FOOD’S IN, SCHOOLS OUT WITH CHEF JEAN PIERRE
IMAGES AND WORDS: CHEF JEAN PIERRE LE ROUX
Schools are going back and Chef Jean Pierre fives us some food for thought when it comes to packing school lunches
We all have memories of school lunch boxes and tuck shops filled with fizzy drinks, doughnuts and toffees. We can probably all remember the anticipation of waiting to open that lunch box, not only dreading that we would be disappointed but that we might just be embarrassed in front of our friends.
The truth was that, at least, we had a meal. Today, in South Africa, by far the majority of learners rely on a poor quality meal that is served up during school hours. Many arrive at school without having breakfast and go to bed at night without supper.
The flip side is that a large proportion of those that have access to meals are equally malnourished, dining out on a mixture of high carb meals from home or fast foods, not to mention sugar filled fizzy drinks and sweets aplenty.
Hunger may be a daily reality for those in third world countries but I was amazed to read that many children are skipping meals in first world counties too simply because the family budget cannot keep pace with the cost of living and the impact of inflation – or, perhaps, it is that parents are just too busy to take time out to send kids to school with well prepared meals.
The message, I suppose, is that those of us who have access to nourishing food – albeit at higher than ever prices – need to prepare it wisely. These days, access to good nutrition is a privilege and we need to pass that on to our children. So, out with the so-called energy or chocolate bars, not to mention the cheap tricks to make little ones feel full. Forget the dubious mid- afternoon snacks that may fill the gap but also fill young bodies with preservatives and flavourants.
During the early 2000’s, there was a global drive among corporates and chefs attempting to fight the system that served up poor quality meals at schools. This reared its head in the UK where obesity and unhealthy kids were becoming the norm. It seems that, since then, the diminishing intake of good minerals, vitamins and fresh produce by kids between the ages of four and 14 has continued unabated. Soon, nutritious school meals will also be an endangered species.
It is sad when you think that this abuse of good eating habits comes at a time when youngsters’ taste buds and food preferences are just developing. They are learning and growing and their brains need superfoods. But, again, it seems that the school bag that is carefully packed with learning implements and books is usually the root of all evil.
I worked with celebrity chef, Ainsley Harriot, at a time when he was trying to create quick and easy meals at affordable prices. At around the same time, Jamie Oliver embarked on a national healthy school box lunch drive in the UK. We tried it with Tiger Brands with so-called hearty food packages. But the buck stopped at tinned food.
I only began to understand the danger of processed foods when I learnt about the energy frequency of foods. To explain this quite simply, everything in the universe is made of energy that vibrates at different frequency levels — even food and our own bodies.
When the energy levels in our bodies drop, we often become ill. We need to avoid negative things like stress and junk food that lower our body frequencies. Instead, we should eat things that raise these frequency levels. Enter high frequency, nutritious, often raw foods.
What I found was that highly processed foods had low frequencies – they have literally had the life sucked out of them. Eating them fills the tum but does not contribute anything to wellness, healing or growth.
Which brings me back to the enigma of tinned foods – they have about as much frequency as an amoeba on the dark side of Pluto’s moon.
FOOD IS IN
Seriously, though, I often puzzle over the fact that reality television shows and celebrity chefs seem to have ignited food fashion but not awakened our curiosity about what really makes up the food that we eat.
That’s why I would like to challenge parents to make 2023 the year where children are educated about nourishment. If the truth be told, real education happens outside the classroom and, in this instance, the very best place for it to happen when it comes to food is inside the lunchbox.
Keep the facts true and simple and then add that wonderful element of entertainment that seems to have created the ongoing foodie frenzy in the first place. We know that word and visual association are very important for kids at all ages. There is so much information out there, so I would like to challenge you to make school lunches this year both simple and scrumptious but, most of all, nutritious.
It might be a little more time consuming to take time out to prepare school lunches with your children – but it will be worth it. I will encourage you as the year unfolds – starting with this week’s examples and recipes that can change the way you look at school lunchboxes or those post school and pre-homework munchies.
