The thought of preparing school lunches for the coming year fills you with dread, then relax! One of Australia’s most celebrated and best-loved cooks, Julie Goodwin, knows how you feel.
Having packed hundreds of lunchboxes over the years for her three sons, the MasterChef winner is well acquainted with the school lunch struggle.
The 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.
And 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.
So how do we do it? Julie’s best advice it to make as much as possible ahead of time and make the freezer your best friend.
“My best advice is to prepare lunches ahead of time. Bake and make sandwiches on the weekends and then freeze them,” she said.
“Mix up the choices as well. Ask the kids what they might like to eat or try eating.
“If you involve them, instead of just plonking something in front of them day in and out, they’ll probably be more interested in trying new things.
“I know what it’s like to pack lunch boxes day in and day out, and how tricky it can be to come up with food to keep them interested that’s still healthy and no-fuss.”
Here are some of Julie’s simple and easy lunchbox recipe ideas:
Little carrot cakes
NOTE: Given it contains nuts this recipe could be good as an after-school snack.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
1 cup self-raising flour
½ cup plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
3 carrots (about 300 g), grated
150 g walnuts, roughly chopped
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup olive or vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Place 12 straight-sided paper patty cases on a baking tray.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon and mix well. Stir through the carrot and walnuts.
In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, oil, golden syrup, eggs and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined.
Use an ice cream scoop to divide the mixture between the 12 cases. Bake for 40 minutes, or until dark golden and set. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
Place the cream cheese icing in a large piping bag fitted with a 1 cm star-shaped nozzle and pipe onto the cakes. Top each cake with some candied walnuts.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
1 quantity savoury shortcrust pastry or two sheets plain frozen shortcrust (if you have it in the freezer)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
50 g baby spinach leaves
400 g skinless, boneless salmon fillet, cut into 2 cm cubes
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease a 26 cm loose-based flan tin with butter or spray oil. Lay the pastry into the flan tin and trim the edges. Prick the pastry with a fork. Place a sheet of baking paper over the pastry and fill with pastry weights or rice. Bake for 15 minutes or until starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and take out the weights and paper.
Arrange half the mozzarella cheese evenly over the base of the pastry case. Arrange the spinach over the top, followed by the salmon cubes, then scatter with the shallots and half of the dill leaves.
In a bowl, beat the eggs then add the cream and beat well. Season with salt and pepper. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the pastry case and top with the remaining mozzarella.
Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top and just firm in the middle. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool a little before serving.
Makes 12 pieces Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes + rising time
7 g sachet dried yeast
4 cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ cup caster sugar
½ cup warm milk, plus extra
1 tablespoon milk, for glazing
100 g cold butter, diced
1 cup warm water
⅓ cup sultanas
For the Icing
190 g butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon coconut essence
3 cups icing mixture, sifted
½ cup moist coconut flakes
Combine the yeast, 1 teaspoon flour, 1 teaspoon sugar and ½ cup warm milk in small bowl. Cover and stand in a warm place for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is frothy.
Place the remaining flour and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and add the diced cold butter. Blitz until the mixture is crumbly and resembles breadcrumbs. Add the yeast mixture and water and pulse until the dough just comes together. Add the sultanas and pulse until just mixed.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. Return the dough to a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place until doubled in size – about an hour. Turn out again on a lightly floured surface, punch the dough to expel air then knead until smooth. Shape into a large oval.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper and place the dough onto the tray. Stand uncovered in a warm place for about 10–15 minutes or until the dough is well risen. Brush the dough with the extra milk.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked. Remove the bun from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
For the icing, cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until lighter in colour. Add the vanilla and coconut essence and mix for a moment to combine. Sift the icing mixture into the bowl and start to combine on low speed. When the mixture is all wet, increase the speed and beat until light and fluffy. Spread thickly on the completely cooled bun and scatter with coconut flakes.
