Remember my Healthy and Sustainable School Canteen?
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We all know that it is good to take a list when shopping. But I think that when you go the farmers’ market your list has to be a little different. It can’t be too prescriptive. You have to write your list according to the flavour you are after or the role that each ingredient plays in your cooking. It’s best to write ‘leafy greens’ down instead of ‘lettuce’. That allows you to substitute in ‘rocket’ or ‘kale’ if you find that they are a better quality or a cheaper price. Thinking this way can save you money and get you the best available produce. Here’s an example of how I make a list for the farmers’ markets and then what I do with my haul. I am always trying to avoid food waste and so I make my list bearing in mind what I already have in my fridge, pantry and garden.
Here’s what I did when I got home:
First, I cooked the rice. It takes much longer to cook wild rice than white rice. 1 cup of rice needs to cook with 2 1/4 cups of water and pinch of salt until all the water is absorbed (about 1 hour).
Then, I tossed the pumpkin in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted it at 180 degrees celsius until soft.
To assemble the salad I laid the rocket on a platter; sprinkled on the rice after it had cooled little; spooned on the dressing; artfully arranged the pumpkin; dolloped on the cheese; then finished everything with chopped parsley leaves.
It was light and delicious and the perfect way to chill after an early morning at the markets.
With my Zero-waste theme word firmly at the front of my mind, I have started shopping for the back-to-school essentials for our family. Among the shoes and stationary supplies that I have to source, I will also be buying new lunch boxes. Now I have bought many lunch boxes over the ten years that I have been a parent. Very, very many. You see, I can be quite forgetful – as can my children – so we have lost a few along the way. I also have one of those special cupboards that eats the plastic lids of my containers so I can never find a lid that fits the container I am using at the moment I need it. In addition to this, my family is kinda brash and destructive. Lunch boxes get dropped, sat upon, stood on and consequently destroyed. My kitchen is secretly a graveyard of broken lunch boxes. Even the lifetime guarantee tupperware ones couldn’t survive (although I did burn one of them by accidentally turning on an electric element and not realising a lunchbox was on top of it so…oops).
This year I have made the decision to invest in a stainless steel lunchbox for each of my school kids. It’s not really a decision based on health or environmental concerns – although these are good grounds to consider a stainless steel lunchbox. I am just hoping that they will be more durable. My affiliate, Biome Eco Stores, has a huge range of products like this and so I started there.
I have no doubt that if I was started from scratch (with only one kid to buy for) I would buy a Planetbox lunchbox. They look cool, well made and come with all the accessories you need like a cooler bag and drink bottle. The lid is also attached to the lunchbox, so my tupperware cupboard doesn’t stand a chance at separating th two. However, they were simply too pricey to consider. I have already spent far too much on lunch equipment for my children to make that price point palatable. However, if you are buying a first lunch box for a toddler going to daycare they may be worth the cost.
The Lunchbots ones look great. Many of my friends use them. However, they have younger kids and I didn’t think those containers would fit enough food for my children. The Sustain a Stacker ones don’t look deep enough either. They also had too many parts that could get lost along the way. I think they look great though.
In the end I decided to go with U Konserve square containers with a plastic lid. I bought two sets of nested ones – think this will give us lots of options as a family. I’m not enthusiastic about the colours in the picture – but the price made them the best value for money. Since these containers have no compartments, I have also purchased some Lunchskins so I am able to avoid plastic wrap and sandwich bags (zero waste living means no more disposables like this). The existing small plastic containers I have will be fine for dips and other small snacks. I am very conscious that I have spent ALOT on these stainless steel lunch boxes (gulp). However, my expectation (and quite frankly, my fervent hope!) is that they will last a lot longer than the plastic ones that have died along the way. I intend to label them with giants fluorescent lettering so that they always return to my children and never get left anywhere!
Here are all my best ideas for filling kids lunch boxes with healthy and sustainable food when you really aren’t good at mornings.
I have my family well trained. They know that they shouldn’t expect anything of me in the morning until I have had a cup of coffee. I prefer to drink with very muted noise around me. Silence is preferable. I like to read as I sip as a way of pretending that I am actually still asleep and don’t have to face the day just yet. I come to life slowly, like piece of steam-powered machinery chugging into action. Once I get going, I’m fine but until then I need to be treated with caution or else cranky-bitchface-mummy finds it hard not to snap (read, scream) at the kids. So these are the best lunchbox ideas for kids who have parents that are soooooooooo not morning people.
