The kids have finally gone back to school, and the hum drum of packing lunch boxes is already starting to bore me. It’s not the time it takes that brings me down, no, no, it’s that I struggle to get excited about making up yet another wilted cheese or ham sandwich. So you can understand my enthusiasm when I was fortunate enough to receive a limited edition New York Bakery Company Bagel Protector in the post along with a voucher to try some of their delicious bagels. The bagel protector proved to be such a handy idea, but also provided me with a little inspiration to take a lunchbox challenge and see if I could come up with some inspirational lunch ideas for the whole family.
Super sandwiches – turns out that there are so many other great things you can do to liven up bread (or bagels) that are nutritious and enjoyable for kids and adults. Kids will love fun fillings such as peanut butter and banana, cream cheese and pineapple or cheese and grape. I also found that using a cookie cutter to make star or circle shaped sandwiches got the kids all excited about even the simplest sandwiches. For the adults, sometimes adding a spoonful of pesto, piri-piri dressing, cranberry sauce or a great relish was all it took to make my usual sandwich fillings inspiring again. You’d be surprised how great those added extras can taste. If you want to go that little bit further, you could try making up some succulent pulled pork (see recipe below), a tender and tasty filling idea. Using soft flour tortillas, crisp breads, bagels and pitta breads also add interest and different textures to tempt your tastebuds.
Appetizing alternatives – if the thought of bread is boring, I have found that alternatives such as a frittata and pasta pots are delicious eaten cold. For extra nutrition add tomatoes, or spinach or chargrilled vegetables to the frittata. I mixed onions, garlic and a little basil to passata as a base for quick and easy pasta sauces, then just added chopped ham, chicken or chorizo to the cold pasta and lunch was done.
Salad days – Now I’m not a huge fan of salads, but with a little time and attention you can create a lunchtime dish that you will actually crave. Limp lettuce and cucumber be gone! These days the most simple salad I would stand for is a mozzerella and tomato salad with a drizzle of pesto and a few basil leaves. For something more exciting, add cous cous or chickpeas with veggies such green beans, mange tout, grated carrot, chargrilled courgette, onions and peppers, or sun dried tomatoes for instant appetite appeal. Fruit can work particularly well in most salads, with pomegranate, sultanas, apple slices or similar freshening up a savoury salad and adding a little bit of zing. Nuts, seeds and croutons can all add bite if you like a bit of crunch in your lunch! For my kids, I have found chopping salad essentials into cubes or slices and popping them into a pot with fruit pieces makes it more appealing to eat than a big pile of lettuce.
Snack time – I used to make do with lunch box staples such as an apple and a biscuit to fill up hungry tummies after they had eaten their sandwiches, but these days I am using fruit bars. As I see it there is still no harm in the occasional treat so I have been including a slice of home made fruit cake or one of the fabulously tasty flapjacks and snack size cupcakes and muffins from The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys. Okay, so you may say they are sugary, but actually each product in the range has between just 53 kcal and 70 kcal so they don’t do too much damage to your waistline. Because they are individually wrapped they also stay fresh for a long time after the box has been opened so they are a handy store cupboard savior!
Pulled Pork (courtesy of Packington Free Range Pork)
3-5kg Pork shoulder joint
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tspn cumin powder
1 tspn fennel seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
generous pinch sea salt & pepper
1 bottle cider
300ml stock (chicken, pork or veg)
Pre-heat oven to 240
Pour boiling water over skin side of meat then pat dry (this helps with creating the perfect crackling!)
Mix all the dry pork ingredients with the olive oil and rub into the meat
Place the meat in a roasting tray – pouring the bottle of cider into the bottom of the tray
Put the pork in the oven for 30-40 minutes to crisp up the crackling
Turn the oven down to 130 and cook for a further 30 minutes
Remove the tray from the oven and add the stock to the bottom of the tray – cook for a further 2 hours.
After the 2 hours – remove the tray from the oven and cover with a double layer of tinfoil, return to the oven for a further 3-4 hours (depending on the size of joint) until the meat crumbles
Take the pork out of the oven and rest for at least half an hour (under the tinfoil)
When the pork has rested use 2 forks to crumble the meat and serve in a lovely roll with some rocket or watercress.