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Annabel Karmel gets creative with kids lunchboxes and after-school meals

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It’s time to get creative in the kitchen and liven-up kids lunchboxes and after-school meals with a little helping hand from our new Sassy Mama Contributor Annabel Karmel! Boost their brain power and energy levels with these nutritious recipes that’ll keep their little tums going throughout the day and night.

Here are some of my top lunchbox tips to get you started:

  • Try and squeeze in at least two portions of fruit and vegetables.
  • Sandwiches are brilliant for carbohydrates and protein (in the filling), but keep it varied with bagels, stuffed pitta pockets, wraps.
  • You don’t always have to play it safe with sandwiches. Carbohydrate-based salads such as pasta salad, rice salad, couscous, potato salad or tabbouleh are tasty and filling. Try egg based foods as well such as mini quiche or frittata.
  • Children often like food they can eat with their fingers, so chop up raw vegetables such as carrots or sweet peppers, and include hummus or cottage cheese to dip the veggies in. Wrap them in damp kitchen paper to prevent them drying out.
  • Cereal bars aren’t necessarily a healthy alternative to chocolate bars and cakes, as some contain over 40% sugar and 30% fat. Instead, fill their boxes with fresh fruit, dried fruit or unsalted nuts. Try my wholesome muffin recipe for size.
  • Try getting lunches prepared the night before to save you time in the morning. You can prepare pasta salads, sandwich fillings, or include something from last night’s dinner.
  • Let your little ones help choose their favourite salad ingredients whilst on the weekly shop and let them assemble it with you. If they can say they were in charge of the meal from start to finish, they will be proud to take it to the table and for everyone to tuck in.

bow tie salad

Bow-Tie Pasta Salad with Chicken

Prep time: 7 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Makes 4 portions

150g bow-tie pasta
60g broccoli florets, washed
50g frozen peas
50g tinned sweetcorn, drained
100g cooked chicken or ham, diced
50g Emmenthal cheese, diced
Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1⁄2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons caster sugar or honey
1 teaspoon soy sauce


  1. Cook the pasta following the packet instructions.
  2. Add the broccoli and peas for the last 4 minute of cooking time. Drain and refresh in cold water.
  3. Mix the pasta and vegetables with the sweetcorn, chicken and cheese.
  4. Mix together the dressing ingredients and pour over the pasta.
  5. Season to taste.



Chicken, Broccoli and Mangetout Pasta Salad 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Makes 2 portions

110g pasta spirals
55g small broccoli florets
30g mange tout cut into matchsticks
3 tbsp sunflower oil
Half tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
2 tsp soy sauce
110g cooked chicken, thinly sliced
30g pumpkin seeds
Salt and pepper


  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, adding the broccoli two minutes before the end of the cooking time and the mange tout one minute before the end of the cooking time. Drain and immediately rinse well with cold water, then drain again.
  2. For the salad dressing, whisk the oils, vinegar, honey and soy sauce in a large bowl. Add the pasta and vegetables and toss salad to coat, then cover and refrigerate until needed.
  3. Just before serving, add the chicken and toss salad again, then sprinkle over the pumpkin seeds 


Yummy Salmon and Rice Salad

Prep time: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes for chilling
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Makes 4 portions

285g salmon fillets, cut into chunks
400ml fish stock
A knob of butter
200g long grain rice
200g frozen peas
1 red pepper, washed, deseeded and diced
1⁄2 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small bunch spring onions, washed and sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons runny honey
Salt and pepper


  1. Put the salmon into a saucepan with the fish stock and butter, and poach over a gentle heat for about 7 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
  2. Alternatively, place the salmon in a microwave-proof dish and sprinkle with lemon juice. Cover the dish with clingfilm and pierce several times. Cook the salmon on High for about 2 minutes, or until it flakes easily. Allow to cool.
  3. Cook the rice following the packet instructions, adding the peas for the last 4 minutes of the cooking time. Drain and refresh in cold water.
  4. Put the remaining ingredients into a large bowl. Add the rice and peas, then flake in the cold salmon. Season well, then cover and chill for 30 minutes before serving.


Confetti Couscous Salad

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Makes 2 portions

1 1⁄2 tablespoons pine nuts
45g couscous
125ml hot vegetable stock
20g red pepper, washed, deseeded and diced
1⁄2 medium carrot (50 g), peeled and diced
2 spring onions, washed and sliced
1 tablespoon raisins

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1⁄2 teaspoons lemon juice
1⁄2 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper


  1. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until golden.
  2. Put the couscous into a bowl. Pour over the stock and leave to stand for about 5 minutes or according to the packet instructions. Fluff up the couscous with a fork.
  3. Stir in the pepper, carrot, spring onion, raisins and pine nuts.
  4. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and stir into the couscous. Season to taste.

oriental plum

Oriental Plum Chicken Wraps

Prep time: 7 minutes
Makes 12 pieces

4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp plum sauce
1 cooked chicken breast, sliced
Quarter small cucumber, thinly sliced into strips
4 spring onions, sliced into strips
4 tortilla wraps 


  1. Mix the mayonnaise and plum sauce together.
  2. Spread a little mayonnaise mixture along one side of a wrap.
  3. Top with chicken, spring onion and cucumber.
  4. Roll up, and then slice into three pieces on the diagonal.
  5. Wrap in cling film. 


