Lunchbox inspiration

So often in Britain our children are poorly catered for. In many of the child-targeted attractions we visit the only options available are burgers or hot dogs and chips (with our climate a packed lunch is not always a practical option!)

Even during a recent visit to a department store café (chosen specifically for its children’s-size spaghetti bolognaise) the only drinks on offer for my two-year-old were sweetener laden juice or sugary fizzy drinks. When I requested a glass of milk instead the server looked at me disgustedly as though I was asking for champagne!

Yet, in school where children’s food has been transformed beyond all recognition, so few parents take advantage of it. Half of UK children take a packed lunch to school but only one per cent of school lunch boxes contain food with that meets with nutritional standards (low in fat and salt, high in essential vitamins and nutrients). The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reported that more than 25 per cent contained sweets, snacks and sugary drinks, which are banned in local authority prepared meals. It’s no wonder we have an obesity crisis. I know everyone is mega-busy these days but it makes me so sad that so many people don’t consider the implications of diet on their child’s health. Surely such poor quality food and drink must affect their concentration levels?

My son accidentally got his hands on some jellybeans a few months ago and I have never seen such erratic and extreme behaviour from him! I am not sure how much school meals cost, but surely it better to encourage children to eat these now that they are soundly balanced and regulated?

It’s very different to my school days when I asked for salad and I was told that they were “saved for teachers” and offered soggy cheese pie and lukewarm chips instead eeeuggggh. Pitta Pizzas are perfect for a lunchbox, they could be served raw with the topping inside the pitta or cooked and cooled for the lunchbox. For more lunchbox inspiration visit School Food Trust.

Pitta pizzas

Pitta breads make a quick and light pizza-style base which goes crispy in the oven. Topped with a selection of fresh vegetables, they make a filling, wholesome lunchtime snack. You can choose whichever vegetables you like best, such as artichokes or sweetcorn.

Pitta Pizza

Pitta Pizza

Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 30 minutes
Calories per portion 293 Kcal
Fat per portion 8g
of which saturated 2.9g
Serves 4
Suitable for vegetarians + freezing

Wholemeal pitta breads 4
Tomato ketchup 8 tsp
Garlic 1 clove, peeled and crushed, optional
Red or green pepper 1, quartered, deseeded and thinly sliced
Button mushrooms 110g (4oz), wiped and finely sliced
Spring onions 4, trimmed and finely sliced
Low fat Mozzarella 125g pack, drained
Tomatoes 4, chopped or sliced
Basil leaves about 20

1 Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Split the pitta breads in half and put them on two heavy baking sheets. Spread each half with a teaspoon of ketchup and add a little garlic, if using, and divide the pepper, mushrooms and spring onions between them.

2 Season to taste and top with chunks of torn Mozzarella, then pieces of tomato and half the basil leaves, torn.

3 Cook for 20–23 minutes, changing the trays round in the oven half way through cooking. Serve two ‘pizzas’ per person garnished with basil and accompanied by lots of green salad.

Cook’s tip
If you do not have pitta breads then try this recipe using a wholewheat French stick, halved. It may take less time to cook so check from time to time.

I am sick of diets!

Okay, it may only be the 11th January, but already I am sick and tired of hearing about diets and the latest slimming fads.

Please ignore the word ‘diet’ in my previous blog – I simply meant we would enjoy eating lots of soup rather than copious handfuls of chocolate!

I have just read a very inspiring article about how to be happier, not necessarily thinner. Dr Mark Porter: my prescription for better living in 2010 it contains so much fantastic advice. My mantra in life is probably quite similar (but of course involves food too!):

  • A LITTLE of what you fancy does you good.
  • Smile and always be cheerful.
  • Drink plenty of water (plus an occasional glass of red wine).
  • STOP eating when you feel full.
  • Be creative and make things.
  • Don’t buy sweetner-laden foods (research shows that the sweet taste actually makes your body crave sugar).
  • Read the TV guide BEFORE switching on the TV, if there’s nothing on you fancy, leave it off.
  • Cherish your friends but don’t waste time on those who don’t cherish you.
  • Use the Dairy Diary!
  • Cook.
  • Snack on healthy foods.

Talking of snacks, don’t forget our poor feathered friends during this cold snap. Our new book Seasonal Garden Ideas (due to launch this spring) has the perfect recipe for them to munch on.

Robin’s Christmas Dinner
Sturdy metal, ceramic or wooden container with a strong handle.
Large double-ended metal hook.
500g (1lb) lard plus mixed birdseed and nuts – try to find a mixture that contains dried mealworms which are a real favourite of robins. You can even find packets of dried mealworms to mix in with the other ingredients.

