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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 11 August, 2020

From the Garden: Healthy back to school recipes to break free from the ham sandwich

Salads, stews and cold omelettes are great options for a back to school lunchbox.

Michael Kelly Grower

AS THE NEW school term begins, we’re trying to think beyond sandwiches so there’s a slightly more creative, healthy lunch for the lunchbox.

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’m 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 your 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 gives them a nutritious meal during the day.

Last winter, we sent our two to school with a variety 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 listed 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 put in the freezer.  

It’s delicious, warming and loaded with healthy veg for the kids. 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. 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 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 common back-to-school heatwave), a decent slice of an omelette or frittata goes down well with our kids. It is delicious cold.

With the abundance of cucumber and tomatoes we have at the moment, they will also be getting the panzanella Tuscan bread and tomato salad 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 put some cucumber or carrot in their lunch box with some hummus for their raw vegetable fix.

Finally, when it comes to the ultimate back-to-school treats, don’t forget Irish fruit – the Irish apple is back in season and the hedgerows are currently laden down with blackberries. 

Recipe 1 – Panzanella

Traditionally, panzanella was a cunning ploy to use up stale bread. In our house it’s a way to use up the ends of a sourdough loaf. The bread soaks and softens in the juice of your tomatoes.

This recipe is from Felicity Cloake and it serves four. 


  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 8 ripe tomatoes
  • 200g stale country bread
  • 4 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 6 tbsp 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 cling film and leave for 20 minutes.

Largely dice the tomatoes 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.

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Roughly tear the basil leaves and sprinkle on top.

Allow to sit for between 15 minutes and an hour, then serve.

Recipe 2 – Ribollita


  • 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 stalk 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 five minutes, stirring.

Now add the tomatoes with their juice, the puréed and whole beans, stock, rosemary and thyme, and simmer gently for about one 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 an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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