Ditch the sandwiches – some tasty lunchbox options.

The school holidays reminded me of quite how hungry my children are. I don’t remember my own mother being perpetually accessorised with breadsticks and Babybel but my little sweethearts seem to need nourishing on an hourly basis. These constant catering demands were wearing, but at least the holidays do give a temporary reprieve from the tyranny of packed lunch production.

Not being a morning person, I am incapable of providing more than the most basic sustenance unless I have created it in advance. Of course, sandwiches can go soggy when they’re made the night before, so as often as possible I make something in readiness, ideally something that can be trotted out for a few people or for a few days.

All of the suggestions below have been approved by my rigorous testers and will pass muster for all my family. Of course, the unreasonable parameters you’re working within will be different from my own set of entirely unreasonable parameters, so all the ideas can be tweaked to make the flavours and textures more palatable to your clientele.


Pasties

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These go down a treat. I tend to use tuna, because I always have a tin in the cupboard. I cut a sheet of puff pastry into 6 squares and then fill with something along the lines of:

  • Tin of tuna (cooked chicken or tinned salmon also work well)
  • Handful of grated cheddar/ball of mozzarella, chopped small
  • Half a tin of sweetcorn
  • 1/2 red pepper (chopped)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • (Chopped jalapenos – to taste, or leave out)
  • You’ll also need a sheet of puff pastry – obvs
  1. Cut a sheet of puff pastry into 6 squares.
  2. Mix all the filling ingredients together and then put a generous amount  in the centre of each square.
  3. Brush around the edges of the pastry with beaten egg and fold one side over on top of the other so that you’re left with a triangle.
  4. Press a fork all round the edge to seal the join. Gauge after the first one how much filling you can put in, whilst still being able to seal the sides.
  5. Brush the finished parcels with beaten egg and pop into the oven at 200°C for approx 25-30 mins until the pastry is golden and risen.
  6. If you’re not eating them straight away they’ll keep in the fridge for 3 days.

Noodles

This is my daughter’s very fave. I cook egg noodles and add in tinned sweetcorn, chopped up red pepper, some mangetout and  cooked chicken – you could also use ham or salmon. I splash a bit of sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil on and mix it up, and she’s as happy as can be. If only her contentment could always be gained so easily.


Dips and crudités

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Houmous really wasn’t a thing in lunch boxes at my school – obviously, with that being the 80s – and I am still faintly surprised that it is so popular with small people, but indeed it is and this Jamie Oliver recipe is a goodie. Obviously you could just buy it (I do) – if so, the Tesco Organic version was judged the best by The Guardian, who presumably know about such things. My kids love salsa – you can buy good fresh ones in any supermarket, or it’s pretty easy to make. For dipping, I put in chopped up cucumber, pepper and carrot, babycorn and some carbs – either pitta bread or bread sticks and the pots always come back empty.


Sausage rolls

I make these more often for picnics but one sometimes finds its way into a lunchbox. To make them:

  • 6 good quality sausages
  • Puff pastry
  • 1 egg
  1. Slit the skins of the sausages before carefully peeling off.
  2. Unroll the puff pastry and cut it into 6 squares (half it down the length and then cut each long strip into 3 fat squares.
  3. Take some beaten egg and brush along the one edge of each square – this will form the join when you roll it.
  4. If you’re feeling fancy you can spread a bit of something like mustard, caramelised onion, chutney or other condiment of your choosing onto the pastry before wrapping each piece around a sausage.
  5. Place on a baking tray with the join on the bottom, brush beaten egg over the top and sprinkle with finely grated cheese if it takes your fancy
  6. Bake in the oven at 200°C for approx 25 mins until the pastry is golden and risen and the sausage is cooked through and piping hot.
  7. If you’re not eating them straight away they’ll keep in the fridge for 3 days.

Falafel

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I absolutely love falafel and often take this to work for my lunch. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re pretty much Middle Eastern-spiced chickpea nuggets. They’re much better than they sound. I think the Aldi version is really tasty; I have attempted my own, but they have always been awful, so I am considering accepting defeat on this, though this is the recipe I will try next, should I persevere. I warm them up in the staffroom and then put them in a tortilla wrap or a pitta with loads of rocket or other lettuce-like material. A slathering of mayo, or some Greek yoghurt with a spot of mint sauce in make rather pleasant additions. It’s lovely warm, but you could always cool them before assembling the wrap to put in a lunchbox.


Soup

Obvs this is more faffy if you’ve got to keep it hot, and the average primary  pupil doesn’t tend to have easy access to a microwave during the school day, so this might be better for the grown ups. It is possible to take hot soup – or pasta, noodles, anything… – in a food flask, which works very well, but does mean engaging with hot water and microwaves at breakfast time, and it’s often a bridge too far in this house. If you have facilities for warming, then these microwave soup mugs are great; I have a stack of them. I have shared recipes for pea and sweetcorn and spicy red pepper soups in previous posts, and Covent Garden’s Great British Soups book has loads more to choose from.


I hope some of these ideas are of use – let me know of any packed lunch winners you make!

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