Low cost kids lunch ideas?

Azarae_DuskeApril 16, 2003

Any ideas for low cost lunches to pack for grade school kids?

I'm terrible at creative food ideas so I started packing lunches when the girls started eating 2 seconds after they came home because they wouldn't eat the school lunch(I can't blame them, yuck).

Fruits I pack daily, but other than p.b.&j or lunchmeat sandwiches...I'm in a rut..


Azarae D.

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Sometimes I pack peanut butter on crackers or meat & cheese rolled up. Who says you need bread? Mine loves lunchables but the cost! make you own. I got the ziplock plastic containers with 3 different size compartments. The lid snaps securely around each compartment. Reuseable, love it!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2003 at 5:04AM
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When I was a kid, my mom made peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches for us, occasionally, for a suprise.

Kroger has a store-brand individually-wrapped cheese string stuff. It was much cheaper than the Kraft and Sargento.

My DD starts kindergarten next fall. The school lunch program is $8 per week. I'm thinking I could not possibly make her lunches for any cheaper than that. What do you think?

    Bookmark   April 17, 2003 at 7:28AM
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Karen, I'd go for the school lunch program if I could (I can't, at my school). I agree, I don't think you could make them for less. And oh my goodness--to not have to make lunch in the morning! (or the night before)

It's only if the kid won't eat them that it's a problem.

I have the same PB&J problem, bcs they can't reheat. And my kid is a picky eater. They eat early enough in the day that I don't worry bologni or salami would spoil. And yogurt counts as protein (I just have trouble getting her to eat some bread; sometimes I just send a slice of whole-wheat).

    Bookmark   April 17, 2003 at 3:09PM
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Ham and cheddar cheese sandwich? I find that Black Forest (or cooked) ham by the pound at the deli counter is much cheaper per pound than the 1/3 of a pound or so in prepackage.

This may sound a bit odd - but how about an apple in one hand and a small block of cheese in the other, eaten together?

I like salmon (or tuna) mixed with a small amount of sour cream for sanwish filling. (The way that word turned out was too good to fix (:~) ).

Some like peanut butter and banana.

Do your young uns like dates? Maybe a few to finish off lunch.

Here's to happy munchin'.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   April 17, 2003 at 5:45PM
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Sometimes changing the presentation can help too, like using a cookie cutter to cut a P&J sandwich into a shape, like a star. Most kids like dips, maybe a container of dip, some veggies, or try that carmel stuff, I think it's called Marzettis with an apple, if they can't cut it at school, dip the slices in lemon juice. My mom used to make pear half mice, with raisins for eyes, shaved carrots for hair, licorice tie for a tail when I was little, and I loved that. All in a tupperware container. Doing rollups in a tortilla is fun too, like chicken with red pepper, lettuce, maybe some cheese or olives, and a little container of Italian dressing for dipping, or any number of other rollups-ham, cheese, mustard, lettuce, some chips on the side...maybe when you are cleaning up from dinner something will lend itself to being cold for lunch, maybe leftover london broil, sliced thin, in a salad, or chicken same way, etc. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2003 at 7:01PM
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How about a roast beef wrap? Just spread some cream cheese on a tortilla, top with a slice of roast beef, and roll it up. Salsa chicken is good cold. Just get some boneless skinless chicken breasts, throw them in a crockot, pour a jar of salsa over it, and cook until the chicken shreds apart. That makes a great tortilla or pita filling. I also add black beans, corn, experiment with different salsas.

I used to eat peanut butter apples when I had a retainer (I couldn't bite into a whole apple). Mom would slice an apple in half and spread peanut butter on each half. That was really yummy. Sometimes she'd put raisins on it too.

Mom would also pack some soups in a thermos for me. That was great on a cold winter day. The soup stayed surprisingly warm in a thermos.

Now there are those insulated lunch bags and you can add freezer packs to them to keep the lunches from spoiling. Cut up fruit salad is great on hot days. I make a huge batch ahead once a week or so- chop up apples, oranges, kiwi, pineapple (use the already cut canned), mangos, strawberries, add blueberries, grapes, whatever your kids like and store it in a large tupperware container. Dish out into small containers to take to lunch. I just don't add bananas in the big batch because they tend to get mushy fast- add them the morning of when you pack the lunch.

