How to fill that lunch box with exciting yet nourishing wholesome food

* Derval O’Rourke’s Booster Bars
* Derval O’Rourke’s Posh Nuts
* Mix and Bake Brown Loaf
* Ballymaloe Simple White Yeast Bread (One Rising)

ALL the little dotes are back at school by now. 

Parents are breathing a sigh of relief, relishing a few peaceful hours to relax or to get on with a job that has been put on the long finger for several months but now instead there’s the daily school lunch challenge.

How to fill that box with exciting yet nourishing wholesome food that will be ‘acceptable’ to the kids themselves and not be ridiculed by their peers. 

Such a minefield — how can food have reached this stage? 

One ‘catty’ remark from an opinionated friend can banish the raw carrots or crunchy radishes from the lunch box for ever.

Some 90%-plus of kids want sandwiches, easy to pack, easy to eat but the quality of the daily bread is crucially important. 

The quality of some shop-bought sliced bread, both brown and white, is worrying, squishy, doughy, fermented and in some cases under-cooked with an interesting list of ingredients that one will certainly not find in the cupboard of any home baker.

Believe me, bread is easy to make and it’s so important that the lunch box staple is nourishing of course. 

It’s best if it’s a wholemeal loaf and the recipe I’ve included here is a simple mix, pour and bake job. 

However some kids simply won’t eat brown bread so here’s a white yeast bread loaf that’s mixed in minutes, allowed to rise for another quarter hour or so in a loaf tin and then baked in your oven for around an hour.

It doesn’t rise as high or feel as fluffy as the well-known brands but the flavour and texture will ‘blow your socks off’. 

It’s real bread made with just four ingredients, flour, salt, yeast and water, rather than a possible 15 that can be included in a commercial sliced pan.

Which brings me to Derval O’Rourke, our very own Cork world champion. 

Derval not only knows a thing or two about keeping fit but also knows that winning is all about food. 

Our energy, vitality, ability to concentrate and perform depends so much on the food we choose to eat.

Derval believes that the secret to being your healthiest, happiest, self is to eat well and keep moving. Derval discovered the importance of nutrition as an elite athlete. 

After a poor performance in the 2004 Olympics she learned about food, fell in love with cooking — and then won a world title in her sport, hurdling. 

She believes eating well made all the difference to her form. 

Now that Derval is retired from athletics and is a busy young mum, her focus is on fitting exercise and healthy, pleasurable eating into a hectic schedule.

Derval’s second book, ‘The Fit Foodie’, the sequel to her bestselling ‘Food in the Fast Lane’ has recently been published by Penguin to more critical acclaim.

It’s packed with simple, family recipes, the sort of food you’ll really want to cook and share with your family and friends, like Five Minute Muesli, Quinoa Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Blue Cheese, Laid Back Lamb Tagine, Fit Foodie Noodle Pots and Trish Deseine’s chocolate fondant cake . 

The Fit Foodie’s fundamentals at the end of the book is worth the price of the book alone — check it out and thank you Derval — I suspect this book will become a favourite on many people’s kitchen shelf and there are many other great suggestions suitable for lunch boxes.

Ballymaloe Simple White Yeast Bread (One Rising)

Makes 1 loaf

How to fill that lunch box with exciting yet nourishing wholesome food

There is no kneading involved in this recipe and only one rising so it is a brilliant introduction to using yeast. 

When making yeast bread, remember that yeast is a living organism. 

In order to grow, it requires warmth, moisture and nourishment. 

The yeast feeds on the sugar and produces bubbles of carbon dioxide which expand in the heat oven the oven and rise the dough. 

Have the ingredients and equipment at blood heat. Heat above 50C will kill yeast.

  • 450g (1lb) strong white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 15g (½oz) fresh non-GM yeast
  • 300ml (10fl oz) water at blood heat
  • sesame seeds — optional
  • Equipment
  • 1 x 2lb (900g) loaf tin — well brushed with sunflower oil


In a wide, roomy bowl, mix the flour with the salt. 

The ingredients should all be at room temperature. 

In a small bowl or Pyrex jug, mix the honey with the water, and crumble in the yeast.

Sit the bowl for a few minutes in a warm place (kitchen temperature fine) to allow the yeast to start to work. 

Meanwhile check to see if the yeast is rising. 

After about 3-4 minutes it will have a creamy and slightly frothy appearance on top.

When ready, stir and pour it, into the flour to make a loose-wet dough. The mixture should be just too wet to knead.

Meanwhile, brush the base and sides of the bread tin with a good quality sunflower oil. Scoop the mixture into the greased tin. 

Sprinkle the top of the loaves with sesame seeds if you like. 

Put the tin in a warm place somewhere close to the cooker or near a radiator perhaps. 

Cover the tin with a tea towel to prevent a skin from forming.

Heat the oven to 230C/Gas Mark 8.

Just as the bread comes almost to the top of the tin, about 15-20 minutes (time varies depending on room temperature). 

Remove the tea towel and pop the loaves in the oven 230C/gas mark 8 for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200ºC/gas mark 6 for another 40-50 minutes or until it looks nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped.

The bread will rise a little further in the oven. This is called ‘oven spring’. 

