Now that the dust is settling from all that back-to-school excitement, the reality sets in. Every year it's the same old story — we start off with enthusiasm only to be left defeated by day three when what was lovingly packed earlier comes home intact again. If back to school wasn't bad enough with sorting uniforms, books, the dreaded gum shields, we also have to make sure they have a lunchbox filled with food they will actually eat that will keep them going until they get home. Before you reach for the old reliable 'hang sangwidge' and 'cheese strings', here's a suggestion that might make this morning chore a little easier.
Why not try cooking one thing in bulk each week for the first few weeks and stashing it away in the freezer. Maybe a batch of flapjacks or savoury muffins and scones will leave you with options on those busy autumn mornings. Simply take out what you need the night before, or even in the morning, and by the time lunch rolls around it will be perfect.
The flapjack seems to be the equivalent of an international spy in the world of baked goods. They have many different identities across many different parts of the world. In Ireland the term refers to an old fashioned tray-baked oat bar, but ask for flapjacks in the US and you could easily be given a stack of pancakes. My husband is under the delusion that they are energy bars (ha-ha ) and likes to have a regular supply on hand to accompany him on a long cycle or any other triathlon shenanigans he gets up to. The children think they are cereal bars while others would consider them granola bars.
And, like any international spy worth their salt, they are also masters of disguise, as they are very easily customised to taste. The medley of butter, demerara sugar, golden syrup, and oats can be added to with extra flavours and toppings. You could substitute the honey and dried fruit for maple syrup, chopped pecans, and a pinch of cinnamon for a delicious pecan pie version. Or replace those with a mashed ripe banana and chocolate chips to make the children happy. Flapjacks have endless possibilities when it comes to flavours, add in some extra seeds like sunflower seeds or chia, some flaked coconut, or whatever is hanging around the back of the pantry wanting to be used up. You can play around with the quantities of sweetener to make them as healthy or indulgent as you wish, just the thing to tuck in a lunchbox or as an after-school treat with a cold glass of milk.
250g Regular porridge oats
250g Jumbo porridge oats
100g Demerara sugar
150g Golden syrup
A couple of handfuls of raisin or other dried fruit (optional )
Pre-heat your oven to 180°C. Butter and line a baking tray or swiss roll tin, approximately 30cm x 20cm. Start by melting the butter in a pan over a low heat. Once melted, add the syrup and honey and mix together. Put both kinds of oats in a bowl with the sugar. Chop the dried fruit into small pieces, if using, and mix into the oats also. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir it all together. Pour it all into the lined tray, pat down firmly, and level the top. Bake for 30 minutes until golden and set. Mark into slices or fingers with a sharp knife and loosen round the edges a few minutes after they come out of the oven, before they harden. Then allow to cool completely before slicing. Makes 16 to 20 buttery bars. Hide from husband and kids until morning.