As parents and children across the UAE say a reluctant (or perhaps not so reluctant?), goodbye to the summer holidays, we know that the return to routine and all that it entails can make the first week back at school a tough one for all involved.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with a selection of recipes – healthy snacks, interesting lunches and quick-to-make family meals – designed to help make things a bit easier.
First day back: breakfast of champions
You might be entering toast territory by Thursday (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but for the first day of term, why not kick things off in nutritious, delicious style? These individual shakshukas contain everything a good breakfast should: wholegrain bread provides slow energy release carbohydrates, and matching these carbs with protein from eggs prevents spikes in blood sugar levels. Breakfasts with a mix of protein, wholegrains and fibre are believed to help boost concentration levels, memory and attention spans – just the ticket for school kids and office workers alike. Antioxidant-rich tomatoes support the immune system and the feta provides calcium. What’s more, the novelty of having their own little breakfast bake means children are likely to eat more. Make the sauce base on Sunday evening and then on Monday morning all you need do is crack in the eggs, pop the bakes in the oven and get off on a stellar start to the term.
Shakshuka bake with wholegrain toast
2 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
⅛ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
400g can of chopped tomatoes
50g feta cheese
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 wholegrain baguette, sliced and toasted
Set a frying pan with the olive oil over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and pepper, and cook for 10-12 minutes, until they are softened.
Stir in the garlic, cumin and cayenne (if using) and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
Pour in the canned tomatoes, and season with a little salt and pepper.
Increase the heat slightly, then leave the mixture to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
Divide the tomato mix between ramekins or ovenproof dishes (you can use one large dish if you prefer).
If you’re making this before time, leave it to cool then transfer to the fridge.
When you’re ready to cook the shakshuka, preheat the oven to 190°C.
Crack an egg into each of the dishes and scatter with the feta. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the eggs are done to your liking.
Garnish with some chopped parsley and serve the slices of toasted wholegrain bread on the side.
Let’s get things straight: the ravenous hunger of a child who has just endured a lengthy day at school is not something to take lightly. The battle to offset your offspring’s demands for crisps and chocolate galore is far easier won if there are appealing alternative snacks to hand.
Popcorn is always a winner with kids, and if you make your own (air-popped, microwaved or on the stovetop), it can be healthy too. You can take this snack to the next level, both in terms of nutrition and taste, with the addition of vitamin, mineral and fibre-rich chickpeas and sunflower seeds.
Popped chickpea popcorn
Makes 4-6 portions
40g popping corn
1 tbsp melted butter
½ tbsp runny honey
3 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
400g can of chickpeas, drained
25g raisins or sultanas
25g sunflower seeds
Cook the popcorn according to packet instructions, then tip into a large bowl. Immediately drizzle over the melted butter and honey and mix well.
Set a large frying pan with the oil over a high heat. When you can feel a strong heat rising from the pan, tip in the chickpeas.
Cook for 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan every so often, until the chickpeas begin to crisp and the skins blister and pop. Season with salt and black pepper.
Add the chickpeas, raisins or sultanas and sunflower seeds to the popcorn and mix well. Store in an airtight container.
An easy midweek dinner
If you’re starting to feel the burn halfway through the first week back, let us introduce you to the meal that’s going to make your life easier, time and time again. Eggs and pasta are pantry mainstays for anyone who regularly cooks for kids, so it’s not the biggest leap to combine the two: pasta omelettes are easy, versatile and an absolute dream for using up leftovers; think cooked veggies, shredded meat, bits of cheese. Serve with a little pot of pasta sauce for dunking and you’re done.
Penne pasta omelette
1 tbsp olive oil
80g mozzarella, torn or chopped into little pieces
75g-100g cooked vegetables (sweetcorn, broccoli and peas all work well)
200g cooked pasta (penne or spaghetti)
20g grated cheddar or Parmesan
Set a non-stick frying pan with the oil over a medium heat. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, mozzarella and vegetables. Season, add the pasta and stir to coat.
Tip the pasta mix into the pan, spreading out over the base. Leave to cook for about 4-5 minutes or until a crust has formed on the bottom and the omelette feels firm enough to turn.
Carefully flip the omelette over, then cook for 3-4 minutes more. Remove from the pan and leave to cool slightly before cutting into wedges. Serve with pasta sauce if you like.
The deconstructed lunch box (that you can take to work, too)
A lunch that goes down as well in the school canteen as it does the office is always welcome in our eyes. Rather than a recipe, the deconstructed lunch box is more an idea that can be rolled out time and time again, with different ingredients. Not only does it help break the monotony of the lunchtime sandwich routine, but the range of colours and textures also spark interest and give children a sense of freedom in picking and choosing what they’re eating. The execution is simple: take a meal, break it down into its components and decide which items your child or children will happily embrace and which bits are just for the adults. Then pack everything up into Tupperware or bentostyle boxes. Here are a few combinations to try.
Deconstructed sushi roll
Rice + leftover chicken, salmon or cubes of tofu + edamame beans + vegetables (avocado slices, cucumber and carrot sticks). Add soy sauce and chilli to the adult version, if you like.
Mezze grazing box
Hummus, tzatziki or moutabel + leftover kofta, falafel or meatballs + flatbreads + olives, slices of cucumber, carrot sticks + feta cheese or labneh.
Pesto pasta + tuna, shredded chicken or a boiled egg + roasted or raw red and yellow pepper slices + torn mozzarella or grated cheddar cheese.
The Thursday paratha pizza party
The title of this meal says it all: celebrate the end of the first week and the beginning of the weekend with an interactive meal that hardly takes any time at all to put together. Fast-to-cook frozen parathas are the perfect size for individual pizza bases. Get some cheese and vary the toppings, so you can tailor them to suit everyone’s tastes. For an added fun factor, let the children “order” their pizza toppings as they would in a restaurant.
To make the pizzas, cook individual parathas in a hot dry frying pan for three minutes on one side, then turn over and cook for one minute more. Transfer to a plate or board to cool slightly, then add your pizza toppings to the lesser cooked side. Cook the remaining parathas in the same way, then bake them in an oven preheated to 190°C for 8-10 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
Slice, serve and enjoy your weekend.