Sunday 25 March 2018

Get top marks for packing a balanced lunchbox

Start Junior on the right path this semester with a healthy packed lunch

Homemade brown bread
Homemade brown bread
Catriona Redmond
Sugar-free flapjacks
Egg tarts

Caitriona Redmond

Lunchboxes I've learned are useless if your child won't eat the contents. School food is for fuelling purposes so it's important to balance what we offer to the family.

Lunchboxes are meant to include a source of protein, carbohydrate, dairy, and a drink. It's a wonder our heads don't burst while we walk the dietary tightrope; including all the important food groups plus five-a-day items, vitamins, minerals, and not forgetting making sure our family eat the foods in the first place.

Sometimes it may seem easier to pick up convenience lunchbox foods in the supermarket, but these handy recipes will be made in no time, and will help send your little one to the top of the class!

Homemade brown bread


250g of strong white flour (plain flour is fine too)

375g of coarse wholemeal flour

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons sesame seeds (plus more for the topping)

2 tablespoons wheatgerm

2 tablespoons pinhead oatmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 teaspoon of salt (this is optional but helps preserve the bread for longer than 2 days)

2 medium eggs

300ml fresh buttermilk


Preheat a fan oven to 210 degrees Celsius. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper. You could either grease it well and dust liberally with white flour.

Take a large mixing bowl and place all the dried ingredients inside. These are the 2 flours, seeds, wheatgerm, oatmeal, baking soda and salt if you're using it. Using a fork, mix the dried ingredients together until they're combined.

Make a well in the centre of the dried ingredients and crack in the 2 eggs, pour in half the buttermilk. Using the fork, stir everything together until it starts to clump. Pour in the rest of the buttermilk and stir once more. You will end up with a very thick batter. It doesn't look one bit like bread dough!

Pour the batter into the lined loaf tin. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top and put the loaf tin into the hot oven.

Bake at 210 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to 200 degrees Celsius after this time and bake for a further 45 minutes. After this time, check the bread is cooked by inserting a skewer into the deepest part of the loaf. If it comes out dry and clean then the bread is baked. If not, return it to the oven for another 10 minutes before testing again.

Once the bread is cooked, take the tin out of the oven, and lift the bread from the tin carefully (it's very hot). Wrap in a damp teatowel and place it on a cooling rack. This will soften the crust to make it easier to slice. If you prefer a crispy crust, turn off the oven and put the bread back onto the rack in the oven while it cools.

Once completely cold the bread will keep for 3 days in a bread bin, you can freeze it for up to 3 months if well wrapped. You can also slice the loaf, then freeze individual slices which will keep for up to 1 month. If cooking for one or two people I recommend this method of baking, slicing, then freezing.

Sugar-free flapjacks

(Makes 9 portions at 100 calories per slice)


50ml Sunflower Oil

4 tablespoons Stevia based sweetener (e.g. Canderel green pack)

50g mixed dried fruit

100g Oats

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 banana


Preheat a (fan) oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Take a square non-stick baking tray, measuring 15cm x 15 cm and put it to one side ready for the mixture.

In a large bowl, combine the sunflower oil and sweetener. Next add in the dried fruit, oats and ground cinnamon. Stir until coated with the oil mixture.

Peel and mash the banana and stir the mashed banana into the flapjack mixture.

Once combined, fill the baking tray with the mixture and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before scoring out 9 slices (3 x 3). Leave in the tray and let the flapjacks go completely cold. Gently lift out the flapjacks and put them onto a wire baking rack (I used the grill tray).

At this stage you can eat them right now; they're soft and cooked through. However I return the flapjacks to a 180 degree fan oven again for a further 10 mintues to allow them to crisp up a little. It means they keep their shape better in a lunchbox and the second bake makes them a little more crunchy.

Egg tarts

(Serves 6 hungry adults)


1 roll of chilled puff pastry

1 small onion

Handful of squishy cherry tomatoes

3 eggs

50ml full fat milk (or 75ml natural yoghurt)

Leftover meat (if you have it)

50g of parmesan, grated (or any other hard cheese you may have)


Preheat a fan oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tin (mine is 12cm x 18cm) with baking parchment. Roll out the pastry dough and tuck it into the corners. Using a fork, prick a few holes into the pastry. Cover the pastry with another layer of parchment and pour the rice or baking beans on top. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile chop the onion finely and the tomatoes into chunks. Lightly cook in a frying pan on a medium heat. I don't use any oil as the tomatoes are full of liquid. Once the onions are translucent, turn off the heat and allow to cool a little.

After 20 mins, take the pastry out of the oven. Carefully remove the filling by lifting the entire top layer of baking parchment and setting it to one side.

Fill the part-baked pastry case with the tomatoes, onions and any leftover meat you might have. Stir the eggs and milk/yoghurt together in a jug until combined then pour over the top of the filling in the pastry case. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top Return the tray to the oven for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing. These tarts are perfect for lunchboxes or can be reheated gently in the oven. I like mine with a fresh green salad and loads more sweet tomatoes.

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