With those insulated lunch bags you can also give them yogurt, pasta salads, macaroni salads, etc. without worrying about spoilage. I wish I had those when I was a kid. I have one now for college, but I also can use a microwave at school so my possibilities are pretty much endless. You should see the faces of my classmates when I whip out the fixins for a huge taco salad...

    Bookmark   April 17, 2003 at 10:24PM
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Even if school lunches seem cheaper, check out their nutritional content. I'm not necessarily a health buff, but I have eaten with my children in the cafeteria on occasion. It floored me what the school lunches consisted of. Yes, they "offer" fruit and veggies, but few children go to that area to get them. I decided that my children can buy lunch once a week if they want, but other than that, I am making it. (School lunches are $2 each.) At least I know what's in the lunches I make! I have been making lunches for quite awhile (oldest is 13) and what I now do is have a "snack box" that only comes out when we are making lunches. I make the sandwiches and they choose a couple of items from the snack box. Sometimes I buy things from the bulk foods section of our grocery store and then I package them into individual zip-lock baggies. I put them in the snack box along with cereal/granola bars, chips, etc. As for sandwiches, my kids like the ol' stand-bys: PB & J on wheat bread, turkey on wheat bread, or roast beef on hoagie rolls. I teach preschoolers and they bring their lunches to school. Many of them bring Go-gurts, cheese sticks, fruit cups, meat and crackers, etc. And, yes, some parents cut their sandwiches using cookie cutters (very cute!).

    Bookmark   April 18, 2003 at 1:54AM
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I refuse to cut my kids sandwiches into shapes just for lunch. For a b-day party, or a special treat one night, OK. But it's just lunch. I want my kids to just eat it, and not expect a song-and-dance every time!

I have a friend (whose kids I think get a little to indulged, judging mostly from how shrieky they get when they don't get their way) whose son will NOT eat a sandwich unless it's cut into triangles and arranged like a butterfly; so only his mom can make him a sandwich. I want my life simpler and more flexible than that.

I got really grumpy once at day-care when the caregiver cut the crusts off my son's sandwich before he even asked. That's the last thing I need--someone teaching him that "no crusts" is even an OPTION!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2003 at 5:30PM
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Thank Goodness I don't need to pack lunches anymore, but my son came up with a good idea for his family. He freezes the sandwiches in zip lock bags. On warm days he doesn't need to worry about spoiling. Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2003 at 11:12PM
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You are right! My daughter "learned" the no-crust habit somewhere other than my home. And boy have I had trouble 'un-learning' that one!

I know so many parents and schools that get children into odd habits. DD has a friend that won't eat food that has touched another food on the plate, and her mom encourages it! Funny thing is, when she's over and mom's not around, there is no complaining! LOL

I, too, won't do the fun sandwich shapes --- not because of starting a trend, but because of the waste involved. A lot of food gets thrown away. And the whole point of this thread is to pack frugal lunches!

I do give DD a choice of rectangle or triangle with her slices, so that she feels that she has some input.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2003 at 7:42AM
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Karen, offer her long, skinny strips one time--those can me yet-another-pb&j more fun to eat.

(also, I do the "in our family we eat the crusts" routine--very firmly. And sometimes I encourage him to "bite the head off that snake" when he's left a little strip of crust. I *like* the crusts!)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2003 at 1:40PM
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Spaghetti or ziti leftovers in a thermos. As a treat once every two weeks I will put a couple warmed hot dogs in the thermos and then put two buns with mustard on them in the lunch box. Grapes and apples are easiest to send along. Yogurt/granola/banannas.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2003 at 9:54AM
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I can't force my kids to eat their crusts because IIII don't eat my crusts! I really hate the crusts, and I am a grown adult! But I don't cut my crusts off my own sandwich (whew! You'd be worried if I did, right?) and I just simply eat up to the crust and throw it away (not in front of my preschool students, though). I do the same for my own children - I don't care if they eat the crusts or not, but I also don't cut them off. And then there is the whole wheat bread/Wonder white bread thing. My DH somehow introduced white bread into our family and for awhile my children would only eat white bread. I stupidly fell into it and gave them white bread. One day the light bulb came on and I realized I could change this. (!!!) I simply refused to have white bread in the house and slowly they got used to wheat (although my middle son still complains).

