Having lunch at school is very convenient but there are days when the cost of lunch makes me think my son needs to start packing his lunch! Here are some tips to stretch your lunch dollars.
Lunch this year at our school costs $5.00. I decided that although there will be days when buying is preferred, either by me or by them, I can probably create a healthy lunch for a lot less money than that! So, I started hunting around for information. And, I’m happy to say I found a couple websites with information that helped me along. One is www.ilunchbox.com and the other is www.usda.com which has a lot of information about nutrition.
Here are some of the notes I took and would like to share with you on putting together school lunches.
Buy in bulk:
If you are planning on doing lunches regularly, you can save money by purchasing certain things in bulk. For instance, my son loves chicken fingers and I can buy them baked and frozen in bulk. I just heat them up from frozen in the microwave in the morning and put them in an insulated container. He dips in either ketchup or barbeque sauce and I have tiny Tupperware containers for the dips. (I have lost a few of these to the dumpster and he’s had to go with dry chicken fingers unless he’s scamming ketchup at school!)
Another love of his is meatballs. (Here I am cooking vegetarian everyday and he’s a huge meat lover – go figure!) Well, you can buy bags of meatballs, so I make a recipe that we have on our site, Swedish Meatballs, and heat them up in the morning and pack them in an insulated container as well. These go over real big and I think he’s been taking orders from friends and getting some of his lunch money back! Heehee.
Of course there are all sorts of foods you can purchase in bulk, from fruits and veggies to whole grain crackers and string cheese. Just take a list of your child’s favorite lunch contents to the bulk store in your area and consider how you will store the items and how long they will last before you buy.
I’m always interested in saving time when it comes to repeat projects like school lunches (and laundry!) I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve read that you can make many sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them. The idea is that the frozen sandwich becomes the “ice pack” in the lunch and it thaws by lunchtime. I’ll have to give it a try before sending it along one day….or maybe I’ll just do it and see what happens!!
Suggestions would be an all time favorite -peanut butter and jelly. Make sure to put peanut butter on both sides of the bread with the jelly in the middle so the jelly doesn’t saturate the bread and create a jelly mush. The peanut butter acts as a protective coating on the bread. You can make meat and cheese rollups as well and freeze them by placing the ingredients in tortillas. Make sure to stay away from tomatoes, lettuce and condiments that won’t thaw out well. Grab extra condiments the next time you are at your local fast food restaurant and send those in with the kids. (Hey, that might solve my chicken finger dip issue!)
I also keep certain quick additions pulled together, like snack sized portions of pretzels, crackers, animal cookies, fig newtons and veggies. In fact, there was an interesting article about 100 calorie snack packs on the ilunchbox site that gave examples of how to create your own 100 calorie packs. Here are some that I will use:
15 baby carrots, 3 tablespoons of raisins, 6 reduced fat Triscuits, 13 Stauffer’s animal crackers, 7/8 cup of Cheerios, ¾ oz cheese
You know, just by looking at the nutrition panel on any package of snacks you may have, you can figure out what amount would be only 100 calories and pack them up for yourself. By not purchasing the premade 100 calorie packs you are staying away from processed, “empty calorie”, expensive snacks. Not to mention, if your snacks are in reusable containers, you’re saving the environment! (You see I’m getting the 100 calories figured out – still working on the environment.)
You know, after writing the last line about the environment, it dawned on me that I have a Tupperware expert at my fingertips, so I contacted Chris, and she gave me information on products perfect for school lunches. Check out this link to see some super lunch containers. www.partycareer.com. Go to Shop Our Product Gallery and click on either “On The Go” or “Kids” for great lunch boxes and storage containers.
The basic idea is to use a true lunchbox instead of paper bags, and there are dozens of cool styles out there for kids. Add your food in reusable containers and think about refillable water bottles or the old fashioned thermos for whatever drinks your child desires.
When I think back to my school lunch days, I remember I could only buy on special days when they were having something I truly loved. For me that was spaghetti day and the days they had chocolate cake for dessert. Milk was a penny for white milk and two cents for chocolate….I had a red plaid lunch box and jelly sandwiches….hmm, I better go, I’ve made myself very hungry. (And you can bet I’m going to march right passed those 100 calorie snacks!!)