Packing an awesome school lunch on a budget!

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Most kids are on Fall break right now and school starts back up on Monday, but this post comes from my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I opened my lunch bag as a child, only to be disappointed by a limp, sweaty bologna sandwich, a warm juice box and a bag of chips. My mom is an awesome cook, but lunches as a kid were always uninspired. She packed us the same lunch that our friends had.

Kids now have a lot more choices when it comes to lunches. Cooler bags/soft sided insulated bags are now chic, and many schools have restrictions on what kids can bring to school (mostly due to common food allergies).

Here are some tips that can help you pack a yummy, nutritious, frugal lunch for your kids (or heck, even for you if you pack your lunch for work):

  • Plan ahead. Take an inventory of your pantry, fridge and freezer.  Make a list of lunches you can make with what you’ve got on hand.
  • Eat what’s on sale! You’ll save more if you eat what’s in season.
  • Involve the eater of the lunch: if you involve the kids, they’ll be more apt to eat what’s packed.
  • Keep Lunch fun! Use cookie cutters (like this one– I love it for sliced cheese) to make sandwiches, fruit, and cheese into fun shapes.
  • Set aside time for prep: When you get home from the store, set aside some time to chop veggies, fruit, and cheese and place single servings in baggies. Store the baggies in a drawer in the fridge. Resist the urge to snack on them!
  • Resist the urge to buy individual packages of snacks. They are usually not the best value for your dollar. Set aside some time after your shopping trip to portion out cookies, crackers, snacks and even yogurt.
  • Along the same lines: Resist the urge to buy pre-made sandwiches, like UnCrustables. Many schools don’t allow Peanut Butter (or other nut butters) in school lunches.  If your kids love those sandwiches, make your own. All you need in an empanada press (like this one) or a Wonder Bread Sandwich Sealer and D-Cruster a loaf of bread, your fav. peanut or other nut/seed butter, and some jam or jelly. Make about 12 sandwiches for less than $10. The average price for a box of 4 UnCrustables is around $3.50! You can use whatever type of sliced bread you like too!
  • Sandwiches need not be an everyday food! Make wraps with tortillas, sliced cheese, deli meats, and flavored cream cheese. Send sliced cheese, sandwich meat, and crackers (think a homemade Lunchable!) in a plastic box in separate muffin papers. Cold Pizza, salads that include a protein, soup in a thermos, heck, even cereal in a plastic container and a thermos of cold milk.
  • Re-use your empty Mio containers to send condiments or salad dressing to keep sandwiches and salads from getting icky and soggy. Simply remove the wrapper from the empty bottle, pop the top off and clean out the bottle and lid.  Once they are dry, fill 1/2 to 3/4 full and write on the front of the bottle with a sharpie.
  • Don’t just stick to Major Grocery Store chains! I love shopping for lunch yummies at Grocery Outlet. They have a wide variety of crackers, cookies, lunch meat, and a killer cheese section!  Now that we have a Grocery Outlet and a 99 Cents Only in the same shopping center, I can get most of my school lunch shopping done in one trip!

Oh, and most importantly- Don’t forget the note. My mom always put a note in our lunch each day. It made my day, especially when I was having a hard morning!

Looking for more ideas on keeping school lunches fun? Here are a few books I found on Amazon:

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