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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Frugal School Lunches

I've had a lot of people ask me how to make school lunches frugal. I've been packing school lunches for 4 years now, so I've learned a few things about making them affordable! Here is what I've figured out along the way:


Individual bags of chips, packages of cookies, packages of crackers, packages of baby carrots, etc... may look appealing and convenient, but they are real budget busters, not to mention wasteful and bad for the environment. Instead of buying individual packages of baby carrots (for example), just buy a regular sized bag and send one serving every day. You don't even have to put baby carrots in a plastic bag. I wrap them up in a paper towel, and they keep just fine. If you want to send yogurt or applesauce, get a small Tupperware container and portion some out from a regular sized carton, or jar. I have sent applesauce many times this way.


If you want to send cookies to school with your child, make some yourself! If you're not a big baker, buy a bag of cookie mix or brownie mix and go to town! I even buy mixes sometimes, when they are on sale. With sales and coupons, you can get all kinds of mixes for really cheap. Buy some cake mix and make cupcakes! Even if you pay full price for the mix, it is SO much more economical to make your own semi homemade, rather than just buying a package of cookies, muffins, or brownies. Also, the other kids and teachers will think you're mother of the year!:P It literally takes like 20 minutes to whip up a batch of cookies or muffins, whether you're using a mix or not. Just try it and see how happy your child is!


Not only do lunchables contain enough sodium to cause an elephant to have a stroke, they are also a HUGE waste of money and resources. If you want to pack your child some crackers with toppings, just go out and buy some crackers, a few toppings, and call it a day. Better yet, send your child to school with a sandwich on some whole wheat bread! People are always telling me that their child won't eat whole wheat bread, or won't eat fruit, or won't eat vegetables. They WILL eat it if that's what they are offered. Parents have to set the example by eating it first (with enthusiasm!) and then your kids are sure to follow.

Here are my basic lunch plans

Lunch I
Peanut butter sandwich on homemade flax bread (You can buy bread, I just like to make my own!)
An apple, plum, or banana
Blueberries, blackberries, or baby carrots
1 or 2 homemade cookies (depending on the size)
A thermos of juice or soymilk (sometimes I send juice boxes if they were on sale)

Lunch II
Two homemade whole grain muffins, such as zucchini or banana nut
An apple, banana or plum
Berries or baby carrots
1 or 2 homemade cookies
Soymilk or juice

Lunch III
Homemade whole grain pita bread
a small container of homemade hummus
Grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and baby carrots in a baggie
1 or 2 homemade cookies
Soymilk or juice

I pretty much always send one of those three lunches to school with my kids, and in 4 years, they have never complained. They especially love the muffin version. Sometimes I will send leftover pumpkin or sweet potato pie if I have any, instead of the cookies.


Suzanne with Laughing Wallet said...

You're so right about the individual servings! It's much cheaper to just buy a jar of applesauce (or make your own jello, pudding, etc.) instead of the pre-measured cups.

And if you don't want to have to portion out new servings each morning, just invest in a week's worth of single size Tupperware containers, fill them up and leave them in the fridge, ready to grab and put in a lunchbox. Same thing as the pre-packaged cups, but cheaper!

Anonymous said...

Agree that kids will eat what they've been exposed to, and parents need to lead by example. Your lunch menu options seem to work well for your kids. When mine were little they loved variety and had all kinds of sandwiches, from ham- or egg- or tuna-salad, to eggplant parm, to meatball or sausage, to salami&cream cheese& chopped green olive, to mozzarella, roast pepper and proscuitto, to sprouts, cuke, avocado & hummus, to herring & mustard on multi-grain toast,and also great green salads with fixin's. But nothing we didn't already eat at home. Home-individualized chips & pickles,(snack-sized bags are great!). Fruit - whatever's in season, homemade trail mix, (including a few M&Ms!). And soups and stews in thermoses in winter. A Nalgene bottle of juice or iced tea. In high school I had to compete with them for dinner leftovers, which was always My usual lunch, in addition to our sandwiches, they ate "bigger" burning it off in sports. So we just cooked "bigger" to cover the portions we also wanted to put in the freezer. And a Hershey's kiss or Dove chocolate. And a love note. My "little one" is a Sr in HS this year. She "lets me" pack at least some of her lunch. I think she knows it means a lot to me, especially since her Mom died. And I still send love notes.
Thanks for the blog and for letting me get nostalgic.
(Btw, I'm not really "anonymous", just didn't feel like registering, etc, blah blah - Its me, Postal from the Smart Spending msg board)