Spanish Omelette with New Potato, Courgette and Tomato

Prep time: 8 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Makes 6 portions

100g small new potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 courgette, diced or grated
2 tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and roughly chopped
4 eggs
1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper 


  1. Bring a lightly salted saucepan of water to the boil, add the new potatoes, reduce the pan to a simmer and cook the potatoes for about 12 minutes, until tender. Drain, leave to cool and then cut into slices.
  2. Heat the oil in an 18-20 cm non-stick frying pan. Add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the chopped courgette and sauté for about 6 minutes.
  3. When the courgette is cooked, add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the sliced new potatoes.
  4. Beat the eggs together with the milk, parmesan cheese and a little seasoning.  Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and cook over a medium heat for about 4 minutes or until the eggs are set underneath.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to high. Place the frying pan under the grill with the handle sticking out if not metal and cook for about 3 minutes until golden and set.
  6. Take out and when the omelette is cold, cut into wedges and wrap in foil.


Apple and Sultana Muffins

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes 12 muffins

125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
1 egg
200ml milk
Quarter tsp salt
225g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Half tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150g dessert apples, peeled and grated
75g sultanas
A little Demerara sugar 


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C Fan / 200 C / Gas 6. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
  2. Measure all of the ingredients into a free standing mixer and whisk until combined.
  3. Spoon into the cases. Sprinkle evenly with Demerara sugar.
  4. Bake for about 20 to 22 minutes until well risen and lightly golden.


Power-Packed Oat Bars with Cranberries, Apricots and Pumpkin Seeds

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20-25 minutes
Makes 12 bars

80g butter
80g brown sugar
60g golden syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
130g porridge oats
35g dried apple, chopped
35g dried apricots, chopped
25g dried cranberries
25g pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
25g desiccated coconut


  1. Line and grease a 20 cm (8 in) square baking tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.
  2. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar, golden syrup and salt. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and stir in the butter and syrup mixture.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the tin and press down with a potato masher to level the surface. Bake for 18–20 minutes.
  4. Cut into bars before serving and store in the fridge.


Chinese Chicken with Rice

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes 4 portions

175g long grain rice
50g frozen peas
1 tbsp olive oil
140g onion, finely chopped
80g red pepper, diced
1 tsp garlic purée
150g chicken breast, diced
50g tinned sweet corn

2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp ketchup
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
100 ml chicken stock
2 eggs, lightly beaten
A little salt
1½ tsp sunflower oil


  1. Cook the rice in boiling water according to the packet instructions. Add the peas 4 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Drain well.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and fry for 3 minutes. Add the pepper and garlic and fry for 5 minutes until soft. Add the chicken and fry until just cooked. Add the rice, peas and sweet corn. Mix all of the sauce ingredients together. Pour over the rice and fry for one minute.
  3. Season the eggs with a little salt. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Make a thin omelette by pouring into the pan and then swirl the egg around the base and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until just set. Turn out onto a board and cut into thin strips.
  4. Add the strips of egg to the rice and serve.


Vegetable Pad Thai

Preparation 10 minutes
Cooking 15 minutes
Makes 4 portions

175g medium rice noodles
75g broccoli florets
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 shallots or 1 onion, sliced
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin strips
1 clove garlic, crushed

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar


  1. Cook the noodles in boiling salted water. Add the broccoli for 3 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
  2. Drain and refresh in cold water.
  3. Heat the oil. Add the shallots or onion, pepper, carrot and garlic and fry for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the noodles and broccoli and sauce ingredients. Toss together over the heat until heated through.
  5. Season to taste.

Explore a world of flavour with Annabel’s Organic Stage 1 Baby Purees and Sauces, inspired by her home-cooked recipes. If you’re looking for snacks too, why not check out Annabel’s wholesome Disney range complete with tasty rice cakes, raisins, breadsticks and biscotti biscuits? Both ranges are available in Spinneys, Waitrose and Carrefour.

 For even more recipe inspiration, download Annabel’s Essential Guide to Feeding Your Baby & Toddler app. Access more than 200 delicious recipes for all of the family to enjoy. Download the new version from the App Store now (£3.99) or visit

Images sourced via Annabel Karmel

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