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MasterChef Julie Goodwin's top school lunch box tip has nothing to do with food at all.

“Your goal for your kids’ lunch box is for the food to get eaten and be healthy, but also to do all of that without too much trouble.”

With this one sentence, MasterChef winner Julie Goodwin summed up the daily nightmare that is kids’ school lunches.

Because not only do they need to be healthy and delicious, but also nut-free, low waste, non-perishable, Instagram worthy, budget friendly and the envy of every kid on the playground.

Yeah, it’s a lot.

Having packed hundreds of lunchboxes over the years for her three sons, Goodwin’s become very well acquainted with the school lunch struggle. She’s also learnt a bunch of handy tricks along the way.

So we asked her for her top lunchbox tips, and gee they’re bloody good.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Yes, really.

Just the same way we reach for the sugary snacks when we couldn’t be bothered doing meal prep, kids will come home hungry if we don’t put in a bit of prep work.

“Keeping things varied is pretty important, and keeping them interested, for simplicity on the parents’ side, anything you can do pre-made to portion out and freeze is absolutely brilliant. That’s what my husband and I did all the way through our boys’ schooling, and we do it now for ourselves too,” Goodwin told Mamamia.

“Make up on the weekend, a zucchini slice and then every day you grab and go. It saves that drudgery of every day having to figure out what you’re doing, getting everything out of the fridge and the pantry and make a big mess.”

Other prep suggestions from Julie include kid-friendly sushi you can make up a few days in advance, and putting things into little containers like tzatziki yoghurt dips, and veggies and crackers.

Goodwin also said not to stress too much about what not to pack. “Listen to the advice coming out of schools. We all know what you’ve got to avoid. There are some delicious things you can put in without going outside your school guidelines.”

Have fun with new recipes.

“What you want when your kid opens their lunchbox is to go ‘YEAH!’ and to show it off to their friends. You don’t want it coming home because you go to the expense and effort. There are so many things you can do that’s not a Vegemite sandwich and an apple,” Goodwin insisted.

“What I love and if you went and looked in my freezer right now you’d see it, is zucchini slice. Zucchini and corn slice, chuck it all in, put it in the oven and 20 minutes later cut it up into pieces and freeze. And it defrosts beautifully, that’s an easy one for us and kids.”

Some of Goodwin’s other favourites include homemade cookies with oats, grains and honey instead of sugar; pikelets, which you can make together and get the kids involved (“put some sultanas in them, wrap and freeze and grab when you need to,” she said), homemade hummus with flatbread, and pastry parcels with spinach.

Check out some of Julie Goodwin’s favourite lunchbox recipes in the gallery below. (Post continues after audio…)

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That’s great Julie, but my kids are fussy eaters?

So, what do you do when, no matter how many cool snacks or unicorn shaped sandwiches you make, your kids keep coming home with an uneaten lunchbox?

Turns out, Goodwin reckons it’s really got nothing to do with food at all.

“Those days when the food comes home that the kids go, ‘I’m starving, what’s there to eat?!’ are tough, but kids are little human beings and they love trying new things,” she said.

“If you’ve got a fussy eater, get them involved. Looking through recipe books, seeing what they like the look of, getting them involved in the shopping and cooking, and giving them two or three choices and seeing what they go for. Kids will surprise you – my experience has always been, once children get involved and can take some ownership and pride in it, they are far more likely to eat it.”

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Again, great point Julie. But I can’t afford to make all these healthy lunches from scratch.

“It’s not expensive, absolutely not,” is Goodwin’s reply to that familiar statement.

“If you’re buying and making food from scratch, that’s the cheapest way you can eat. A whole tray of zucchini slice wouldn’t cost you more than $2.50 and you can cut that up into 12 generous pieces. It’s a lot cheaper than buying things ready made.”

Other budget-friendly tips include making your own ‘pre-packaged’ snacks – “pop popcorn and put it into little bags yourself, or if you want to do baked pretzels for something crunchy in the lunchbox, buy one big packet and pop into ziplock bags, you can reuse the ziplock bags if you want, that’s a money saver” – and buying foods in season.

“Buying in season is the biggest money saver of all. If your child likes cherries, you’re going to have to explain to them we can’t have them in winter because they’re $480 a kilo, but we can have them in summer.”

LISTEN: We spoke with Julie about raising three sons and all the craziness that comes with that on I Don’t Know How She Does It (Post continues after audio…)

Remember, it’s just a lunchbox.

At the end of the day, we’re talking about a lunchbox, not nuclear war.

“Try and crack your head out of lunchbox mode,” is Goodwin’s advice for anyone who’s pulling their hair out over school lunches.

“You go to quite a bit of effort to put dinner on the table, right? To make sure it’s nutritious and filling, and that the kids will like it because you don’t want to sit there and listen to the whinge, right? So you go to that effort for dinner, translate some of that into a lunchbox.

“Think of what’s safe for them to carry in a lunchbox [from dinner leftovers]. If it needs to be refrigerated, like leftover fried rice or chicken skewers with yoghurt, put it in a cooler bag with a bottle of frozen water. Or try tomato, fetta cheese, and ham, or strips of chicken with capsicum. Think outside the lunchbox.”

Don’t compare your lunchbox to anyone else’s.

If there’s one thing Goodwin hopes parents can get their minds around, it’s this.

“We can not start comparing lunch boxes with other parents, it’s a road to absolute self-loathing. We’ve just go to do what’s right for our own children,” she said.

“There’s more and more pressure every day, new health ideas come out and new allergies are discovered or we start taking different care of allergies, it’s fraught and stressful.

“Kids have to eat. Give them the stuff that you know will get them through their day, switched on and ready to learn.”

Here, here!

To get your downloadable copy of Julie Goodwin’s new e-Book , Lunchbox Snacks Cookbook, visit the Weet-Bix website.

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