    Bookmark   April 23, 2003 at 2:01AM
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I left my Reader's digest up at the hospital yesterday so I can't tell you the acual source, but they quoted a study that showed that if you eat a crumb from the crust you get 90% of the antioxidants in bread, but a crumb from the rest of the bread only has 10% of the antioxidants.


You're right about wheat. I learned to enjoy wheat bread a few years back when I tried the old Tfactor diet. Now that I'm on WW, I realize I can eat more bread if I buy whole wheat, due to the fiber content.

DD Has no aversion to whole wheat because we give it to her all the time. In fact, when we eat at Boston Market, we never eat the cornbread. We ask for wheat rolls, and they happily give it to us. She loves it more than the cornbread.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2003 at 7:16AM
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My wanting them to eat the crusts has more to do with the idea that I don't want the task of throwing them away or cutting them off in the first place.

It makes sense, Karen; the crust is far denser; there's more air, even in a crumb, from the middle.

I've trained my kids to eat whole wheat--we all like it better, mostly because we all eat it as our only kind of bread.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2003 at 3:54PM
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Karen, my advice would be to pack your daughter's lunches, even if it costs more than school lunches. My SO recently started teaching at a school with federal lunches, and all they are is a garbage dump for the country's surplus of saturated fat. Really really nasty, totally unhealthy.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2003 at 10:41PM
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You can certainly pack lunches cheaper than the school. Besides, you keep control of what's actually in the food your children are eating.

Go to www.laptoplunches.com for a great lunch box system that is good for the environment and your budget in the long run. I have four kids so throwing away 20 ziploc sandwich bags and countless snack size bags is just senseless. They also have pics of how folks use the system and some great recipe ideas too. I'm even doing cloth napkins this year! My mother, who loves to sew and has a serger, volunteered to make the kids napkins for their lunch boxes (themed of course). They haven't arrived yet, but I'm so excited!

OK, here are some of the recipe's that are in heavy rotation at my house. I cut recipes out and put in a binder in plastic sleeves so the kids can make these themselves. The plastic sleeves help keep the recipe and pictures clean. The binder is in our "lunch box station" of the kitchen where everything they need to pack lunches is located in one spot. It helps me know what we're low on and I have a piece of paper posted inside the cabinet that says...

1. Sandwich, 2. Crunchy (pretzels, celery, carrots, etc.), drink, 3. wet snack (fruit, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.), 4. dry snack (mini-muffin, peanuts, etc.), 5. dessert, 6. Napkin, 7. Utensil (if needed). Do you have at least seven things in your lunch?

Waffle Apple sandwich: Two whole grain frozen waffles, 2% american cheese, low sodium ham, 1 sliced green apple.

Pinwheel Bites: 1 slice 100% whole wheat bread (we use sugar free) with crust removed, 1 Tbs low fat mayo, 2 slices turkey breast, 1 slice 2% cheddar cheese. Flaten bread with rolling pin or drinking glass. Spread bread with mayo. Top with turkey and cheese; roll up tightly. Cut crosswise into 4 pinwheels. Stack and wrap tightly and wrap in plastic wrap if needed.

Turkey Tortilla Wrap: 1 whole wheat tortilla (warm if needed to make more pliable), 1 Tbs light cream cheese, 2 Tbs salsa, 3 slices turkey breast, 2 Tbs shredded cheddar, 2 lettuce leaves. Spread tortilla with cream chesses spread and salsa. Top with turkey, cheese and lettuce. Roll up tightly. Cut in half and wrap in plastic wrap if needed.

All-American Hero: 1/4 c shredded lettuce, 1 Tbs newmans own organic ranch dressing, 1 whole wheat hot dog bun, 1 slice turkey bologna, 1 slice 2% cheese of y our choice cut in half. Toss lettuce with dressing, fill bun with bologna, cheese, sliced tomatoes and lettuce mixture. Wrap in plastic if necessary.

Pizza-dilla: 1 whole wheat tortilla, 1/4 c shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 Tbs pizza sauce, 1 Tbs each chopped tomatoes and green peppers. Top tortilla with sauce and remaining ingredients; fold in half. Wrap in plastic wrap if necessary. Microwave on high for 15 seconds or until cheese begins to melt and wrap in foil.

