As the school year drags inexorably towards its end (only five weeks to go!), I find myself short on inspiration and long on an ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit’ when it comes to school lunches.
If there are any long-time readers of my (lately very sporadic) blog, they would recall the enthusiasm and the gusto with which I used to attack the school and kindy lunch duties. I published recipes of all kinds of things, from energy muffins to muesli slices, from cheesy-mite scrolls to banana bread. My tastes were broad (much broader than my children’s it turned out) and I was willing to give anything a go.
However, here we are in Term 4 and every day has settled into the same boring foods – a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a (bought) muesli bar and some biscuits, crackers or other munchable item. And of course, more often than not, there are considerable portions of the lunchbox returning home untouched by children’s hands. Probably too bored to even unwrap most items.
So, when Baker’s Delight emailed me a while ago and asked if I’d like to participate in their lunchbox blog challenge I leapt at the opportunity. Anything for a much-needed shot in the arm to lunchtime inspiration.
I also received a loaf of the new Hi-Lo bread – high fibre, low GI – and some Hi-Lo rolls. I’m a sucker for fresh, soft, white bread with a chewy crust (I defy anyone to pass up freshly baked tiger rolls – yumm!!) and I never, ever have it in the house because I want the children to grow up accustomed to wholemeal and wholegrain bread. It’s better for you than white bread.
Or is it? As I always do with foods, I’m a nut for the nutrition panel. So I compared the Hi-Lo loaf, with the Helga’s Wholemeal loaf in my fridge. The Hi-Lo has 8.3g of fibre per 100g compared with just 6.7g of fibre in the Helga’s loaf. Also, it is lower in fat (1.2g Hi-Lo vs 2.7g Helga’s) and sugars (1.1g vs 2.3g). The only significant area where Helga’s beats the Hi-Lo loaf is sodium, with Helga’s winning at 400mg per 100g compared with 542mg per 100g from Baker’s Delight.
If your family is addicted to white bread and whinge all the time when you bring anything else home, perhaps the Hi-Lo loaf is worth a try.
But I digress! Back to the school lunches. The recipes suggested to me were: banana and almond spread sandwiches; salmon and cream cheese sandwiches; space shuttle sandwiches; baked bean and cheese jaffles; and burgers.
I spent five days making a different sandwich each day and recorded the feedback from the kids each day. The kid testers: Finley, 5, DJ, 4, Matilda, 3.
Day 1 – Banana and almond spread sangas
Fin said he liked his lunch today but (as expected) didn’t want crusts on his sandwiches (I don’t usually cut the crusts off but that doesn’t stop him asking every single day). When pressed about the sandwich (which was a banana and peanut paste) he said he didn’t love it, but it was ok. I think the problem may have been the banana might have gone brown and smushy by lunch time. I don’t think this is a great school sandwich option just for that reason.
DJ devoured his sandwich and loved the combination of sweet banana and salty peanut paste. He and Matilda at theirs freshly made at home which I think would have improved the flavour and consistency – and appearance – of the sandwich. Fresh banana is infinitely preferable to hours-old mashed banana.
Overall: 7 out of 10.
Day 2 – Salmon and cream cheese
For this you need: bread, 1 tin pink salmon (or tuna), 1 cucumber, grated, 1 tub cream cheese, 2 cups mixed fresh herbs, pinch salt.
I won’t make this one a lot for a few reasons. Firstly, it requires a bit much prep work. You’re supposed to grate the cucumber, then salt it and set it aside to let the salt draw the moisture out, then you press it through a sieve with paper towel (presumably so it doesn’t make the bread soggy by lunch time). Then mix the cream cheese and the herbs together, spread on the bread and then put the cucumber and salmon on the bread. That’s a lot for the morning when I’m organising three kids. I need a three-step sandwich – butter bread, spread filling, close sandwich.
Secondly, the kids hate tinned fish. But I like it, so on those days when I’ve got a bit of time on my hands (maybe next year when I have TWO kids at school and just one at home) I’ll make it for me. It has a delicious freshness to it that the grated cucumber brings. It’s quite yummy.
Overall: 6 out of 10
Day 3 – Space shuttle
This is really a ham and cheese sandwich cut into the shape of a rocket ship. This one was a big hit. The boys love space ships, rockets and all that stuff so when they opened their lunch bags and found rocket ship sangas, well, they thought it was Christmas.
And as for the filling, they love ham and cheese (except Fin who’s outgrowing a dairy allergy). But he gets ham and barbecue sauce or ham and chutney, something like that. Last Thursday he had ham and tomato sauce cut into a rocket ship. He loved it. Empty lunchbox came home that day!
Overall: 9 out of 10
Day 4 – Baked beans and cheese jaffle
I grew up on a diet of baked beans jaffles (except in our family they were called “Mothers Days”, as in, “Kids, do you want Mothers Days for dinner? Yes Dad!” This odd code was because in the age-old tradition of husbands and wives, where wives buy husbands socks and jocks for fathers day and dads buy kitchen appliances for mums, that’s exactly what happened in 1980 in our house and my sister and I were a little young, or disinclined, to remember ‘jaffle’, instead remembering “that thing we got Mum for Mothers Day that makes toasted sandwiches). Anyhoo, I loved them as a kid and am having similar success instilling such a love in my kids. But until I’d read the suggestion from Baker’s Delight it had never occurred to me to send one along to school, cold.
I did. It was a hit. Although, judging by the marks on Fin’s uniform, it was a messy lunch option. No matter. It was a lunch option that he ate, so I’m happy. And presumably he’s happy.
DJ and Matilda were not similarly in love with the option at home. I couldn’t get either of them to finish their sandwiches but I think it was more to do with the fact they’d eaten three slices of the Hi-Lo loaf while waiting for their sandwiches to cook. By the time the sandwiches came out of the machine the kids were full.
Overall: 7 out of 10
Day 5 – Burgers
I confess I altered the burgers and made my own. The original recipe listed ingredients: 300gm mince beef, 1 tsp tomato paste, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 1 Tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, olive oil, 1 cup lettuce, shredded, 1 beetroot, sliced, 1 carrot, grated.
I don’t really enjoy spending a lot of time preparing food, unless it’s baking cakes and biscuits. Then I’m happy to spend an hour or two measuring, chopping, slicing and dicing.
So my burgers were sliced up sausages, chutney, cheese, and grated carrots on the Hi-Lo roll. Kids loved ‘em. But again, I think the burger was a bit messy for Fin. Most of DJ’s carrot ended up on the floor, which he was upset about because he absolutely loves carrot. So I sliced up some carrot and gave it to him, which made him happy.
Overall: 8 out of 10
I have to say, the experiment did exactly what I wanted it to do – lift me out of the lunchbox rut. I started to think a bit more about what I was giving the kids. It also helped that they thought the white bread was a novelty. I had no problems giving it to them for the high fibre, low sugar content. The salt worries me because reports recently in the media said we are still eating too much salt. I’m constantly looking out for hidden salt in our diets and looking for ways to cut down on that.
The bread was delicious, however, and the sandwich options worked very well overall. Thanks Baker’s Delight!