heaped tablespoon nettle
1 heaped tablespoon dried lavender
A Mother’s Heart
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 heaped teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon aniseed
1/3 cup dried raspberry leaf tea
1/3 cup dried chamomile flowers
1 tablespoon peppermint leaf tea
2 tablespoons dried red rose petals
1/4 cup chopped dried fennel
1 heaping tablespoon nettle
1. Combine the first four ingredients in a spice grinder, high speed blender or mortar. Now blend or grind until the spices are partly ground, with some larger bits remaining.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.
When my little one awoke with a temperature the other day, the chicken in my fridge was only ever destined for one thing: ultra-nourishing bone broth. Making broths (or stock) is one of those kitchen tasks that gives the impression of being very time-consuming and ultimately not worth the effort. This could not be further from the truth, however. Stock made with the bones of healthy, pasture-raised animals is not only useful (add it to stews, soups, sauces and grains) and more delicious than stock cubes, but also much more health-supportive.
“Real stock” (for lack of a better expression) contains minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur and trace minerals) in a form the body can absorb easily. It also contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons, like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, that are beneficial in treating joint pain. The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid that attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting proper digestion. It also keeps hair and nails healthy. Many reasons to start adding this pantry basic to your repertoire.
Ingredients for homemade chicken broth
1 whole organic, free-range chicken carcass, with some meat left on the bone and cut into smaller pieces
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, washed and coarsely chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced into chunks
1 bunch parsley, stalks only (reserve leaves to add for the final 10 minutes)
2 bay leaves
5 fresh thyme stalks
5 black pepper corns
- Place all the ingredients in a large pot and cover with fresh filtered water.
- Bring to a boil, and remove any scum that rises to the top, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- The stock needs to simmer for at least 4 hours, but preferably 8 hours or more.
- Once your stock is ready, strain it as soon as possible and use immediately, refrigerate or freeze.
- For a quick and tasty meal, season with salt and pepper, and add thin slivers of raw purple and green asparagus, spring onions (or salad onions), sugar snap peas, red pepper and carrot. I usually also add finely grated fresh ginger and fresh chili.
Note: The vinegar helps leech the valuable minerals from the bones into the stock water.