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Lunches: Think beyond sandwiches as new school term begins’

Erik G

AND SO, AMAZINGLY, we hit September. Kids are back at school and a sense of routine (oh I hate that word) returns. Earlier mornings, making lunches, ironing school clothes, doing homework – the full panoply of mundane daily tasks returns.

With school lunches, we’re trying to think beyond sandwiches as the new school term begins. I get how busy the mornings are when you’re trying to get kids out the door, and the relative ease of rustling up a ham sandwich. But on the other hand, it’s fair to say that there isn’t much nutrition in a slice of bread and some ham either.

Sandwiches don’t have to be about ham of course, and a sandwich can be incredibly healthy depending on the ingredients, but it can be a challenge to come up with diverse and healthy ingredients for them day in day out, particularly when you’re time-pressed.

Taking hot lunches in flasks

One of the best things we ever did was to buy flasks for our kids to take hot lunches to school. You need a short stubby flask with a wide neck so they can eat directly from it, rather than having to pour the contents out.

Once you have that basic piece of equipment, you have lots of options, and by batch cooking (if I am organised I get it done on Sundays) you take all the hassle out of the mornings. Making lunches is then a simple matter of heating up the meal and pouring it into the flasks.

If you’re kids are open to trying new things, sending them in to school with a hot meal steers them away from eating too much bread, and gets really nutritious food into them. We’ve sent our two to school with all manner of warming lunches – soups, stews (meat or veg, or both), casseroles and even pasta.

One of my go-to recipes is the tomato-sauce based veg stew below called Ribollita (which literally means “reboiled”). When I can, I make huge pots of it, and it will last in the fridge all week (or can be frozen). It’s delicious, warming and loaded with healthy veg for them. You can add pretty much anything that’s seasonal, but I find that leeks, celery, carrots and finely chopped kale or spinach work great. If your kids don’t like it chunky you could always blitz it down to a finer consistency.

Other tasty ideas

A simple tomato sauce on pasta is a good one too. I steer clear of spaghetti – the messy face is not a good look at school – so, the smaller pasta like fusilli is better. At this time of the year, when they might not be in the mood for a hot lunch (particularly if we get the traditional school’s-back heatwave), a decent slice of an omelette or frittata goes down well with our kids and is delicious cold.

With the abundance of cucumber and tomatoes we have at the moment, they will also be getting the Tuscan bread and tomato salad called Panzanella in their lunch box in the coming weeks. Finally, thanks to programmes like Food Dudes, most kids are open to eating (or at least trying) veg sticks – so stick some cucumber, carrot etc in their lunch box with some hummus and they can get some raw veg in too.

Before I finish can I congratulate the team at GROW HQ, who won the Farm to Plate Award at the 2017 Food & Wine Awards last Sunday. We’re incredibly proud that after just 10 months, all the hard work is getting recognition. Particular thanks due to Claire and Ciaran and the duo that work at each end of the plot-to-plate spectrum – Head Grower Richard Mee and Head Chef JB Dubois.

Recipe 1 – Panzanella

Source: Liliya Kandrashevich via Shutterstock

Traditionally Panzanella was a cunning ploy to use up stale bread. In our house we use it as a way to use up the ends of a sourdough loaf. The bread soaks and softens in the juice of your tomatoes.  This recipe from Felicity Cloake, serves 4.


  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 8 ripe tomatoes
  • 200g stale country bread
  • 4tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1tbsp capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 6tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Small bunch of fresh basil


Put the onion slices in a bowl of cold water with a pinch of salt, and leave to soak for an hour. Blacken the peppers on a gas hob, or using a kitchen blowtorch, then put in a plastic bag or a bowl covered in clingfilm and leave for 20 minutes. Cut the tomatoes into large dice and place in a colander set over a bowl. Salt and leave to drain while you prepare the other ingredients.

Tear the bread into chunks about the same size as the tomatoes, put into a salad bowl and moisten with vinegar. Drain the onion and add to the bowl, along with the capers. Scrape as much black skin off the peppers as you can, and cut them into long strips. Gently press the tomatoes to squeeze out the last juice, then put the flesh in the bowl. Stir the chopped anchovies and crushed garlic into the tomato juice and then whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste.

Pour on to the salad and toss thoroughly. Roughly tear the basil leaves and sprinkle on top. Allow to sit for between 15 minutes and an hour, then serve.

Recipe 2 – Ribollita

Source: Casanisa via Shutterstock


  • 2 x 400g tins cannellini beans for the soup
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1–2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
  • 5–6 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped, or a 400g tin plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, any stalky ends and skin removed
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • 1 sprig of rosemary and 1 sprig of thyme, tied together with string
  • 300g kale, cavolo nero or Savoy cabbage, tough stalks removed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Drain and rinse the beans well, then mash half of them with a little cold water.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion over a medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until softened. Add the carrots, celery and leek and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring.

Now add the tomatoes with their juice, the puréed and whole beans, stock, rosemary and thyme, and simmer gently for about 1 hour. Shred the kale, cavolo nero or cabbage leaves. Add to the soup and cook for 10 minutes more. Remove the sprigs of thyme and rosemary and add some salt and pepper.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

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