Posts tagged lunchbox

How to get your kids packing their own healthy lunches

That first week back to school is exciting, isn’t it! We’re back into the year with a thud – both my kids have switched schools, so there’s new routines, buses, uniforms, friends, and a new level of independence from me. They are loving it all, and I’m trying to not take it personally that they’re so happy to be free.

Miss F has started HIGH SCHOOL. Something that still freaks me out. She’s also the same height as me and has longer feet, so I guess I’ve had an inkling for a while that she’s growing up. With her new independent lifestyle, comes a new chunk of responsibility – one of which is packing her own lunchbox.

She’s happy to take on this bit of adulting. But it’s interesting to realise that even after years of daily lunches that follow the same formula, she wasn’t too sure of how to go about it. So I’ve done her up a help sheet, to give her a visual cue about the proportions she’s aiming for. You can download one too, by clicking here.

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A quick visual cue to help the kids navigate their way.

We’re packing the lunches together this week (I still do my son’s), then she’s away. I’ll check in from time to time, but since there isn’t much junk in my pantry, I know that her choices will probably be pretty good. Any junk she buys from the canteen will be with her money and there’s nothing I can do about that. I remember eating Mars Bars and drinking Coke at school. I turned out ok.

Letting go of the kids is tough, but it’s important to recognise when to stop babying them. For me, it’s time to take on the role of life coach, rather than tyrant.

(Note that this sheet is based loosely on the Australian Government’s healthy eating guidelines – I find these proportions suit my household. Many people don’t agree and if you don’t, then maybe just take the idea and draw up your own helpsheet that reflects your ethos – please don’t email me to correct my nutrition ignorance…)

 

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If you need help navigating lunch boxes for younger kids, check out my ebook!

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All the latest recipes – breakfast, treats & dinner, done.

Regardless of how busy a family is, the annoying truth remains that people want to be fed, every day. So while term 1 ended up being kind of crazy at VSHQ, recipes were made and food was scoffed.

The plan was to take lovely proper photos of these recipes before I posted them, but along with darning the hole in my favourite Seed jumper and filing my tax documents in a logical system, it’s just never going to happen, so here’s all the recipes that kept us going (with dodgy iPhone pics)…

 

Banana & frozen raspberry smoothie

2 small overripe bananas
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
2 tsp berry nutrition powder of your choice (there’s a massive range in chemists these days)
Several dollops of greek yoghurt
Enough milk to make it the consistency you like.

Pop everything in the blender/food processor & blitz.

Serves 2

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Quick bacon, pea & pasta soup

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan on med/high heat.

Add….

250g bacon
1 red onion
2 sticks celery
1 big carrot (all finely diced).

Sauté 10-15 mins. Stir sometimes.

Stir in …
2 tsp Italian herbs.

Pour over …
1 litre chicken stock &
3 cups frozen peas.

When back to the boil, serve over cooked pasta. Top with pepper, herbs, Parmesan.

Serves 2 adults, 3-4 kids.

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Corn & carrot fritters

Mix 1 cup self-raising flour
1 tsp garam masala
2 cups corn kernels
1 large carrot (grated)
2 tbsp fresh herbs
2 whisked eggs
1/3 cup milk.

Fry in a med/hot lick of oil until golden each side.

Great topped with pepper, avocado, sweet chilli, cottage cheese & a squeeze of lemon.

Makes about 8.

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Six-ingredient potato salad (dairy-free)

Put 1kg salad potatoes (unpeeled) into cold water (cut any bigger ones in half first).

Bring to boil. Pierce with a knife after 10 min to check cookedness 😄. Drain.

Meanwhile whisk….
1/2 cup mayonaise &
juice of 1 lemon in a salad bowl.

Add…..
1 grated carrot &
1/2 fennel bulb (finely sliced).

Toss in hot potatoes. Season. Scatter 1/2 bunch dill.

Serve hot or cold.