Packing school lunch boxes each morning has to be easy and formulaic so that I can do it on auto-pilot before the caffeine permeates my system fully. To keep it simple, I have a rule of four. This rule seems to make it easier to get my head around what I need to fossick through the fridge for. These are the four things I put in:
1) A piece of in-season fruit (current favourite is apricots, berries always go down well);
2) A vegetable/vegetables (usually carrot sticks, capsicum sticks, cucumber sticks, cherry toms, with olives – depending on child – or hummous dip or plain yoghurt as a dip)
3) A treat. This is usually pop corn or something I baked. Sometimes it is a healthy item and sometimes it isn’t. Most often I bake something on weekends and store it in the freezer so I or the girls can just grab and go in the morning. Every so often I put in a muesli bar. Occasionally, they get a super-unhealthy packet of something that they just LOVE.
4) A main. Now ‘main’ might be overstating it – my fall-back is a cheese and vegemite sandwich. This item should include complex carbs and protein.
These are all the main meal items that have worked over my decade of lunch box packing:
Having a formula like this is one of the best lunchbox ideas if you want to delegate the packing of lunches to your children. It helps them to have some sort of idea about how to pack balanced meal. I am completely in favour of this. On mornings when my kids pack their own lunches it feels lovely to know that they have some kind of independence and resilience to help them through life. But for me food = love and even un-caffeinated cranky-bitchface-mummy still takes a little bit of joy in packing a nourishing lunch like this.
I have made a printable PDF for you to stick on the fridge to help your kids do their lunchboxes by themselves. Click here and I will send it to you.
Now we are living in the city, I miss my Chickens. This frittata recipe is great for using up Christmas ham too. This is from June 2013:
There is nothing like having fresh eggs. And I mean really fresh. Straight-from-the-chook’s-bum fresh. It sounds really snobby – and I hate sounding pompous about food – but seriously fresh eggs not only taste better, they behave differently when you cook them. For one, fresh eggs from chooks that get to behave like chooks by scratching around outside don’t disintegrate if you try to poach them. They also whip up differently. I so love having three or four organic, free range beauties delivered to my backyard each day.
|The girls going through their scraps this morning.|
In December 2012, while we were in the middle of a kitchen renovation, a sneaky fox stole in and did away with our previous hens Tash, McKenzie, Spud and Daisy. After a few months we found some Rhode Island Red hens for sale in the local area and bought another four. We waited and waited for them to come of age and last week we found 11 eggs hidden in the woodpile! Now, in the current political climate, I need to say immediately that no disrespect was intended in the naming of our girls. Miss Seven named two of them Penny and Pecky. Little Miss Three named the others Pongo and Julia Guillard – a testament to the healthy doses of ABC radio she is exposed to at such a tender age. Or something.
When I have to buy eggs I am miserly about how I use them. But when I have the luxury of 2 dozen eggs a week I go to town and use them extravagantly. I think I have made frittata 3 times this week. It is a quick and easy recipe that I don’t have to think much about. I never use the same ingredients twice. A frittata can be a bit like an end of the week soup – a way to use up the odds and ends in the fridge and make sure nothing goes to waste.
2 rashers of bacon, sliced
3 spring onions, sliced
1 cup of frozen peas
2 large handfuls of baby spinach
Cheese to grate on top
Fry bacon and onions in a splash of oil in frying pan over a medium heat.
Add peas and spinach, and cook til peas heated through and spinach wilted down (you might need to bump up the heat to compensate for the frozen peas).
Crack eggs into a bowl and whisk them all together. Then tip them into frying pan over the top of the other ingredients.
Cook from the bottom up for about five minutes, then take the frying pan off the heat, grate cheese on top and put it under the grill for another 5 minutes to cook from the top down.
If you want a great description of how real, fresh eggs behave, watch this TED talk by US farmer Joel Salatin. His story illustrating “the essence of egg” is a delight.
It’s all about sausage rolls at my place at the moment. We can’t get enough of them. I must be making them once a week. It sounds extravagant, and it just might be, however if a pastry wrapping is what it takes to get my fussy three year old to eat meat and veggies than I will do it. Oh yes, I will do it. I start with good quality ingredients that I source from the markets. At the moment I am using broccoli and silver beet with a few mushrooms thrown in for good measure. In summer time I use zucchini and carrot with a little capsicum to sweeten things up. Often I use organic mince too. The ones in the photo are beef sausage rolls with spinach and carrot, but I have lamb, brussels sprouts, silver beet and carrot in the freezer.
Three large large handfuls of chopped, in-season vegetables
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
500 grams of mince – any kind
3 sheets of puff pastry (butter puff is best)
A splash of milk
Place vegetables, onion and garlic in food processor. Blitz until finely chopped.
Add to a large bowl with breadcrumbs, mince and one egg. Mix with hands to combine.
Cut each sheet of pastry in half and place on tray.
Form sausage with the mince mix and place in centre of pastry rectangle.
Combine final egg with milk. Paste down one side of pastry then roll up. Brush rest of egg and milk on top of rolls and prick with a knife before baking for 30mins at 200 degrees.