Tear and share pizza scrolls
Makes 12 scrolls Prep time: 20 minutes + rising time
Cooking time: 30 minutes
3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons (7 g/1 sachet) dried yeast
1½ teaspoons salt
1¼ cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
⅓ cup tomato paste
½ cup grated tasty cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
Handful of baby spinach leaves
4 shallots (spring onions), finely sliced
100 g shaved hot salami
1 egg, beaten
Make the dough a few hours in advance. In a large bowl, combine the flour,yeast and salt and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, combine the water with the oil and pour into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly again. Knead in the bowl for a few minutes, until all the ingredients are combined. Cover and put in a warm place for at least an hour, or until the dough doubles in size. (If the weather is cold, we sit ours under the heat lamps in the bathroom.)
Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
Sprinklesomeflouronthebenchtopandrollthepizzadoughoutintoarectangle about 25 x 35 cm. Lay the dough so that the long edge is aligned with the edge of the bench. Using a spoon, spread the tomato paste over the dough, right to the edges. Scatter the 2 cheeses evenly over the top. Spread the spinach and shallots over the cheese then top with the salami.
Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a Swiss-style roll. Carefully lift onto a cutting board and slice into 12 even pieces.
Place the slices on their side on the baking tray, just touching. Brush with egg and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: This recipe is easily varied – put your own favourite topping in the scroll as you would if making a pizza.
Chicken and cheese strudel
Serves 6 Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: about 40 minutes
1 tablespoon olive oil
800 g chicken thigh fillets, cut into 3 cm cubes
200 g button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons plain four
1¼ cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon or French mustard
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup grated tasty cheese
2 sheets frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
4 shallots (spring onions), finely sliced
Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large, heavy-based frypan over medium-high heat and brown half of the chicken. Remove to a bowl and repeat with another teaspoon of oil and the remaining chicken. The chicken only needs to have some golden colour; it doesn’t need to be cooked all the way through at this stage.
Heat the remaining oil in the pan and sauté the mushrooms and garlic until the garlic is fragrant and translucent, and the mushrooms are a light golden colour. The mushrooms will release liquid as they cook, so continue to cook until this liquid evaporates.
Return the chicken to the pan and sprinkle the four over the top. Stir to coat the chicken. Stir in the milk, ¼ cup at a time, allowing the sauce to cook and thicken between each addition. When all the milk is added, bring the sauce to a simmer and stir in the mustard, salt, pepper and two-thirds of the cheese. Simmer for a few minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place 2 sheets of puff pastry on a sheet of baking paper on a large cutting board. Brush 1 cm of the edge of one sheet with a little beaten egg, and overlap another sheet over it. Press the edge to join the sheets together into a large rectangle. Turn the rectangle so it is vertical on the bench. Using the back of a butter knife or a skewer, make faint lines on the pastry to divide it into equal thirds lengthways. Cut off the top two corners of the large rectangle to form a point. At the base of the large rectangle, cut a square out of the left and right thirds of the pastry. It should now resemble the shape of a big straight Christmas tree.
On the left and right thirds of the large rectangle (not the middle third), make incisions about 1.5 cm apart, following the angle of the upper point of the pastry and going to each edge. These will form your pastry braids for the strudel. Once the pastry is cut, lift it, still on the baking paper, onto a large baking tray.
Place the cooled chicken mixture along the middle third of the pastry, stopping short of the pointy and square-cut end. Sprinkle with the sliced shallots and the remaining cheese. Fold the pointy end over the chicken mixture, then fold the square end of the pastry over. Then, alternating from left to right, fold the strips of pastry over the chicken mixture. It will look a bit like a braid. Brush liberally with egg and bake for 20–25 minutes or until a deep golden brown. This is lovely served hot or at room temperature.
Julie Goodwin’s Essential Cookbook, by Julie Goodwin, Hachette, RRP: $39.99
To buy go to https://www.juliesplace.com.au/product-category/signed-books