School lunch salvation: tips and recipes from Annabel Karmel

Seira Wilson on August 22, 2019

RealFoodKidsWilLove225.jpgWhile I'm pretty happy school is about to start again--and for some of you it already has--the one thing I'm not looking forward to is packing school lunches. I want my child to have a well-balanced lunch, but it's disappointing to find the healthy bits uneaten when the lunchbox returns at the end of the day.

Annabel Karmel is an expert on cooking for kids and the author of over 40 books on the subject. Her new cookbook, Real Food Kids Will Love has over 100 recipes, including chapters for healthy "fast" food, 15-minute meals, and a little gem of a chapter titled: Lunchbox and Play Date Snacks. 

As I mentioned earlier, I need some help when it comes to making a school lunch that my child will actually eat and enjoy. So I asked the expert, and Karmel passed along this trio of tips and handy recipes from her new book:

As we wave goodbye to the summer holidays, it’s time to focus our attention on back to school. Rather than fall into old habits, refresh lunchboxes and after school snacks with lots of different (and delicious) foods and interesting flavors to spice things up and give those little learners a nutritious boost to get them through the day.

Plus, whilst it may seem easier to get them trying new foods at home under the watchful eye of mum or dad, packed lunches provide a prime opportunity to get your little one exercising their independence and trying new things for themselves.  

Mealtimes at home can often be emotionally charged, but once your child is at school with their friends, there is often a desire to fit in, and if the other children are munching away, they are naturally likely to follow rather than cause a fuss. 

Here are a few of my top lunchbox tips:

1.    The way you prepare foods can be the difference between a tantrum and a clean plate. Children love to pick up food and eat it with their fingers so why not get them dicing with new veggies such as carrot, cucumber and red pepper. Cutting them into small batons will make them easy to hold and fun to crunch on. Pack a few of these in their lunchbox in slightly damp kitchen roll to keep them moist, alongside their favorite sandwich and some hummus for dipping. I promise it’ll be a whole different ball game than if you present them with a side of boiled carrots with dinner. 

2.    On any slightly quieter weekend afternoons, get your little helper in the kitchen prepping lunch for the week. By making something together from scratch, you’ll stand a good chance of instilling a love of good, healthy food. My Carrot, Cheese & Tomato Muffins from Real Food Kids Will Love are delicious and packed full of goodness. It’s a great recipe to make with the kids and the perfect mid-afternoon snack or lunchbox filler.

3.    When you’re prepping their lunchbox, tell them about the foods you’re including and where they come from. Kids love to tell stories, but they love to hear them too, so pack in plenty of positives. You’ll be surprised how easily this can entice children to eat new foods, especially as they can share this fun knowledge with friends.

RealFoodKids_CarrotCheeseTomMuffin.jpgCARROT, CHEESE & TOMATO MUFFINS

Kids won’t often turn down a muffin so they are a great way to experiment with different foods and flavours. This adventurous little number features carrot, sun-dried tomato and spring onion to liven up little ones’ lunchtimes.

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 18-20 minutes
Makes: 10 muffins
Suitable for freezing

175g self-raising flour 
1 tsp baking powder 
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp maple syrup 
6 tbsp milk 
50g parmesan cheese, grated 
3 spring onions, chopped
75g carrot, grated 
Pinch of salt
8 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped 

1.    Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with 10 paper cases.

2.    Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl then add all of the remaining ingredients and stir until just combined (avoid over-mixing it). 

3.    Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and bake in the oven for 18–20 minutes until well risen and lightly golden. 

4.    Remove from the oven, remove the muffins from the tin (still in their cases) and leave to cool on a wire rack.

5.    The muffins can be frozen (once cooled) for up to 2 months. Defrost then reheat in the oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for 8–10 minutes until heated through.


A healthy twist on a chocolate truffle – sweet-toothed tots who think they’re raiding the chocolate box will be none the wiser! 

Prep: 15 minutes (excluding chill time)
Makes: 15–20 balls

160g pitted dates, chopped
160g cashew nuts 
100g raisins
2 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp orange extract

To Coat
Cocoa powder
Desiccated coconut
Chocolate sprinkles

1.    Put all of the ingredients in a food processor with 4 tablespoons of boiling water and blitz until the mixture is finely chopped and well blended.

2.    Transfer the mixture to a bowl and shape it into 15–20 balls.

RealFoodKids_SushiSandwich.jpg‘SUSHI’ SANDWICHES

There’s no reason why children can’t enjoy sushi! These sushi-style wraps are an ingenious way to get kids trying new ingredients. Replacing sushi rice with bread makes for a quick and inexpensive lunchbox pleaser. Chopsticks at the ready.

Prep: 15-20 minutes 
Makes: 18 ‘sushi’ rolls 

4 slices of white bread, crusts removed
A little softened butter
2 slices of brown bread, crusts removed

40g/1½oz cooked chicken, finely diced
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp tinned sweetcorn
½ large carrot, grated

2 tbsp mayonnaise
40g/1½oz cooked beef, thinly sliced
2 lettuce leaves
1 tomato, deseeded and thinly sliced

100g/3½oz cooked peeled prawns, drained and chopped
2 tbsp mayonnaise
4 cucumber batons
1 tomato, deseeded and thinly sliced

1.    Put the white bread slices on a chopping board, cover with clingfilm and roll them out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 3mm/?in. Remove the clingfilm and spread the flattened slices with butter.

2.    For the chicken and sweetcorn filling, mix the chicken, mayonnaise and sweetcorn together in a bowl. Spoon along the sides of 2 buttered slices of bread. Top with the grated carrot, roll each slice up tightly, then cut each roll into 3 pieces.

3.    For the beef, tomato and lettuce filling, spread the mayonnaise over the remaining 2 slices of flattened white bread. Put the beef on one edge of the mayo-covered bread slices, top with lettuce and tomato, roll up and trim the edges, the cut each roll into 3 pieces.

4.    For the prawn filling, put the brown bread slices on a chopping board, cover with clingfilm and roll them out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 3mm/1/8 in. Mix the prawns and mayonnaise together in a bowl. Spoon onto one edge of each bread slice. Top with cucumber and tomato, roll up tightly and trim the edges. Slice each roll into 3 pieces.

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