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Oozy chocolate, raspberry & banana muffins 

Mix….
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar

In a jug whisk…..
1/4 cup oil (of your choice)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Wet stuff into dry stuff then stir in…..
2 mashed bananas
1/2 cup chocolate chunks/chips
3/4 cup frozen berries.

Bake 180c for 30 mins. Makes 12.

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I am chucking recipes up on Facebook and Instagram, so keep in touch there. And don’t forget that my gloriously gorgeous “Vegie Smuggler’s Kitchen Collection” cookbook, with its 125+ family-friendly recipes will become an e-book only mid this year. So if you want a piece of real-life Vegie Smuggling fun, get in quick. Visit the shop here.

 

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Like these recipes? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

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Lunchbox bars. Egg free, nut free. Easy.

When the kids were in pre-school I never used to bake anything. I mean, REALLY? Who the hell had time? I was too busy mashing carrots, picking up stray turds from the hallway and spending endless hours playing hide-and-seek (i.e., child closes themselves in the built-in wardrobe and squeals, “where am I?” and then opens the door, “here am” until they finally slam their finger in the sliding door).

These days, with both kids at school and a bit more sleep, I do summons semi-regular baking sessions, particularly lunchbox treats that I know are relished and add a bit of variety to the mix. But being a practical lass, I need my lunchbox baking recipes to freeze well, so that during less-organised weeks I can quickly grab portioned, ready-to-go treats and instantly fancy up my mid-week box (sorry, can’t help myself).

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Sometimes during the day I catch the Sylvanian Family figures out and about hoping for their big modelling break. Today I indulged them.

Fruit & seed bars (nut-free, egg-free, no-sugar)

3/4 cup mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower & chia)
1 cup plain flour (wholemeal if you have it)
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup dried fruit (I used apricots & dates)
1 apple, cored, quartered
1/3 cup honey
125g butter

A mini food processor makes this dish a breeze!

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 18x28cm slice tray with baking paper.

Pop the seeds into the food processor and blitz them up. (This make them easier to smuggle and easier for our digestion systems to benefit from).

Tip them into a large mixing bowl. Mix in the flour and oats.

Pulse the dried fruit (this is just a lazybones way of chopping it finely). Add it to the mix. Also do this with the apple, but pulse carefully – you want bits, not juice). Mix this through thoroughly, set aside.

Pop the honey and butter into a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir to melt and combine. Tip it into your dry ingredients. Mix really well before scooping everything into your prepared tray. Press the mixture evenly into the tray. Bake for 30 minutes until golden on top.

Leave to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes about 12. Freezes well for about a month.

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Like this recipe? Try my…

Orange mega-seed muffins
Chocolate bran & zucchini muffins
Choc chip & chick pea cookies

Or visit my shop and buy yourself a gorgeous cookbook!

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Like this recipe? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

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Banana chickpea muffins

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Suddenly my calendar is telling me that it is OCTOBER! How the hell did that happen? And it does seem to be true – the kids headed back to school in summer uniforms yesterday.

This recipe will add a bit of interest to the craziness that is term 4. It will use up all your soggy bananas AND give you that brief moment of parental superiority as your child heads off with an additive-free, home-made lunchbox.

Banana chickpea muffins

1 cup self-raising flour (wholemeal or regular)
1/2 cup besan flour (chickpea flour, available at health food stores)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
50g butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 overripe bananas – mashed
1/2 cup sultanas (or choc chips are pretty yum too!)

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease a 12 hole muffin tin or line with paper cases.

In a large bowl, combine the flours (no need to sift) and sugar.

In a smaller bowl or jug, whisk together the egg, milk and butter. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients. Combine roughly, then mix through the bananas and sultanas.

Divide between your muffin cases. If you like, top with walnuts (not for school lunch boxes, obviously) or chia seeds.

Bake for 25 minutes or so, until golden and springy.

Makes 12. Extras freeze well.

Full of solutions for the rest of your food year!

Full of solutions for the rest of your food year!

