'These little fishcakes have high nutritional value but don't take all the fun out of fishfingers'. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian.
I admit that I didn't have a child to feed packed lunch ideas to this week, but each recipe came with an account of how well tried and tested they are, so I can safely say these recipes have a high chance of success in even the fussiest households. From cramming in more veg to giving childhood favourites a healthy makeover, this challenge has produced some super-easy and flavour-packed results.
Diane Kitchen's mini carrot cakes had a wonderfully soft crumb, and still managed to still feel a bit virtuous. The bread tarts from Eat_Your_Veg will provide a base for a truly versatile idea; for adults, I may even recreate them with smoked fish and dill. MizPepperpot's baked "fried" chicken was fantastically simple, made from mostly storecupboard ingredients, with all the flavour of southern fried chicken but none of the deep frying. Similarly, Fadime Tiskaya's fruity flapjacks were filling but neither greasy nor stodgy.
But my favourite this week was from Christine Bailey; these little tuna fishcakes scored highly on nutritional value without taking all the fun out of fish fingers. The quick tartare sauce is equally lovely, although I couldn't resist a blob of ketchup on the side too.
The winning recipe: Italian tuna balls
A healthy alternative to fish fingers and perfect for packed lunches. My children are gluten-free so we use gluten-free flour and breadcrumbs. Put the tartare sauce in a little pot and serve alongside the balls. These can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Christine Bailey, Reading
Makes around 12 balls
200g tuna in olive oil, drained
115g breadcrumbs (gluten-free are available)
85g ricotta cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
Flour, for dusting
Olive oil, for frying
For the tartare sauce
6 medium gherkins, finely chopped
225g creme fraiche
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 Tip the tuna in a bowl and mash with the breadcrumbs, ricotta cheese, lemon zest, basil and the egg. Season with a little black pepper.
2 Using floured hands, take spoonfuls of the mixture and roll into walnut-size balls.
3 Heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the balls in batches over a medium heat for 6-8 minutes until golden and crisp. Alternatively, these can be baked in the oven at 190C/375F/gas mark 5 until golden - around 15-20 minutes.
4 To make the tartare sauce, simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, then serve with the fish balls.
Mini carrot cakes
Looking for a way to smuggle some healthy vegetables into your kids' lunch that will also give them enough energy to see them through the afternoon? Try mini carrot cakes. The icing is optional and makes the cake slightly less healthy, but more scrummy.
Diane Kitchen, Ilkley
175g self-raising wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
A pinch of ground nutmeg
125g muscovado sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
150ml rapeseed oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g carrots, finely grated
For the icing
75g low-fat cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g icing sugar
A handful of chopped apricots
1 Line a muffin tray with baking cases, then preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Sieve the flour and baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg into a large bowl. Stir in the brown sugar.
2 Make a well in the centre and stir in the beaten eggs, oil, vanilla extract and carrots.
3 Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, then bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Leave them to cool on a wire rack.
4 Mix the icing ingredients together in a bowl until smooth, pop a small amount on to each cake and sprinkle with chopped apricots.
A cinch to make for even the littlest of hands. Somewhere between a toastie, omelette, eggy bread and a quiche, these are a fun and tasty treat to pop into lunchboxes. Try them with tuna, smoked salmon, ham, cooked bacon or leftover roasted meats, and make sure you vary your veggies.
Makes 6-8 tarts
1 tbsp olive oil
6 slices medium thickness, very fresh wholemeal bread
2 large eggs
4 tbsp whole milk
1 tomato, finely diced
1/3 courgette, finely diced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
2 tbsp sweetcorn
A large handful of mature cheddar, grated
1 Preheat your oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5, then brush the muffin tin with the oil.
2 Flatten each slice of bread a little with a rolling pin, then fit into the muffin tin by squashing around until you have a cup shape.
3 Lightly whisk the eggs and stir in the milk and a pinch of black pepper, then set aside.
4 Fill the bread "cups" with your veggies and a sprinkling of cheese, then pour over the eggy mix.
5 Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes until risen, firm and golden brown on top. Leave to cool a little before scoffing, or cool completely before popping into lunchboxes.
Fruity flapjacks with yoghurt topping
These flapjacks are a really tasty way of getting children to eat a few fruit and nuts in one go - the sweetness comes mainly from the fructose in the fruit. They keep fresh in the fridge for about a week.
200ml orange juice
Zest of 2 oranges
180g (about 2) sharon fruit (persimmon), peeled and pureed
60g plain yoghurt
100g grape molasses or honey
100g dried apricots or figs, chopped
80g walnuts, chopped
110g sesame seeds
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 24x30cm x 8cm deep rectangular baking tin with baking parchment or foil and set aside.
2 In a large nonstick pan, melt the butter, add the oats and fry for about five minutes, stirring every now and then until the oats turn brown. Then let the mixture cool.
3 Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl mix together the orange juice, zest, sharon fruit, yoghurt and grape molasses or honey. Add the oat mixture followed by the dried fruits, walnuts and sesame seeds and combine it all until you get a thick batter.
4 Pour the mixture into the baking tin and with a back of a spoon, press the mixture evenly into the tin. Bake for about 25 minutes until the top is golden brown. Let it cool then put it in the fridge for couple of hours until it all sets so it can be sliced easily. Slice into thin rectangular bars.
Baked 'fried' chicken
My daughter and I are part of a Caribbean carnival dance troupe. Every summer we tour the country to dance through the streets to Soca music. If I'm on packed-lunch duty, I supply my baked "fried" chicken.
For the crumb coating
100g melba toast
3 tbsp semolina
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp oregano
Salt and black pepper
For the chicken
1 tbsp light mayo
1 tsp Dijon mustard
8 pieces of skinless chicken
1 Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Blitz all the crumb ingredients together until a coarse crumb is achieved.
2 Mix the mayo and the mustard, then spread it all over the chicken. Pour the crumbs into a freezer bag, then add the chicken and shake until evenly coated in the mix.
3 Put the coated chicken on a wire rack (this ensures all-round crispiness) over a baking tray, and spray or brush with oil. Bake for around 40-50 minutes, or until cooked and crispy.