SHOW OFF DOGGS
This is a favourite. No more boring fish fingers, guys. It’s time to go back to the old style fish finger which is packed with healthy ingredients and which is not only tasty but also looks cool. This is my show off dish, made with hake, corn kernel and gluten free flour. In fact, this dish gives a whole new take on those boxes of I&J fish fingers.
FROM YOUR SHOW OFF PANTRY:
2 x 100 grams hake medallions, skinless
25 grams high fibre sorghum or quinoa multi grain flakes
250 g gluten free flour
150 ml sparkling water
5 grams fish spice
50 grams corn kernels
Canola oil for frying
After your hake is completely thawed, damp off the extra water with a paper towel. Mix the ingredients together (apart from the grain flakes)0 and use a whisk to create a smooth batter. Dip the fish in the mix. Pre-heat some canola oil to 160ºC, crunch some of the grain around the batter and then deep fry them for 6-8 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool down and strain excess oil. You are left with a crunchy outside and a moist omega-rich hake inside.
You can serve them with some grated cucumber and make a honey and soy sauce (25ml of soy, 25 ml honey) to add some special zing and well and truly show off.
THE YOUNG FISHERMAN
Sadly, this year was not the best holiday for many a folk when it came to fishing on the beach with Dad. I have some blurred memories of fishing with my uncle and Dad. It was such a father and son thing back in the day. I guess the best option now is fresh water trout or bass fishing in clean waters in the Berg!
For today’s lunchbox, we have to resort to the good old fashion tinned tuna – it’s called compromise as a fresh one will probably cost you a healthy portion of your school fees for the year!
For a zesty summer school lunch treat, corn tortillas with sustainable tuna, free range eggs, and corn kernels straight from the cob are a must.
FROM YOUR PANTRY:
2 large boiled eggs
200 grams tuna, drained
1 medium corn on the cob
2 medium gluten free corn tortillas
a small cucumber
2 Tablespoons natural yoghurt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
a dash of apple cider vinegar
a small bunch of white rinsed grapes
2 medium celery sticks
salt and pepper
To make the dressing, whisk the yoghurt, oil, vinegar and mustard in to a smooth paste. Shell the eggs and chop then finely, add the tuna, and mix in the corn which you will have sliced with a sharp knife from the cob. I prefer to use the real deal, as canned sweet corn or kernels are usually soaked with preservatives, sugar or brine. You want the freshness to be the hero this dish.
Heat your tortillas in a medium pan for a few seconds – or microwave them if you prefer – and then spread your filling equally between them. Fold one end and roll them up. You can cut them into bite sized pieces, ready to add them into your lunchbox with a side of cucumber slivers and your grapes and crunchy sliced celery sticks. This is a wonderful healthy school box snack.
NOT A DUMB STICK
I think that, if you prepare your meal with passion and intellect, it will open your mind to so many new, healthy and hearty possibilities and introduce you to creativity. We all love sticky chicken, so pack a few extra serviettes in your school bag and you can feast on this drumstick just after that boring math class.
Adding a side of peaches will complement the chicken and the beta keratin in the coleslaw will keep your eyes on the prize. Adding some sunflower seeds is good for the brain and cucumber will keep your hydrated during these hot summer months.
Sometimes simplicity is overwhelming, rather have a bit of good, than a lot of bad….
This recipe serves 4 kids, so if you have that, this is for you. You can also even save electricity by making the chicken in an air fryer. If the power goes off, it’s time to make an open fire for grilled chicken.
Mix your fresh chicken with some soy, maple syrup, and a dash of sesame oil to make your own sticky version of a Hossain sauce. Coat them well and place the drumsticks on some foil in your air fryer and then cook for 12 minutes on 160ºC and 3 minutes on 180ºC.
Then – drum roll please – you have tender sticky chicken that you can serve up with some fresh sliced peaches, and coleslaw made from 100 grams of shredded cabbage, 100 grams of thinly sliced carrots and 25 ml of canola mayo, all mixed together. Finish with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds, salt and pepper to taste and decorate with some fresh grated cucumber.