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These baked treats will pull you out of your parenting slump…

Inevitably, years of parenting do not pass by without periods of slump. Like any job, enthusiasm for certain tasks ebbs and flows. Of course the suckish part of parenting is that you’re in your job 24/7, so unlike regular employment, the hard times are not just an aspect of life that isn’t working, it’s more a feeling like YOUR WHOLE LIFE ISN’T WORKING.

Of course, it’s never that bad, but there’s something about the inability to get breathing space that does make perspective and negotiating your way out of a parenting lull quite tricky.

Usually the fixes are pretty easy to find. Maybe the kids will move out of their current frustrating stage, or you’ll just wake up one day with a fresh bit of perspective. Or they might do something particularly loveable, like give you lots of cuddles or manage to wee IN the toilet for a day or two (sometimes it’s the little things).

And sometimes you have to just suck it up and jolly yourself out of it. A bit of attitude adjustment and tackling things in a new way can make a massive difference.

In my job (as a graphic designer) I tackle tricky clients by pouring love onto them. You know, if a client is complaining I totally take their side, shower them in attention and find that pretty much any situation is instantly diffused. I take the same tactic with my parenting – I find the core issue, and pour some love on it. Whether it’s just a conscious bit of mental reassessing of a situation or a more physical manifestation like cooking my way out of it. Which is why I say these muffins will pull you out of a parenting-hole, particularly if it is lunchbox-shaped and demanding attention five days a week.

Make a double batch of these and freeze them. Then instead of groaning at the thought of packing lunch on yet another day, you’ll have a bit of instant relief. And it’s home-made too, which is positive for you AND the kids.

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Just the sight of that cute damn dog cheers me up!

Chocolate seed muffins

1/2 cup seeds (any combo of black chia, sunflower, pepitas, flax)
1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1 egg
Juice 1 orange (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tbsp maple syrup (optional but recommended)
1 small ripe avocado

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease or line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases.

Give the seeds a blitz in a blender, food processor or mortar & pestle – you need to break them down a bit. Tip them into a large mixing bowl and toss in the flour, cocoa, sugar and oats.

In a separate bowl or large jug, whisk the egg, then combine in the orange juice, milk, butter & maple syrup.

Tip the wet ingredients into the dry and stir gently until just combined.

Use a fork to mash the avocado in a small bowl, then add that the the muffin mixture and combine in.

Divide evenly between the cases and bake for 25-30 minutes until the tops spring back with touched and a skewer comes out clean.

Makes 12

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Need more ideas? Check out my 40-week lunchbox planner, full of super simple and seasonal ideas!

 

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Beef & Chorizo Empanadas

Every now and again I do love to draw upon my past life as a Nicaraguan coffee farmer’s wife and whip up some tasty Latin American morsels. My kids go mad for them. As soon as I chuck the chorizo into the pan they’ll come running with a hopeful, “Are we having empanada’s for dinner?” The chorizo is the cheat ingredient that gives a tonne of flavour really simply. Traditionally you can shove pretty much any ingredients into them, including beans and eggs, but I find this recipe is the right mix of yum/simple/popular.

Best yet, you can make this in several stages to suit your day. If you’re free in the morning then make the mince mix and even get the empanadas made up. Just cover them with cling wrap or pop them in a sealed container in the fridge until you need them. Then just preheat your oven, brush them with egg and you’re away.

Besterest yeterest, this recipe makes a good amount so I’ve always got a ready-to-go bit of something for the lunchbox for the following day. Doesn’t matter that they’re cold – they’re apparently still completely yum.

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Beef & Chorizo Empanadas

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 chorizo sausage, finely diced
500g beef mince
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
1 cup grated pumpkin
2 tbsp tomato paste (or leftover pizza sauce is also good)
1 cup frozen peas
6 sheets shortcrust pastry

1 egg, whisked for glazing

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add the oil then the onions. Cook, stirring often for 5-6 minutes until starting to turn golden. Add in the chorizo for a minute or two then also carefully pop in the mince. Use the spoon to break up the lumps and keep it moving around for several minutes until it is all browned.

