Healthy brekkie oat of this world
Rozanne Stevens provides a nutritious guide to delicious breakfasts and lunch boxes
As a parent, when September comes round, it often feels like it's you who is going back to school, not just your children. After a summer off, it's difficult to get back into the routine of getting ready for school, good breakfasts and packing lunch boxes, day in, day out. Parents need an easy formula for managing healthy family meals, that at the same time isn't boring and repetitive.
Some people are devoted breakfast eaters but I'm not one of them. So I completely empathise with busy parents who rely on good old standby cereals. Unfortunately, most cereals are inferior food, full of sugar with little or no nutritional value. Pick the most nutritious brand you can find, but try some other options. It doesn't have to be MasterChef finals in the morning, but you'll need to do a little more than just pour milk. Luckily there are make-ahead options.
What I mean by wholegrains are nutritious grain foods that have been processed as little as possible. These make the perfect start to the day by providing slow release energy, B vitamins for good concentration and brain function and plenty of fibre, vitamins and minerals. My number favourite choice would be oats porridge.
The least processed form of oats that you can cook as a porridge are pinhead oats. These take about 25 minutes to cook as they are very high in fibre, but you can cook up a big batch and reheat it. Regular porridge oats are incredibly versatile when you think outside the box. Comforting cooked porridge, bircher muesli, granola, flapjacks, oaty pancakes and even added to smoothies. My current favourite are overnight oats that I steep in a jar. These can be made up in age-appropriate portions the night before for all the family.
You can also use a mixture of other flakes such as brown rice flakes, rye, buckwheat, quinoa and spelt flakes to make wholesome porridge, granola and homemade muesli. Under wholegrains, I am going to include toast. But not, white styrofoam stuff. I mean brown, nutty bread with seeds added if you like. Toast is a great breakfast option as long as you use good bread and a healthy topping. Peanut butter and banana slices or half a mashed avocado on brown toast is delicious.
2) Healthy fats and proteins
Flaxseed, chia seeds, nuts, nut butter, avocados and plain yoghurt are all excellent options. By adding a little healthy fat and protein to your family breakfast, you are helping those wholegrains fuel you for longer. I often take a bowl of plain, Greek yoghurt and top it with fresh fruit or fruit compote, nuts, seeds or granola. It's a great vehicle for frozen blueberries or homemade fruit compote.
By fruit I mean the whole fruit, not fruit juice. Children need to get the whole fruit with all the fibre intact. Breakfast is the ideal time to add some fruit to your porridge or cereal. It naturally sweetens without the need for sugar. Then your kids only need to get one more portion into their diet during the day and they'll hit their target for fruit consumption. Each week I make a batch of apple or pear compote stewed with cinnamon or a mixture of dried fruit cooked in rooibosch tea with cinnamon. This lasts in the fridge for three to four days and is the perfect topping for porridge and yoghurt. When it runs out, I simmer frozen berries in orange juice and spices.
I am a huge fan of eggs, they really are nature's ultimate fast food. Quick to prepare, portable and an excellent source of protein. If you want to mix it up a little during the week, try my baked eggs recipe idea or a boiled egg with Marmite toast soldiers. Scrambled eggs stick like mad to the frying pan so leave those for the weekend. My baked steamed eggs or boiled eggs are the most convenient breakfast options.
Lunch box map
Here's my formula for packing a healthy, but still quite interesting, lunch box. It's a check list that will cover a healthy lunch and snacks. And bear in mind, this can be applied to adults too.
1) Cornerstone carbohydrates
When I'm packing a lunch box, I always start with the main event, which is something substantial and filling. This will normally be a version of a sandwich or one of my 'solid salads'. Wholesome, fibre-rich carbohydrates are essential for energy and proper development. The ones to avoid are the processed, white, nutrient-deficient rubbish that line the supermarket shelves. But luckily, there is a wonderful variety of starchy basics to become familiar with.
When I choose my carbohydrate cornerstone, I choose from a variety of breads and baked goods, wholegrains and also beans, lentils and chickpeas which have both protein and carbohydrates. The good old sandwich is still a wonderful lunch box staple, but it does need a bit of a makeover. For lunch boxes I stock up on wholewheat pita breads, wholewheat tortilla wraps as well as rye and oat crackers for smaller snacks. And if I use bread, it's always brown, spelt or rye bread. The joy of pita pockets and tortilla wraps are that they are super versatile and you can really stuff them with healthy, crunchy vegetables.
You also don't need to use any butter or mayonnaise if your filling is juicy. Pita pockets also double up as easy pizza bases and tortilla wraps make excellent after-school quesadillas.
2) The solid salad
Your second option for your lunch box cornerstone is what I call a 'solid salad'. I really enjoy making and eating these substantial salads using wholewheat pasta, couscous, quinoa, wholegrains and legumes as a base. They travel so well, taste good and are super nutritious. If this is a new idea to you, try cooking up a batch of wholewheat or spelt pasta, allowing it to cool, then adding veggies and a tasty dressing.
Another version of this idea is to use wholewheat couscous, quinoa and barley as bases for your substantial salads. Cook up a batch of the grain, then serve it in two different ways that week, once as a dinner then as a packed lunch. I use chickpeas, beans and lentils almost every day as filling meals or in snacks. Tinned options are fine,but they are easy to cook from dried.
3) Veggie snack attack
The bit of wilting lettuce or soggy tomato slice in a sandwich don't really make veggies attractive to kids. Lots of children who won't eat cooked vegetables like them raw or slightly steamed. If you package up crispy, sweet veggies with a tasty dip you'll easily hit your five-a-day mark. The trick is to make it convenient, colourful and tasty.
My favourite veggies to snack on are red pepper strips, baby corn, mangetout or sugar snap peas, carrot batons, celery and baby gem leaves. For a snack, hummus is always a favourite, but you can also make delicious dips with plain yoghurt, mashed white beans, cottage cheese or cream cheese. Plenty of fresh or dried herbs and lemon works a treat.
4) Perky fruit
I'm sure all moms are tired of bruised apples and black bananas coming back in the school bag. So stop banging your head against a wall and try different fruit and presentation. Kids love individual portions and cute presentation. Package up a small portion such as bunches of grapes or ready-to-eat fruit such as clementines or mandarins. I love a colourful fruit salad with lots of different fruit, but I am concerned about waste.
When you make up a fruit salad, squeeze over fresh orange juice instead of lemon to keep it fresh. Or choose three types of fruit per week that are for lunch boxes and snacks. I like to have clementines on hand and I chop up a pineapple and ball a melon such as watermelon or cantaloupe. If it is prepped and ready to eat, you'll be more likely to eat it. And remember, we need more veggies than fruit in our diets.
5) Nuts, nut butter, seeds and dried fruit
Good old fashioned peanut butter is so good for you. One tablespoon will count as a portion of protein, plus provide healthy fats. You can buy or make your own nut butter with almost any types of nuts. I like adding a little cinnamon for natural sweetness or you can make your own hazelnut chocolate spread. Wonderful in smoothies, on brown toast or oat crackers with banana slices, or as a dip for apple slices.
A mixture of dried fruit, nuts and seeds provides excellent nutrition for brain, healthy fibre and is also a healthy, sweet-snack option. Try my popcorn trail mix as a fun and portable snack. Or my personal favourite, muesli balls, which uses what you have in the house already for breakfast.
Recipes taken from Delish and Relish cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens. For cookbooks, healthy cookery courses and cookery videos, log on to www.rozannestevens.com. Twitter: @RozanneStevens YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/rozannestevens