It's that time of year, when days and tempers get shorter. Harried parents tug their offspring through stationery stores and school suppliers, fights break out when an adolescent blatantly refuses to wear the proscribed blazer. I saw a woman burst into tears at a uniform shop when she was politely informed that her order had been misplaced and could not possibly be fulfilled until March.
But all of this is small fry compared to the big issue confronting us this Thursday: The Return of The Lunchbox. Merrily we've tripped along through December and January, free of the burden that is making and packing lunch, snacks and brain food 5 times a week. ("Brain food" for those of you who don't know, is school-mandated small pieces of fruit and vegetables, neither sticky nor messy, which your child will actually eat, ergo next to nothing.)
The ease of summer grazing seems to disappear the second food needs to be enclosed in a lunchbox. And there's something about throwing lunches together in a fog at 6am that simply wrecks any creativity beyond the dullest of dull (ham sandwich anyone?). So this year I'm getting organized, and I've got our Blanco Kitchen chef, Louise Harper, to help out with some fresh ideas.
I have one child who would happily eat a Vegemite sandwich, day in day out and another who would return with it uneaten, just as regularly. So I need to make sure that they're getting plenty of variety and also protein to sustain them during the school day.
One of my favourite lunchbox snacks is zucchini slice made cupcake-style. At this point in summer, zucchinis are positively being foisted on anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with a gardener. If you do not fall into that group, come in and avail yourself of the many varieties we have here in the Fruit and Veg Hall. Baked in a large cupcake or muffin tin, they have more crispy brown edges and kids scoff them, unaware of how healthy they actually are.
Another lunch that's guaranteed to be eaten is pita pizza. Pick up some fresh pita bread (I always keep a packet of the Mr Pitta ones from Chaso's Gourmet Deli in the freezer). Toast, then spread with passata or even ketchup in a pinch. Add a layer of baby spinach leaves, then top with diced leftover roast meat, sliced capsicum and carrot. Finish with a sprinkling of cheese and herbs, grill until cheese is golden brown.
On the snack side, anything that the children see as a treat - some beautiful little berries, watermelon chunks cut into shapes with cookie-cutters, salami slices is likely to be devoured. And with all the restrictions on nut consumption in schools these days, it's easier to whip up your own bars than scour the snack food aisles at your local supermarket. (These are in fact so easy that you can conscript the young ones to do it while you look under their beds for missing school ties and sports skirts.)
Louise Harper's Date Bars
3 cups rolled oats
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup dried coconut
1 cup chopped dates
½ cup honey
½ cup tahini
¼ cup butter
Mix the seeds, oats, dates and coconut in a large bowl.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the honey and tahini and stir until smooth.
Pour the butter mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
Line a square tin with kitchen paper and press the mixture firmly into it.Bake for 30 minutes at 180o C then cool for another 30 minutes before slicing.
The rest of Louise's Back To School recipes, including Peach Slice and Chicken and Leek Pies will be up on our website later this week. Or come in and watch her demonstrations on Thursday from 10 -2. Just like the teacher, she welcomes questions!