Wednesday 21 February 2018

Recipes: Brenda Costigan helps with packing healthy food into school lunches

Packing healthy food into school lunches can be a challenge, says Brenda Costigan, but your kids are sure to enjoy these ideas for nutritious and easy-to-make wraps and muffins

It's back to school for the kids, and back to preparing healthy lunchboxes for the parents. Filling lunchboxes is always a bit of a minefield -- mums and dads have to try to walk the fine line between peer pressure, healthy eating and what the child wants in the box. But there's good news: schools are finally beginning to come onside.

A friend told me her child came home from school recently requesting grapes and other pieces of fresh fruit -- things he would never eat before, despite his mother's pleading. Queried as to this change of heart, the child revealed that the teacher was having an extra little snack break in class, but only fruit could be eaten!

My thumbnail guide to lunchboxes and healthy eating is as follows: eat a wide variety of foods in moderation, choosing foods as near to their natural state as is possible or convenient, and avoid eating too much sugar, too much fat or too much salt.

It is important to understand the individual needs of children. Younger ones, with small stomachs, are constantly running and jumping, and need energy in more condensed form.

Teenagers who seem to grow overnight need plenty of protein and general nutrients. Teenage girls need to build up their store of calcium in their bones -- this will stand them in good stead when they get older and help avoid brittle bones.

At the same time, food should be enjoyed. One thing to remember is that foods that we were forced to eat as children rarely, if ever, become our favourite foods. So a delicate balance is required to appreciate the genuine dislikes of children and yet encourage them to eat nourishing food.


For those who don't like the bread in their sandwiches to get moist, using flour tortillas instead is the perfect answer. A light cream cheese makes the perfect spread.

Cut the prepared wrap in two or three, then enclose it tightly in cling film to hold its shape. Before eating, remove the cling film. The variations of filling are endless, and the following are a few ideas to try.



The crisp, moist crunch of the cucumber, the turkey and the sweetness of the cranberry sauce all cobined together is pretty good! Serves 2.

You will need:

About 50-75g (2-3oz) cream cheese

2 flour tortillas about 23cm (9in) in diameter

2-4 thin slices cold turkey (preferably cut off the bone)

Wafer-thin slices of cucumber, using about 10cm (4in)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons cranberry sauce (optional)

2 tablespoons grated Cheddar (optional)

Spread the cream cheese on the tortillas, right out to the edges. Arrange the slices of turkey on top, leaving a little margin around the edge. Cut the slices of cucumber in half to make them easier to roll up inside the finished wraps. Arrange a layer of cucumber all over the turkey. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Gently spread some cranberry sauce, if you're using it, down the centre of the filling. Sprinkle the grated Cheddar over the lot, if you're using it.

Gently but firmly roll up each wrap like a Swiss roll. Keep them rolled up with wooden cocktail sticks until you have organised the cling film. Cut the wraps into three. Remove the cocktail sticks, and wrap tightly in cling film. Chill the wraps until you're ready to put them in the lunchbox.


This is a different combination of filling ingredients.

You will need:

About 50-75g (2-3oz) cream cheese

2 flour tortillas

2-4 thin slices of cooked chicken

About 2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce

2-3 tablespoons finely shredded lettuce

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1-2 tablespoons grated carrot

Spread the cream cheese right out to the edges of the flour tortillas. Arrange the chicken slices evenly over the cream cheese layer, leaving a narrow margin around the edge.

Spread the sweet chilli sauce over the chicken. In a bowl, mix together the finely shredded lettuce, the mayonnaise and the grated carrot, and spread this mixture over the chicken slices.

Roll up both wraps as described in the turkey and cuke wrap recipe.


Small pieces of smoked salmon or little vacuum packs are relatively reasonable for a treat.

