Back to School — After-School Meals

Juicy Chef

Thursday, September 06, 2012    

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It's back-to-school time again and the requests for after-school meals are coming in. Although not a mother myself, I draw on my own experience as a student and, of course, what my mum would prepare. I also ask friends who are mothers.

Today's children have much more sophisticated palates than when I was a child. They are far more adventurous and can be quite fussy or picky.

Both budget and time constraints dictate the meals parents prepare for their children. Many parents try to provide nutritious meals, while others merely survive on whatever they can or guiltily buy fast food. I'm not judging. Parents make choices based on circumstances, but proper planning and support can make a positive difference on how their children view food and have better attitudes towards healthy eating.

A hungry child can find it challenging to pay attention to schoolwork while his/her stomach is rumbling. It is truly sad, and with these tough economic times many will be returning to school without having breakfast. Others will be unable to buy lunch or even carry lunch-- something many of us take for granted. Even if dinner is iffy, try to ensure that your child has a proper breakfast. Also, make a habit of giving children fruit for snacks with whatever is in season. Even if fruits and vegetables are not part of your own diet, do sacrifice and ensure that your child consumes as much of these as possible until old enough to choose.

For after-school meals, Jamaican food is generally healthy if we decrease the salt, sugar and oil used to prepare them. Just make sure a healthy portion of vegetables is on the plate for a more balanced meal. If life is hectic, you can do what my friend Amanda does: create a weekly after-school menu. So plan your daily dishes, make your grocery list and shop for what you need that week. Some meals can be made ahead of time and you can warm them up when needed, or some prep work can be done during your downtime for less hassle. Another idea is to speak to other mothers and exchange recipes. This helps when you find yourself in a cooking rut.

Much gratitude to my weekly grocery sponsors MegaMart.

Contact me at

Bon Appètit! And good luck to all parents of back-to-schoolers.

Fish Fingers

Children always seem to love foods that are breaded or crunchy. Rather than purchase a commercial version, make your own; it's easy to do and the kids can help you prepare them. To make this even healthier, cook in the oven instead of deepfrying. To make it more exciting for your kids, serve with a dipping sauce such as sweet and sour, ketchup or tartar sauce. When we were little, my mum always used to serve us fish fingers with green peas or salad even if we had a side of oven chips with it!


500g/ 1lb fish fillets, cut into strips

1 egg

100g/ 1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1 tsp mixed dried herbs

Zest of one lime plus juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil, for brushing


Preheat oven to 350F.

Lightly brush a baking sheet with oil.

Season fish strips with salt and pepper and lime juice.

In a small bowl mix breadcrumbs, lime zest and dried herbs together.

Crack and whisk the egg in a separate small bowl.

Dip each fish strip into the egg mixture then the breadcrumb mixture until it is completely covered, then place on baking sheet.

Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

Spaghetti and Meatballs with Chunky Vegetable Sauce

Many children seem to like meatballs — probably it's the shape or the fact most kids like tomato-based sauces. Whatever the reason, it is a straightforward way of teaching children to cook as it enables them to get creative by forming the meatballs. I used typical beef mince for this recipe, but you can substitute with pork or chicken mince. Likewise for the pasta, substitute by using wheat or wholegrain varieties for a healthier complex carbohydrate starch. Secondly, the sauce is the best way to sneak in some much-needed vegetables and make the dish more nutrient-rich. You can cut up your veggies into small chunks, or you can puree them in a food processor and add to the sauce if your children are fussy and don't like the look of vegetables. This recipe is also adult-friendly.


500g/ 1lb minced beef

1 onion, grated

Handful of string beans, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely diced

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 standard jar of flavoured pasta sauce

1 standard pack of spaghetti

Parsley, for garnish (optional)

Grated cheese (optional)


In a large bowl add minced beef and grated onion, season generously with salt and pepper and mix to combine. Form into balls by scooping out mixture using a tablespoon and rolling it in your clean hands to form a ball. Repeat this step until you have all your meatballs formed. In a frying pan add a little olive oil and fry meatballs for about seven minutes so they are brown all over and just cooked through, drain on paper towels

Prepare spaghetti according to package directions. In a large saucepan, add a little olive oil and sauté carrots, string beans or whatever other vegetables you decide to use, add garlic.

Pour in pasta sauce, bring to a boil, then simmer.

Add meatballs and submerge in sauce and continue cooking for five minutes over medium heat.

Divide pasta into plates, top with meatballs and garnish with parsley or cheese if using.





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