If however. the bread rises to the top of the tin before it goes into the oven it will continue to rise and flow over the edges.

We usually remove the loaf from the tin about 10 minutes before the end of cooking and put them back into the oven to crisp all round, but if you like a softer crust there’s no need to do this.

Cool on a wire rack.

Note: This bread doesn’t look like a pan-loaf, it will be relatively flat on top.

Mix and Bake Brown Loaf

Even if you never made a loaf in your life, you can make this. 

Just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. 

This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

How to fill that lunch box with exciting yet nourishing wholesome food

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

  • 400g (14ozs) Macroom stoneground wholemeal flour or a wholemeal flour of your choice
  • 75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 level tsp bread soda, sieved (bicarbonate of soda/baking soda)
  • 1 egg, preferably freerange
  • 1 tbsp arachide or sunflower oil, unscented
  • 1 tsp honey or treacle
  • 425ml (15floz) buttermilk or sourmilk.
  • sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)


Loaf tin 23x12.5x5cm (9x5x2in)


Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. 

Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. 

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. 

The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins. 

Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. 

Bake for about 60 minutes, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. 

Cool on a wire rack.

Seedy Bread

Add 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds; 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds; 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds; 1 tablespoon of kibbled wheat to the dry ingredients. 

Keep a mixture to scatter over the top.

Note: The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).

Derval O’Rourke’s Booster Bars

Whether you go for a brisk walk, a jog or full on session at the gym, there’s nothing as tasty as a post-workout treat that you’ve made yourself. 

These bars are particularly good for giving you a boost. The oats are full of fibre- rich complex carbohydrates and the nuts are full of protein. 

These elements combine to keep you fuller for longer. These bars keep for several days in an airtight container in the fridge. 

If you want to be really organised, you can bake a big batch and then wrap and freeze individual bars.

Makes 12 bars

  • 6 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 120 ml agave syrup
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 240g porridge oats
  • 100g dried fruit (dates and apricots work well)
  • 60g ground flaxseed
  • 60g hazelnuts, chopped
  • 60g pecans, chopped
  • 60g pumpkin seeds
  • 60g sunflower seeds


Line a 33cm x 23 cm metal baking tin with parchment paper so that the paper overlaps the sides. 

Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. 

Use a food processor or whisk to mix the bananas, agave syrup and coconut oil. 

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. 

Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and stir well. 

Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking tin and spread out evenly, pressing down with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and firm. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cook for about 30 minutes.

To remove from the tin, take hold of the parchment paper and simply lift out the slab. 

Cut the slab into bars and store in the fridge or freezer.

Derval O’Rourke’s Posh Nuts

Posh Nuts are one of my favourite evening treats. They are fiery and delicious and it takes less than 20 minutes to make a batch. 

You can leave these nuts to cool completely – but if you eat them when they’re still warm from the oven, they really hit the spot!

Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp agave syrup
  • 150 g mixed nuts (Brazil, hazelnuts and pecans work well)
  • 1 tbsp chopped rosemary (or 1 tsp dried rosemary)
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • Half tsp sea salt


Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Melt the coconut oil in a large pot over a medium heat. 

Stir in the agave syrup. 

Take the pan off the heat and toss in the nuts. 

Stir well to coat the nuts evenly. Sprinkle over the rosemary, chilli, salt and stir well. 

Spread the nuts on a baking tray. 

Roast for about 12 minutes, turning once. 

Leave the nuts to cool on the tray or serve them hot straightaway.


Entertaining with Darina and Rory: Darina and her brother Rory O’Connell will teach a two-and-a-half day cookery course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School starting on September 5.

Their A Simply Delicious Christmas shows which aired on RTÉ 1 in 2014 and 2015 were a huge success, and are a flavour of what can be expected.

Long Table Dinner 2016: Ballymaloe Cookery School’s ‘Dinner in the Glasshouse’ on September 9 is now an annual event, held under the canopy of our extensive glasshouses.

Our culinary team dream up an inspiring menu based on seasonal, local, organic ingredients.

One of the main purposes of this annual event is to give recognition and exposure to our own growers and also the many Irish artisan food producers, suppliers and chefs who are striving to provide us with the finest quality organic food products.

Proceeds from the Glasshouse Dinner goes to Slow Food which helps with the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. 

Feel Good Food, Let’s Cook with Debbie Shaw: Debbie is a nutritionist and teacher at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. She believes whole, natural foods have the power to heal, boost energy, vitality, keep us youthful, healthy and happy.

In this one-and-a-half day cookery course, Debbie will teach a wide range of recipes inspired from the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Irish and Asian influences. 

Midleton Food Festival, Summer Supper Club at Ballymaloe House: Louise Bannon will cook a pop up dinner at Ballymaloe House on September 5.

Cocktails in the garden at 7pm followed by three-course dinner with wine at 8pm. Tickets cost €65; booking essential 021 465253.

A Taste of West Cork Food Festival: Foraging at Turk Head with Madeline McKeever and April Danann on September 10, at 2pm. Meet the Producer: Roaring Water Sea Vegetable Farm on September 12, at 12pm.

Our Farms, Our Food, Our Future Forum will be discussing the interdependence between modern farming, food production, practices and health on September 12, 3pm at West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen; 


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