1 Melt the lard in the saucepan but ensure it doesn’t boil or burn.
2 Carefully pour the melted fat into your container, then stir in a mixture of birdseed and nuts and mealworms. Put aside to cool and set hard.
3 Attach the hook to the branch of a tree, then hang up your fat container from the handle. Try to site it in a reasonably sheltered area, and make sure the hook can’t slide off the branch. It will swing around as the birds land on it, but this won’t deter them – and it may help to keep greedy squirrels at bay.

And for us humans, snack on Cheese Flapjacks from Hearty and Healthy Dairy Cookbook (see below). Or for those lazy days why not visit –  a mail order company who specialise in delivering healthy snacks to keep your blood sugar at a happy level throughout the day – what a revelation! I’m most excited about my first package due on Wednesday. There’s a voucher for a free sample in the February issue of Delicious magazine.

Cheese Flapjacks

Beware, as these are very moreish! They make an interesting, and healthier, alternative to the traditional sweet flapjack. Oats contain complex carbohydrates, which are released slowly to sustain energy levels and keep hunger pangs at bay.

Cheesy Flapjacks

Cheesy Flapjacks

Preparation time 20 minutes
Cooking time 25-30 minutes
Calories per flapjack 167 Kcal
Fat per flapjack 12g
of which saturated 4.7g
Makes 12 flapjacks
Suitable for vegetarians + freezing

Butter or margarine 50g (2oz)
Cashew nuts 50g (2oz)
Macadamia nuts 25g (1oz), halved
Carrot 1 large, peeled and grated
Double Gloucester cheese 110g (4oz), grated
Porridge oats 150g (5oz)
Dried mixed herbs ½ tsp
Egg 1, beaten

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Melt the butter in the microwave or a saucepan. Remove from the heat and then add the nuts, carrot, cheese, oats, herbs and egg. Mix well.

2 Grease a 20cm (8in) round pie tin. Spoon the mixture into the tin and press down well. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until golden brown. Leave in the tin to cool and then cut into 12 wedges. Serve cold as a snack.

Cook’s tip
These are great to make and keep in an airtight container in the cupboard. If anyone in the family fancies a savoury snack, they are the perfect healthy alternative to crisps.

A Winter Wonderland

Wow, what a beautiful drive to work this morning. The alarm clock may have been something of a shock, as was the need to get dressed within an hour rather than four, but it was worth it for the view alone.

Winter WonderlandI only wish I had pulled over to take a photograph – it would have made a perfect Christmas card for later on this year (that still sounds strange!) A sugared almond backdrop of milky pink and lilac with the bare trees and plants heavily crusted in frost, sparkling in the sunshine.

Missed out on the Dairy Dairy at Christmas?
The Dairy Diary office has been in a blur all day with us trying to get on top of all the phone calls, emails and letters we have received today and over the holiday. There are always people who expect a Dairy Diary Christmas gift and receive something else yet they don’t want to miss out on their diary! To all who are wondering, yes they are still available and can be purchased at or by calling 0845 0948128.

Of course, New Year’s resolutions are front of mind at the moment, and after the excesses of Christmas my other half and I have decided to opt for a soup diet for the next few nights’ dinner. First on the menu is Spaghetti soup – wholesome, healthy and delicious. I will be scouring all our cookbooks and diaries for more inspiration over the coming evenings. We have also decided to abandon the depressingly bad evening television for more happy entertainment, such as reading, board games and painting – I wonder how long that resolution will last!

Spaghetti soup

A perfect dish after the excesses of Christmas – wholesome, healthy and delicious.

Spaghetti Soup

Spaghetti Soup

Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 30 minutes
Calories per portion 186 Kcal
Fat per portion 10g
of which saturated 2.1g
Serves 2
Suitable for vegetarians + freezing

Olive oil 1 tbsp
Onion 1 small, peeled and sliced
Carrot 1, peeled and diced
Button mushrooms 4–6, wiped and chopped
Chopped tomatoes 227g can
Vegetable stock cube 1
Boiling water 600ml (1 pint)
Angel hair spaghetti or rice noodles 25g (1oz)
Pesto sauce 1 tbsp
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan-like cheese 1/2–1 tbsp

1 Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and carrot and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables have started to soften. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for a further 2–3 minutes.

2 Add the canned tomatoes, stock cube and water to the pan and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer the soup for 12–15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Break the spaghetti or noodles into pieces and add to the pan, then boil the soup, uncovered, for 2–3 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked.

3 Stir half of the pesto into the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and remaining pesto just before serving.

Cook’s tip
If the soup thickens too much, add a little extra boiling water. The soup may thicken after freezing; again, add more water.

Shopper’s tip
You can use ordinary spaghetti, but it will need to be added at the beginning of step 2. You may need to add more water.

Recipe taken from Clever Cooking for One or Two.

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