You will need:

50-75g (2-3oz) cream cheese

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional)

2 flour tortillas

75-100g (3-3?oz) sliced smoked salmon, cut in little pieces

2-4 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions (optional)

2-4 teaspoons capers, brine drained off (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

Mix together the cream cheese and the lemon juice, if you are using it. Spread it on the flour tortillas. Arrange the smoked salmon pieces over the cream cheese, leaving a narrow margin around the edges. Scatter the finely chopped spring onions and/or the capers -- if you are using them -- over the smoked salmon layer. Season with some freshly ground black pepper.

Roll up as described in the turkey and cuke wrap recipe.



The addition of Rice Krispies to the oatmeal mixture gives a light crunchiness to the very dense oatmeal mixture. Dried cranberries and some pumpkin seeds can be included also.

You will need:

200g (7oz) butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) golden syrup or honey

375g (13oz) porridge oats

110g (4oz) Rice Krispies

25g (1oz) pumpkin seeds (optional)

25g (1oz) dried cranberries (optional)

Use a baking tin, 23cm by 33cm (9in by 13in). Grease the tin with butter or, better still, line it with baking parchment for easy removal after baking. Preheat the oven to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5.

Put the butter in a saucepan with the caster sugar and the golden syrup or honey, whichever you are using, and melt together over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool a little.

Meanwhile, mix together the porridge oats and the Rice Krispies. If you are using them, add the pumpkin seeds and the dried cranberries. Pour the melted ingredients into the dry ones and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until mixture is golden brown. Place the tin on a wire tray and let the squares cool, then use a sharp bread knife to cut into individual squares.


Tasty, savoury muffins can take the place of a sandwich in the lunchbox for a change. The peanuts or the bacon should be finely chopped to make them easy to eat -- a food processor can do this in seconds. Makes 6-8 muffins.

You will need:

250g (9oz) self-raising flour

75g (3oz) mature Cheddar, grated

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g (2oz) salted peanuts, finely chopped, or 3-4 fried rashers, finely chopped

25g (1oz) butter

200ml (7fl oz) milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

? teaspoon mustard

Use a 6-hole muffin tin, lined with paper cases. The smaller queen-cake tins can be used, and will make about 12 buns.

Put the self-raising flour and the grated Cheddar into a mixing bowl and season generously with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the finely chopped salted peanuts or fried rashers, whichever you are using. Melt the butter and add the milk, the beaten egg and the mustard. Then add this wet mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Mix quickly and put into the prepared tin. Bake in the oven for about 25-35 minutes or until cooked through.


Have the muffin/bun tin ready in advance, as the melted butter in the mix will begin to set and get firm if it's left standing around. Makes 6-8 muffins.

You will need:

350g (12oz) self-raising flour (see note)

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

110g (4oz) raisins

50g (2oz) chopped walnuts or almonds (can be toasted beforehand if liked)

100g (3?oz) carton mixed peel or cherries

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

225g (8oz) grated carrots

2 large eggs

A little milk if necessary


If you prefer, a combination of 225g (8oz) self-raising flour and 110g (4oz) wholemeal flour can be used, but you must also add one heaped teaspoon of baking powder.

Use a 6-hole muffin tin, lined with paper cases. The smaller queen-cake tins can be used, and will make about 12 buns. Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6.

In a mixing bowl, combine the self-raising flour -- or the self-raising flour, wholemeal flour and baking powder, if you are using it -- with the grated nutmeg and the ground cinnamon. Add the raisins, the chopped walnuts or almonds, and the mixed peel or cherries, whichever you are using.

Melt the butter in a saucepan until it is piping hot. Remove it from the heat and add the caster sugar and the grated carrots. This should cool the mixture enough so that the eggs can also be added in, without 'cooking' them. Stir the wet ingredients from the saucepan into the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and mix everything to a fairly soft consistency, adding a drop of milk if necessary.

Quickly spoon the mixture into the muffin tins. Don't worry if they look a little chunky on top. Pop into the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until cooked through. Cool on a wire tray. The muffins can be stored in an airtight tin or frozen -- but don't forget to take them out of the freezer the night before you want to put them in the lunchbox.


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