Friday, September 5, 2014

Frugal Friday: School Lunch Ideas

It's back to school time and one great way to save money (and encourage your children to eat healthier) is to pack them a lunch from home. I've mentioned in another post a bit about my thoughts on school lunch versus home lunch. We let the kids choose one day a month to eat lunch provided at school if they would like. The rest of the month we pack them a lunch at home to bring with them. I'm always on the lookout for ideas and tips to make planning and preparing school lunches easier and more enjoyable for my kids. Today I'll share a few ideas and then I'm really hoping that you'll all share your fabulous ideas with me.

Question 1: How will they carry it?
Plastic bags and reusable containers work well and CAN save money. I say CAN because it depends. Are your kids responsible to not throw them away or lose them? If they throw them away or lose them, that's just money down the drain. We've actually done both ways. When my oldest son was in first grade, he found it was just too stressful to bring a lunchbox so we gave him a brown lunch sack and packed everything in plastic baggies so he could just throw them away. Now that he's a bit older, he prefers the lunchbox with plastic containers and that does save us money on bags. Make sure to put your child's name in permanent marker on the lunch containers that you send to school. That will help protect your investment too.

Question 2: What do you pack?
When's the last time you visited your child's cafeteria? I went just last week and it's a loud, stressful situation. You can hardly hear yourself think let alone feel like eating anything. And kids are no different. There's A LOT of waste in a school cafeteria, and I mean A LOT! So make sure you pack the appropriate portion for your child. Not too much.

I've found that packing simple, easy foods work the best for a school lunch. Of course it depends on the child. I'm dealing with something new this year: my first grader won't eat sandwiches. He's been in school for a couple of weeks now and if I can get him to eat more than a few cucumbers and a bite of fruit for lunch, I've really accomplished something. Usually he comes home with at least half or more of his lunch packed in his lunch bag and eats it for snack. As I said, I think it's just too stressful for him to eat in the cafeteria. So simple, easy, familiar foods seem to work the best. Here's a few ideas I've come up that work well for my kids:

Main Dish Ideas:
Sandwich (Ham, Tuna, Cheese, Turkey, PB&J)
Sandwich on a Skewer (Just add sandwich parts and skewer with a mini skewer)
Bagel with Cream Cheese (Cinnamon Swirl, Whole Grain)
Tortilla with melted cheese (Whole-Wheat)
Roll with Cheese (Cornmeal Crescent, Wonder)
Naan Bread with Topping
Pizza Rolls (like cinnamon rolls but with pizza toppings)
Chips & Salsa
Noodles with Cheese or Macaroni & Cheese
Leftovers...(if your children are less picky than mine)

Carrot Sticks/Baby Carrots
Cherry Tomatoes
Sliced Cucumbers
Sugar Snap Peas

Apples or Pear Slices
Dried Pears/Raisins
Fruit Leather
Berries (Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
Sliced watermelon/cantaloupe
Pineapple Chunks
Mandarin Orange/Orange slices

Other Sides:
Cheese slices or cubes

Desserts (for once-in-a-while):
Peach or Apple Lunchbox Tart
Chocolate or Vanilla Honey Wafers
Cinnamon Roll (Honey, Toasty Oat)

Question 3: How do you keep food Hot or Cold?
As you know, to prevent food-born illness you need to keep food at the correct temperature, which for many prepared foods is cold or hot. Many of the items listed above can be kept at room temperature just fine, but some may need to be kept cold or hot. I'd love to hear your ideas on this, but what we generally do is send an insulated lunch box with our children. Then I will try to pack either a hot or cold lunch (usually we do cold because my kids prefer it). I have a few different ways to keep things cool. I often will pre-freeze what I am putting in their lunch (things like muffins, tarts, rolls, etc). Then I just place it in their lunch frozen with some other items that need to stay cool and usually everything is at just about the right temperature at lunchtime. If I'm packing a sandwich with meat, then I have a few lunch ice packs that I will put in with their lunch to keep them cool. If I am packing a hot lunch, then I will heat it up beforehand until it is piping hot and place it in an insulated thermos (sometimes I place tin foil around the food first) to keep it hot. That usually works well so that it will stay hot by the time lunch comes around.

Now it's your turn...What are your favorite school lunch ideas? How do your kids carry their lunch? How do you keep hot foods hot or cold foods cold? 

Thanks for sharing! Have a great day.

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