Pack a Punch: Three Lunchbox Ideas To Try

TRISH DESEINE offers three veggie salads to update family lunch boxes …

Was one of your post-summer holiday resolutions to make your or your children’s packed lunches more interesting and nutritious? And now, four weeks or so into the new term you are already suffering from lunchbox fatigue? Have you already succumbed to the lure of the pre-chopped, pre-packaged deli counter where everything has the texture and flavour of the plastic it comes encased in? If so, dear GLOSS reader, I feel for you.

For years and years I suffered the horrors of daily packed-lunch making for my four children. In those days, a sandwich and an apple were still considered a perfectly okay midday meal, but far from releasing creativity, the restrictive frame of four times two slices of bread was brain-numbing. Not that my kids are picky – thankfully constant contact with cousins and French friends’ kids meant there was zero vegetable phobia and a tendency to eat the same food as adults – it was more the opposite. Given that maman was some fancy pants cookbook author, quite rightly they felt their sandwiches should be as alluring and carefully constructed as the Taj Mahal. (It is entirely possible that they did not, in fact, think any such thing. But maternal guilt amplified by single mum-dom and hindsight is a powerful mind bender).

The arrival of the bento box did not help. Simply deconstructing the previously invisible, merged sandwich interiors allowed for a lot of extra choice, and therefore, dissent and shopping became a nightmare as leakage (into school books!) was as real a risk as the dreaded drying out. At least those absorbent slices of bread had kept everything soft and fresh.

But even if it seemed complicated then, at least we escaped the current “healthy” food craze which demonises entire food groups and elevates certain ingredients to dubious “superfood” status, even in a five-year-old’s lunchbox.

I’ve written before about taking a step back from the nutribabble. Considering the long game when it comes to our kids has never been more important. Always think about what you are being sold behind the “advice” and cheery, chummy chats, (including TV shows) today mostly sponsored by supermarkets – “healthy” food ranges? books? make-up? snake oil? – and honestly ask yourself if you are not over-projecting your own dietary hang-ups onto your children (although you will do this a little, it’s inevitable.)

Don’t give children sweets or crisps or chocolate bars or mass-produced biscuits every day. Get some vegetables in there every day, try to vary them but don’t “disguise” them. Try to use bread rather than over sugary wraps or burger buns, avoid low carb, low fat, gluten or dairy free ready-made products unless your actual GP has diagnosed a reason you should not.

Mostly, relax. Food is one of life’s great pleasures, sitting down to a meal together every day, no matter how simple, is of massive social benefit to kids, as is getting them interested in shopping and cooking. Over the long haul, these aspects are more important than what is or isn’t in their lunchbox at school when they are away from you. Work within a longterm set of very basic values around food and don’t sweat the small stuff. Above all, don’t rob your children of the pleasure of food by reducing it to a mere scientifically, or worse “medically”, defined fuel when you do not have to.

As for our own al desko options, well, the biggest advantage of being grown up is being responsible for yourself, the good and the bad. And if that means sometimes lunch is half a packet of chocolate coffee caramel digestives and a banana, it’s your call. In fact, with an Americano, it’s a perfectly viable flavour and texture pairing. But if you are attracted to the flavour discovery delights of dinky ickle Bento compartments, or better still, the secret hidden depths of The Bowl, you can have a huge amount of fun while making sure your body is fuelled through the afternoon in not only a nutritious, but most delicious, way.

Peanut Noodle Salad

Peanuts may be verboten in many schools; happily adult workplaces are, for now, exempt.

For 6

15 minutes cooking

15 minutes preparation

180g dry noodles (soba, linguini, thai rice noodles…)

400g or so mixed chopped red and white cabbage, carrots, radishes

3 scallions, finely chopped

2 or 3 tbsps each coriander and basil

1 tbsp chopped fresh mint

75g dry roasted peanuts

Peanut sauce

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 large garlic clove, finely diced

100g peanut or other nut butter

Juice of an orange

2 tbsps soy sauce

2 tbsps runny honey

2 tbsps toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp sunflower oil

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain and chill.

Blitz all the sauce ingredients in a mini blender.

Assemble the salad by mixing the raw vegetables to the noodles and add the sauce.

Garnish with a few more peanuts and fresh herbs.

Marinated beans

The beans will keep for two or three days in the fridge and are great in sandwiches, in pitta, with noodles, grains and rice or salad.

For 4/6

10 minutes preparation

80ml olive oil

Zest and juice of a lemon

Flesh of an orange, chopped, juice retained

2 or 3 tbsps pitted olives, black or green

1 shallot, peeled, finely diced

1 garlic clove, peeled, finely diced

1/2 tsp sea salt

425g tinned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

4 or 5 tbsps chopped fresh parsley, mint, oregano, basil – or a mix of a couple of these

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and leave to rest for an hour or two, or overnight in the fridge.

Quinoa Tabouleh

The base of the tabouleh can be any grain, and you can increase or decrease the grain to veg ratio.

For 4

15 minutes cooking

20 minutes preparation

250g quinoa, rice, couscous or bulghur

4 or 5 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 cucumber, chopped into small cubes

1 red onion or 2 scallions, or both, chopped finely

125g raisins

Juice and zest of a lemon

3 tbsps fresh mint, chopped

3 tbsps flat leaf parsley, chopped

4 tbsps olive oil

Salt and pepper

Ground cumin, sumac or any spice mix you fancy

Pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts (optional)

Cook the grains according to their packet instructions. Cool and reserve.

Mix all the other ingredients together, mix lightly then add to the bowl of grains. Stir and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour or two, overnight is even better.


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