I believe that high proteins and fibre are quintessential power foods that don’t make you sluggish. Add some seasonal fruit and you have a perfectly balanced lunch box meal.
A slightly different version of my corn dog, (this is if you a vegetarian), even this recipe is even for vegans, if you use the right ingredients.
Using the same wheat free multigrain that includes flax and is certified Halal is the perfect start to making your fritters. There is no gluten and no egg as we are using arrow root powder to bind our mixture.
In a mixing bowl, add 150 grams of fresh corn kernels, crunch up some of your multigrain flakes, add 2 grams of arrow root powder and make then into hand rolled balls. Let them rest in the fridge covered with some cling rap. After you have heated your canola oil to 160ºC, you can deep fry them for 2 minutes per side until crispy and golden in colour. Because of the fresh ingredients, there will be hardly any oil absorption, so both hearts and taste buds will be happy.
These fritters actually taste better at room temp as they still remain crisp for a whole day or two, making them perfect for lunch boxes. To add some creaminess and a touch of spice to this dish, you can add a dollop of canola mayo and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Adding fresh mango takes this to another level.
FRENCH SCRABBLE AND THE ULTIMATE GRILLED CHEESE
Whether it is Moms and Dads or scholars, we all need to ease into the weekend when we come to the end of a hard week. So, here are two recipes for a chilled Friday.
An aside to the youngsters: you can bribe your mom or dad to make this, or you can wake up early, as I will teach you how to make this in a flash. By the time they are awake, you can even make that for them on the weekend.
For starters, choosing the right ingredients can make huge difference whether we are young or old. As parents, we need to guide our kids to a healthier and happier future, especially through food. When it comes to healthy staples, there are a variety of options available. The question and answer is in the knowledge that we can share about that specific product, from gluten free bread and sour dough grain and seed breads to the calcium that we consume. From dairy free milk to our choice of eggs on the market.
I’ll say it again, any product that is to processed and mass produced is, in my view few, a no -no and should only be consumed in very small quantities.
So, I’ve used whole grain seeded bread to make my children’s gridded cheese sandwich, served up with some seasonal plums, beetroot slices and a boiled egg which is rich in selenium, a mineral that has been proven to dissolve free radicals and strengthen our brain cells. Here, you get more than a balancing act together with proteins, fruit and a root vegetable side by side in your lunch box.
In a frying pan, add a dollop of good butter, a dash of olive oil and construct your white or yellow non processed cheese in the sandwich, turning it, on each side after 3 minutes, on a medium heat. The bread will be crispy and the cheese will have melted. Add a sliced boiled egg and a few beetroot slices to balance the flavour and add some colour to your ensemble.
When it comes down to the French scramble, I’ve used 2 slices of gluten free sour dough bread, available frozen or sliced at all Checkers stores.
To make your scrambled eggs, you need 3 large free range eggs, 25 ml milk of your choice, 2 Tablespoons of cream cheese. Mix it up and pour into a medium pan with some olive oil and butter. Don’t stir it, just gently fold the mix with a spatula until you have a lovely creamy viscosity.
Garnish with some grilled green tomatoes and some fresh basil. Serve with some seasonal plum slices and you are ready to face yet another educational journey.
You can eat it as an open sandwich or closed if the road to school is a tad bumpy.
After the fa-la-la of the holidays and now that the festive frenzy has come to an end, it is time to reflect on the year ahead. Most new years’ resolutions are quickly broken so, instead, promise to rather add value to your life and those of your family every step of the way. That doesn’t mean cataclysmic changes. Be kind to yourselves, spend more time together in the kitchen as a family. Teach your kids all about nutrition – about basic food types and ingredients and even make it into a home school project when it comes to assembling that daily lunchbox. Do it with care, love and excitement – and don’t make it a chore.
That way, everyone can learn together and know that fun, laughter and healthy living belong in the kitchen which is often referred to as the heart of the home.
Most of all, live the moment and love the food!