Chuck in the garlic, capsicum, pumpkin & tomato paste. Stir everything through well. Simmer the mixture for about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it – there’s not much liquid so make sure it doesn’t burn.

Tip in the peas – mix them through and take the mixture off the heat to cool slightly.

Remove the pastry sheets from the freezer & separate them out onto your bench (a bit of bench space or a large kitchen table makes this easier!)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a couple of oven trays with baking paper.

Once the pastry sheets have thawed, use a small bowl or saucer as a guide and use a small sharp knife to cut four circles from each sheet (this gives a nice traditional shape but I’m not gonna fuss if this is all a bit hard & you instead use squares to fold into triangles). Brush half the edge of each circle with egg. Dollop about 2tbsp or so of mix into the middle of each circle. Fold over and seal the edges. Give them a crimp or just squish the edge shut with a fork.

Place on the baking trays, brush with egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.

Makes 24.

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PS. After 5 years and 3 print runs, it looks like I’m about to sell out of the last hard copies of the original Vegie Smugglers cookbook. The good news? There’s still a handful left if you want to grab one quickly. The better news? There’ll be a digital version hitting your i-shelves soon.

Visit the shop here.
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Aaaahhhh. Fiji. And what I learned from resort holiday fun.

Mana Island, Fiji

Mana Island in all it’s glory!

In a happy chance my return from Fiji coincided with some winter sunshine and a cheap bulk buy of passionfruit at my local fruit shop. Which resulted in these sweet little morning tea treats that have me closing my eyes and drifting back off to the tropics (scroll down for recipe).

This trip was our first family-resort holiday. Usually we’re a van-park type of family, but stuff it, I hate winter and a few days of heat seemed entirely MEDICINAL. Of course the credit card may not agree for the rest of the year.

But we did create some pretty amazing family memories. With my kids a bit older, we skipped the kids club in favour of family frolics and some pretty adventurous snorkelling afternoons. It was so impressive to watch the kids step up, overcome some fears and get stuck in.

We moved about, but our favourite place was Mana Island – I can’t say enough good stuff about it and it’s still currently under renovation. It will be incredible in another six months or so.

And my tips for taking kids to a resort holiday in Fiji?

• If possible, find flights that don’t have you up for bus transfers at 3am. Or 2am. It kind of squishes some of the fun out of a short trip.

• Take a bunch of muesli bars and snacks to tide them over from buffet to buffet.

• Smother everyone in sunscreen all the time. Don’t trust the kids to do it themselves (speaking from experience).

• And even though the big resorts want you to tip when you pay the bill, slip cash to the staff who’ve been awesome. It makes a big difference to fantastic people who’s daily pay is about what you’d pay for a couple of beers. I find being the affluent-Aussie-in-poorer-countries thing quite awkward. The lady who was bringing me my cocktails by the pool had four kids under six and worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. And she smiled the whole time.

Lesson learned.

vegie smugglers passionfruit coconut madeleines

Regular patty pans will do instead of madeleine trays. And sorry for the rubbish pic – I was too lazy to dig out the good camera

Passionfruit & coconut madeleines

3 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar (or golden caster)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
4 passionfruit (juice & seeds). Use 3 tbsp tinned passionfruit if you can’t find fresh
75g melted butter
Icing sugar to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease madeleine or patty pans with HEAPS of butter – or they’ll stick.

Pop the eggs and sugar into a large bowl and whisk for several minutes until lighter and thick (sounds tedious, but very good for tuck shop lady arms).

Sprinkle over the flour and coconut and fold through gently. Stir through the passionfruit and butter.

Scoop tablespoon quantities into the trays and bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden and springy (these don’t rise much).

Leave to cool for several minutes before turning out and tossing in a bit of icing sugar (optional).

Makes 30ish.

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For another tropical treat, try my delicious little pineapple cakes.

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