In today's post I'm sharing a really easy couscous salad recipe that is perfect for lunch boxes. Earlier on this summer I wrote a post about the fantastic Organix No Junk Challenge, which aims to help families find, cook and eat healthy food full of simple ingredients and free from junk. In August, Organix were encouraging us to pack up a no junk picnic, and now that we are in September, and our children are heading back to school, they've turned their attention to packed lunches, encouraging us to think about what we are packing for our children and inspiring us to make it healthier.
To mark the launch of the No Junk Challenge Lunchbox Campaign, Organix have revealed the results from a recent survey of over 700 Mums relating to lunch box foods. They made fascinating reading, and I found myself nodding along as I read them, with the little voice in my head shouting "Yes, exactly this!" This statistic in particular stood out for me:
71% of Mums get cross with the quality of food that is marketed for a child’s lunchbox
You can definitely count me in that 71%! The more I read about what goes into our food, and the more I look at the labels, the more I realise just how much rubbish the food industry are pouring into it, particularly children's food. And I just don't get it! Why has it become the norm to feed our children this junk? Once upon a time I had a rather naïve trust that if it was marketed at children then it was bound to be healthier - after all, that's what we all want for them isn't it, to somehow feed our children even healthier food than we eat ourselves? But no, children's snacks are all to often a horribly unhealthy concoction full of sugar, chemicals and additives.
A prime example of this for me is yoghurt. Look at the ingredients list of pretty much any yoghurt marketed at children and you'll usually see sugar listed as the second ingredient (along with a long list of unfamiliar extra ingredients, most of the time). This to me seems completely unnecessary. When I gave up refined sugar for Lent earlier this year I tried in vain to find a children's yoghurt with no added sugar, and it proved to be impossible, at least in the supermarkets in my area. I replaced them with large tubs of natural yoghurt (containing no added sugar whatsoever, and still delicious!) which I portion out myself, and I'm pleased to say the habit has, on the whole, stuck.
Don't get me wrong though, I absolutely do not judge anybody for giving their children this kind of food. I have myself in the past, and sometimes still do, feed my children some of the very foods that I'm currently ranting about - it's cheap, easy, and convenient, but I am always trying to improve our diets, and maybe one day I will succeed in having a junk free diet for myself and my children. It just makes me cross how the food industry makes it so very hard to find junk free food. All I want for my children is for them to be happy and healthy, and I truly believe that if we teach them about a healthy diet now, whilst they are young, then maybe they will have a good chance of forming healthy habits that will last them a life-time.
One company that I have long had great respect for when it comes to children's food though, is Organix. They are most definitely the exception to the rule, with their incredibly short ingredients lists and firm promise that they will never add anything unnecessary to their foods. I have been a happy customer of Organix since Small Child was a baby, and I am very proud indeed to support their No Junk campaign.
Going back to the subject of lunch boxes, here are a couple more facts from the survey I mentioned above that I found interesting:
- 61% of parents find that it’s difficult to make their child’s lunchbox varied and interesting
- 81% of parents say that sandwiches are the lunchbox staple
With this in mind, I've created a special no junk lunch box and accompanying recipe without a sandwich in sight! The recipe is for a Fruity Couscous Salad, which is perfect for packing as part of a healthy lunch, and makes a great alternative to sandwiches. The simple recipe, bright colours and sweet fruity flavours make it child friendly and appealing.
Ingredients (serves 2)
- 100g Couscous
- ½ Red Pepper
- 50g Cucumber
- 75g Mango
- 75g Grapes
- 100g Chickpeas
- 1 tbs Olive Oil
- 2 tbs Orange Juice
- Black Pepper (optional)
Prepare the couscous according to packet instructions.
Prepare the rest of your ingredients – finely chop the pepper, cut the cucumber and mango into small cubes, halve the grapes, drain and rinse the chickpeas.
Once the couscous is ready, stir in the pepper, cucumber, mango, grapes and chickpeas.
Whisk together the olive oil and orange juice, then pour over the couscous and stir until thoroughly combined. Grind over some black pepper to taste (optional).
Serve immediately, or cool completely and chill in the fridge ready to pack in a lunch box.
This recipe would also work with pasta or rice in the place of the couscous, and the fruits and vegetables can be swapped to suit your tastes too.
I packed the couscous with some added side dishes to make a simple star-themed lunch. I cut tiny stars from raw carrot and sprinkled them over the top of the couscous. On the side I added half an apple with a star cut from the skin to decorate (dip any cut surfaces of apple in orange or lemon juice to prevent browning), stars cut from cheddar cheese and a few more raw carrot stars. I used a reusable silicone cupcake case to hold the portion of cheese, which also added an extra splash of colour to the lunch box. All of the star shapes were cut out using a mini cutter, but a small sharp knife would do the same job.
This lunch was quick and simple to make, and demonstrates nicely how a few little touches like cutting a simple shape into an apple or the scattering of a few fun-shaped vegetable pieces can make all the difference to the presentation of a lunch box. I hope I've managed to demonstrate how simple it really is to pack a delicious no junk lunch, and maybe inspired a few of you to try it yourself.
Are you packing school lunches this year? Why not make them no junk lunches! To help, here are some of my tips for making a healthy lunch fun:
- Use reusable silicone cupcake or muffin cases to hold smaller pieces of food. They’ll help with portion control and add a bright splash of extra colour to your lunch.
- Food on a stick is always a hit with children! Try making sandwich ‘kebabs’ with pieces of bread, ham, cheese, cherry tomatoes and crunchy veggies like peppers or cucumber, or use brightly coloured fruit to make a rainbow.
- Keep your lunches interesting by varying the contents as much as possible. Write a list of all the foods your children will eat (plus a few new ones for them to try!) and stick it to the fridge for inspiration when you’ve run out of ideas. See this post of mine for lots of ideas of foods you could pack.
- Try occasionally swapping sandwiches for pasta, rice or couscous salads. Add shredded meat, veggies and fruit in as many different colours as possible to make it a rainbow salad!
- With a bit of imagination you can turn your leftovers into fun and creative lunches. Turn a jacket potato half into a fun boat with a cocktail stick and ham sail, add pairs of eyes cut from cheese to a pasta salad or cut fun shapes from crunchy veggies such as carrots and peppers and hide them in leftover rice to make an edible treasure hunt!
Will you be packing lunches this year? Do share your own tips in the comments below!
Disclaimer; This recipe and blog post was created for the Organix No Junk Lunchboxes Campaign. I was compensated for my time, however all opinions expressed in this post are my own.
Fruity Couscous Salad
- 100 g Couscous
- ½ Red Pepper
- 50 g Cucumber
- 75 g Mango
- 75 g Grapes
- 100 g Chickpeas
- 1 tbs Olive Oil
- 2 tbs Orange Juice
- Black Pepper optional
- Prepare the couscous according to packet instructions.
- Prepare the rest of your ingredients – finely chop the pepper, cut the cucumber and mango into small cubes, halve the grapes, drain and rinse the chickpeas.
- Once the couscous is ready, stir in the pepper, cucumber, mango, grapes and chickpeas.
- Whisk together the olive oil and orange juice, then pour over the couscous and stir until thoroughly combined. Grind over some black pepper to taste (optional).
- Serve immediately, or cool completely and chill in the fridge ready to pack in a lunch box.