How do you set about making sure your canteen serves sustainable school lunches? It’s a tricky question, partly because not everyone has the same understanding of sustainability. For some people it means simply ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’. For others, it has a deeper meaning. Something is sustainable if it can endure or last. But even if you agree on that second definition of sustainability some people might be concerned with the financial sustainability of the canteen project. Others might be concerned about the canteen’s impact on environmental sustainability. These issues need to be thought through when setting up a new canteen. I thought I’d share how we defined healthy and sustainable school lunches.
That part is relatively easy. It is prescribed for us. The NSW Department of Education’s Fresh Tastes @ School Strategy uses a traffic light system to classify the health of food. From the beginning, the P and C was adamant that a school canteen must promote healthy eating by selling only healthy food. We wanted to support the whole school curriculum of healthy bodies, lifestyles and environments. All items served in the canteen would be classified as green.
The main purpose of our Healthy Choices Canteen trial were 1) to provide affordable, healthy lunch options for students and 2) to promote healthy and sustainable food. The canteen was not designed to fundraise for the school. Even though our healthy and sustainable school lunches were profitable over a term, profit was not our driving motive. We wanted to prioritise the quality of our food, not our profit margin.
Our canteen used research from the Australian National University to decide what sustainable school lunches were. Researchers from the ANU have found four food behaviours that have measurable impacts on the environment. Luckily, these behaviours are all very healthy too. They are:
So this is what we did:
We are proud of our Healthy Choices Canteen project, particularly that we were able to make a profit selling healthy and sustainable school lunches not the pre-packaged rubbish that is often peddled to kids.
Soup was on the menu at our healthy choices canteen last week. It was a classic Ribollita soup. I roughly followed Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall’s recipe. However, there was no wine in my soup. I also broke up a packet of spaghetti for extra heartiness. I used chicken stock, which on reflection was unnecessary. I should have used a vegetable stock as we would have be able to take a few more orders from vegetarian members of our school community.
Of course, we served our soup in reusable cups with plastic spoons (that we could recycle). We offered free refills which were enthusiastically taken up by the older kids.
Our healthy choices canteen trail has run really well this term. Next week, for our last week, we will offer sushi again as that was so successful last time.
Week Two of our canteen trial saw us making Sushi!
Yesterday was such a successful day in our canteen. Sushi is popular with our students so this week was busier than last week. Despite having three helpers writing furiously, there was a line at the canteen window for much of the morning. After all orders were in at 9am, we set about making 128 nori rolls in two hours. This incredible work was done by a lovely set of volunteer mums. We had some Japanese experts as well as complete novices who all worked together with great camaraderie making sushi for the lunches. Thank you to all for your effort! It was a really fun morning.
We offered two varieties – Tuna and Cucumber and Mixed Vegetable. Tuna was by far the most popular – which surprised us a little bit. Next time we’d like to offer Teriyaki Chicken and Vegetable as well. We had a production line going to pump them out and wrap them in recyclable paper. All of us were happy and proud of the finished result.
Our healthy and sustainable lunch orders got off to a flying start last Friday! It was an exciting morning. This is the first time our school has run a regular school canteen, so there was a nice buzz about the grounds as kids and parents came to order before the day began. All through the week we had been very clear with the kids that they had to give in their money and order before morning lines and most kids did exactly the right thing. One parent told me that her kids woke up and bounced out of bed shouting “It’s canteen day mum – I need to get myorder in before assembly!”
Our first school canteen menu item was Lovely Lebanese Bread Wraps. We had lots of parent volunteers on hand ready to chop up the ingredients and start rolling them. I had no idea how many kids would order. I arranged ingredients for 100 wraps but in the end needed half that. We had 44 orders in total – which considering the size of our school was about what my previous experience told me to expect.
One exciting element of our new school canteen is that we are not working against an existing culture of a junk food canteen. We are starting something new and developing a new food culture. We call ourselves a “Healthy Choices” school canteen because we only offer healthy options. If kids want to buy from the canteen they choose between two options that are equally good for them – and equally delicious. We want to support everything that is in the NSW School curriculum about healthy eating and sustainability. This means that not only are we packing out every item with vegetables, but we are also using recyclable packaging where possible and really thinking through the ethics of each decision we make when sourcing food.
If you are interested in starting a school canteen from scratch, here are some of the lessons we learned on Friday:
Our first school canteen had great feedback about the deliciousness of our food. Here is the recipe:
1 Wholemeal flatbread wrap (fresh from the bakery if possible – it makes them easier to roll)
Approximately 30g baby spinach leaves
Approximately 50g grated carrot
Approximately 50g sliced tomato
Approximately 50g sliced cucumber
EITHER 50g sliced ham
OR 70g grated cheese
Place ingredients inside bread and roll. Roll baking paper around wrap. Cut in half. Place in order bag.