What do you put in your kids' lunchbox? My older two children are both in the infants still which means (here in the UK) that they get free school meals - so I don't make a lunchbox on a daily basis at the moment. But I have spent four years making lunchboxes for pre-school and often make them for days out in the holidays or with my little one.
And I am often stumped. R, my six-year-old, doesn't really like any sandwich fillings apart from jam or honey. Which might be ok as a one-off, but certainly isn't ideal for a daily lunch! Baby S isn't all that keen on sandwiches either. Sometimes I do pasta, sometimes soup (messy!), sometimes falafels and hummus.
While some bloggers are doing amazing things with their children's lunches - check out these ideas by Faye over at Baby Led Blog for example - I don't think I'm alone in drawing a blank with making lunchboxes exciting. Some research conducted by Flora and Leeds University has shown that a mere 1.6% of lunch boxes meet standards set for healthy school food. 83% of lunchboxes contained sandwiches, with fillings more or less the same as the last survey - which was undertaken ten years ago.
There's so much pressure on parents - even getting three children breakfasted, dressed and out of the door on time without forgetting anything is hard enough. I know from experience that after a few weeks of carrot sticks, pots of homemade hummus and rice salads coming back untouched and slightly sweaty in a lunchbox at the end of the day it's all too easy to fall into the trap of putting in the safe options, the items you know they'll eat, that will stop your child from leaving school at the end of the day in a seriously 'hangry' mood. No-one does grumpy better than a knackered five-year-old who hasn't really eaten since breakfast.
When I was planning this recipe I thought long and hard about what I could put in a lunchbox that my kids, well R in particular, would actually eat. I got to thinking about some of the things that he likes and baked beans are right at the top of the list. I remembered a dish I'd made a few times as a cash-strapped student and so these baked bean and cheese pies were born. I love the idea of making a big batch of something that you can freeze and therefore have a ready-made stash of lunches.
I've made these using tinned baked beans but to make them a bit healthier you could make your own. Try my smoky baked beans with aubergine for example. You only need a tiny amount for this recipe so it's a great way to use up a few leftovers. The pastry is made with spelt flour, which is believed to be more nutritious than wheat flour, although it does still contain gluten. You could use plain flour or wholewheat flour instead if you prefer.
And the verdict? R and Baby S loved these but Miss R only ate the pastry (she's not keen on baked beans).
Here's how to make these baked bean and cheese mini pies.
Ingredients (makes 10)
For the pastry
200g spelt flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g cheddar cheese, grated
4 tbsp milk
1 egg yolk, beaten
For the filling
1/2 tin of baked beans or a small (200g) tin
1 egg white
60g cheddar cheese, grated
Place the spelt flour and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl and combine with a whisk. Chop the Flora into small pieces and rub into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir through the cheese. Beat the egg and milk together and gradually pour into the flour mixture, stirring as you go until it's combined to become a dough. Knead for a couple of seconds then wrap in clingfilm and place in the freezer for half an hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C (fan)/gas mark 6. Prepare a non-stick muffin tin by either greasing liberally or lining with silicone muffin cases. Paper ones can stick a little - I got the best results when I used my silicone cases.
Remove the dough from the freezer and roll out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut circles with a pastry cutter or saucer and press into your prepared muffin tin. Bake blind for 10 minutes, remove the beans and return to the oven for five minutes.
Once done remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 180°C/160°C (fan)/gas mark 4. Add a teaspoonful of baked beans to each pastry case. Beat together the egg white and the milk. Pour a tablespoon's worth over the beans then top with grated cheese. Be careful not to overfill the cases.
Bake for a further 20 minutes or until the top has set and turned golden brown.
Can be served warm or cold and they freeze beautifully.
Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Flora.