Back to School Lunch Box Inspiration

This morning I was on Newstalk and the topic of conversation was of course back to school. With my own two children back to school this week I would love to share some inspiration for the dreaded lunch box with you all. And of course two delicious dinner time recipes – Butternut Squash and Beef Casserole and Chicken Florentine Bake.


Lots of schools don’t have canteens especially primary, so what do we do to ensure that our children have healthy, nutritious options throughout the day


  • Porridge – a super food – made with milk, add in diced blueberries, mango, stewed apple, grapes etc, sweeten with honey if needed. Tip: soak porridge night before. Someone told me they leave it to cook overnight in the slow cooker… it’s a though, I haven’t done it though
  • Yogurt with fruit compote – e.g. bag of frozen summer fruits, stewed with a little sugar, sprinkle muesli or granola over – layer in glass, looks great
  • Cheese on brown toast or cheese and tomato on brown toast sliced
  • Low sugar cereal with milk and blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • Scrambled egg on toast (much quicker than you think)


Lunch box

Be prepared from the night before (if children are a little older, they can play a role in the preparations, helps teach them responsibility) – Bags cleaned, packed and left by door; uniforms laid out; shoes and sports gear ready; get ahead with the lunch box i.e. prepare the fruit etc; fill the drink container (can even put it in the freezer, so that it is ice cold and it will keep the lunch box fresher)



Packing the box – yes this is important to young ones, a brown squashed banana will not be eaten neither will a smelly hardboiled egg, the flattened muffin may be consumed but I’ll tell you from experience that you will know that your packaging wasn’t correct as soon as the car door is opened when you collect them.

 Those banana containers are excellent. Use containers with secure lids and add in a small teaspoon and fork for the yoghurts and pasta salads. 

A food mood board is a good idea and you put it into the kitchen for inspiration on those mornings when inspiration doesn’t come that easily.

Variety is the spice of life – Fill the boxes with colourful foods and include a variety of foods from all groups (proteins, fruits & vegetables, and whole grains).

Add easy finger foods like berries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, a tasty red pepper hummus and for the adventurous child, try cucumber sushi rolls, roasted pieces of butternut squash, steamed mini corn spears or watermelon stars.

If allowed nuts at school, combine nuts like toasted cashews or chopped almonds with dried fruits like chopped apricots and cranberries, sesame seeds and some pumpkin seeds.

Try including a snack wand – breadsticks or pretzel sticks or carrot sticks with a low fat cream cheese pot to dip into as well as a small container of finely diced carrots and cucumber to dip.

Perk up that sambo – Try other items instead of the same old sambos for the carbohydrate group – use wholemeal baps, granary rolls, pitta bread, wraps or homemade soda bread that perhaps the kids have helped you bake.

Instead of you lashing in the layers, wrap the bread separately and allow them to DIY their own sandwich by adding, say the slices of tomatoes and cucumbers into the box, the lettuce and shredded chicken in another container and there you have it – they can have a go at layering up themselves. 

Kids need protein – Try slices of turkey, homecooked roast lemon chicken slices, tuna or hummus. Purchase low fat, low sugar yoghurt pots and fill with berries.

Slice carrots and radishes diagonally to dip into few teaspoons of cottage cheese. 

Prepare your own cheese dip with finely sliced celery, cottage cheese and grate beetroot instead of the chocolate bar!

Try celery stick with light cream cheese, 2 tbsp raisins, 1 tbsp dried chopped mangoes and finely chopped walnuts.

Souper kids – Homemade tomato, thick vegetable or chicken noodle soups in a thermos is great for the cooler days. All these soups can be frozen ahead of time and that is one less thing to worry about in a hectic school routine.  

Sweet treats – On a sweet note, let the children bake with you one late afternoon, recipes like tea brack, banana and walnut bread, courgette muffins or a strawberry and polenta tray bake will be a lovely treat as a surprise in the lunch box.  

Back to School Suppers

Here at Ballyknocken Cookery School, we run a very popular 771 class – 7 nights, 7 dinners 1 plan.  In this we manage a weekly plan and shopping list.  Examples of doable dishes are:

  • Mildly Spicy Tomato and Lentil Soup


  • Butternut Squash and Beef Casserole


  • Leek, Courgette, Cheddar and Sun dried Tomato Frittata


  • Thai Red Curry


  • Chicken with Vegetable Stir Fry


  • Special Steamed Rice


  • Enchiladas with Tomato and Mild Chilli Sauce


  • Lasagne with a Ricotta and Parmesan Sauce


  • Lemon Bites

A list of the Ballyknocken classes can be found here:

Chicken Florentine Bake

Serves 3-4


150g shell pasta

150g cooked chicken, shredded

1 onion, finely chopped

75g baby spinach

100g frozen peas

50g butter

50g flour

450ml milk

100g white cheddar, grated

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp chopped parsley

Olive oil, extra virgin for frying

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 6.
  2. Sauté the onion in a little olive oil until softened and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter and flour together and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Gradually stir in the milk and allow to thicken.
  5. Add the mustard, salt and pepper.
  6. First mix the pasta with the sauce
  7. Sprinkle the spinach leaves over the base of the oven proof dish and drizzle with olive oil.
  8. Spoon over the onion and peas. Add the chicken.
  9. Pour over the pasta
  10. Sprinkle over the cheddar cheese and a little parsley.
  11. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown. 


Butternut Squash and Beef Casserole

Serves 4

500g beef, diced into small pieces with excess fat removed

1 tbsp flour, seasoned

3 red onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

3 tbsp tomato puree

650ml beef stock

2 sprigs thyme

1 red pepper, roughly chopped

1 yellow pepper, roughly chopped

½ medium butternut, diced and peeled

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°/Gas 4.
  2. Toss the beef into the seasoned flour (use a zip loc bag – shake the beef until coated).  Remove from the bag and shake off the excess flour.
  3. Heat the oil in a casserole over a medium heat and add the beef in batches, brown well on all sides, then spoon into a separate bowl and set aside.
  4. Add a little more oil to the casserole. Add the onions and sauté until the onions are soft.  This will take about 7 – 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. 
  5. Add the tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes before adding the beef stock.
  6. Add the thyme, peppers, diced butternut squash and return the beef to the casserole. Pour over the balsamic vinegar.
  7. Place into the oven for 1 ½ hours, stirring from time to time, until tender and cooked.
  8. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper, if required and serve. 

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