Back in the “old days” when I was a kid, every morning my mom would fill up my Ghostbusters lunch box with a peanut butter and jelly or baloney sandwich, an obligatory piece of fruit that usually ended up squished and uneaten, a cookie, and a juice box. It was pretty
boring basic. But, it was inexpensive and easy. Now, times have changed, peanut butter isn’t allowed in classrooms, and lunch foods are becoming much more expensive. A pound of good lunch meat will set you back at least $10, a loaf of bread another $5, and that doesn’t even include sides. You could easily spend $100 a month just on school lunches for a couple kids! So, how can you save money on school lunches, while keeping them healthy and fun?
1. Give Leftovers a Chance
As a kid, “leftovers” were my least favorite food group. It wasn’t until I got married and had to start paying for my own groceries that I realized leftovers weren’t that bad if done right. Leftover soup or chili can be brought to boiling in the morning and placed in a quality Thermos (leakproof!) in an insulated lunch bag and should still be warm by lunchtime. Leftover chicken can be turned into chicken salad, and leftover homemade pizza is really good eaten cold.
2. Rethink Protein
Many schools have banned nut products from classrooms, which means the standby protein source of peanut butter is out. But lunch meat is so expensive! Cheese, beans, and eggs are all inexpensive proteins that can be used. Think pita chips and hummus, hard boiled eggs or deviled eggs, and cheese sticks.
3. Homemade Lunchables
You can make your own homemade Lunchable Pizzas by packing separately one or two sliced English muffins, a small container of pizza or pasta sauce, and a handful of cheese, to be assembled by your child at lunch. You could make 10 pizzas for the cost of 1 purchased Pizza Lunchable. You can also make your own Lunchable Nachos by serving tortilla chips with separate containers of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and homemade black beans.
4. Pack Better, Not More
Things like chips and cookies fill space in the lunch box, but they are empty calories that will keep your child from getting full. Pack intentional side items that contain protein and fiber. You will save money by packing less, and your child will be full quicker. Some ideas include: Fruit with Cottage Cheese, Oatmeal Cookies, or Apple Slices with caramel sauce (there is a lot of fiber in apple peels.)
5. Make it Fun
You’re probably thinking, “My kid won’t eat that!” But, if you change the presentation and make it fun, he can’t help but want to eat it! Turn cheese and fruit into kabobs. Cut fruit or vegetables into fun shapes with Veggie Cutters. Make foods DIY (like the homemade Lunchables or veggies with several dipping sauces), or serve everything in a Bento Lunchbox.