Bologna Wiggles: 1 slice turkey bologna cut into strips, 1 2% american cheese cut into strips, 1 Tbs ranch or mayo, 1 100% whole wheat hot dog bun, partially split. Toss bologna and 2% cheese with dressing or mayo; serve in bun.

Turkey BBQ Fold: 1 slice whole wheat bread, 1 tsp light mayo or low fat ranch, 1 tsp bbq sauce, 1 slice 2% American cheese, 3 slices turkey breast, 3 slices cucumber. Spread bread with dressing or mayo and bbq sauce; fil with remaining ingredients. Fold in half.

We typically don't do traditional chips with lunch (cheetos, fritos, doritos), but opt for Sunchips or Pretzels made with wheat flour instead (Synders is a good choice). Look for "Cheddar Bunnies" and other products by Aunt Annie in the organic isle of your grocery instead of Gold Fish crackers which have trans fats and/or hydrogenated oils...I can't remember which. We keep the following on had for lunches...

apples (red and green)
whole wheat tortillas
mini carrots
green and red peppers
cheddar cheese sticks

Lastly, check out Jessica Seinfield's book entitled, Deceptively Delicious for some good snack/lunch ideas for your kiddies. I make cookies and mini-muffins (banana chocolate chip, zucchini, and carrot) once each month for lunches. For cookies, I make the dough and freeze in little balls so all I have to do is pop them in the oven. For muffins, I make the muffins and then freeze them so that we just pull a batch out for the week on Sunday night. It sounds time consuming, but the kids help and it's healthier for them so it's worth it. I use 1/2 wheat flour + 1/2 all-purpose flour (all wheat would put the kids over the edge), LOL. I add about 2 Tbs ground flax seed meal + Fiber-Sure to the cookies AND the muffins and the kids have never ever complained. I feel great that they are no longer taking Oreo's, Dorito's, or granola bars and other processed foods with all of the chemicals, trans fats, hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup (and other unknown junk that you can't even pronounce).

The older I get the more I realize that convenience items are not only filling the landfills (you can't recycle juice boxes or mini chip bags) but filling our bodies with toxins. Little changes can make all the difference in the world. Start small...

I hope this helps someone!


P. S. I like to send turkey hot dogs as an occasional treat too. The thermos is a fantastic idea. My son just loves it when I send in hot dogs. You can also send in chicken nuggets the same way.

P. P. S. Also check out www.wastefreelunches.com. They actually give the numbers on how much $$ you can save each year by omitting convenience items and baggies, etc.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 11:22AM
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I don't want to burst any bubbles, but for a couple years I was the school secretary in a suburban K-6. Kids throw away or trade their homemade lunches, even if they're cut into fancy shapes or come in cute packages. And they hate hauling empty containers home. You'd be shocked, shocked I tell you, at what the teachers and I took home every single day! Need a new set of plastic containers? Take your choice from the garbage.

Store bought lunches (any kind at all - lunchables, deli sandwiches, anythin off a shelf) are all the kids want, or they want school lunches. And they throw away almost all the fresh fruit, whether it's cut, cute, good for them or the only thing in the lunch box.

Just so you know.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 10:28PM
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One of my friends works in a daycare where the kids all bring their own foods from home. She said the same thing that Shermann did. We think the kids throwing the healthy food away probably don't really eat that food at home either. Some of the parents do things like throwing in a few carrots for show. The kids eat junk food at home all of the time so why would they eat the healthy food at school. My kids do eat healthier at home than most of these kids. They specifically ask for things like carrots or cantalope in their lunch. They ask for Cheetos too. Once in a while I do give in to the non-healthy stuff too.

The school allows me to eat with my kids once a month. It's interesting to see what gets eaten and what doesn't. My kids refuse to eat the school lunch. I don't blame them. It's not something I'd eat either. Some of those lunches sent to the school by the parents aren't any better - Capri Sun or Gatorade, chips and lunchables. The kids will drink all of the drink and then barely touch the other stuff. Anything opened gets thrown away.

My 6 yo decided that he wanted lunchables last year so I came up with a health(ier) and cheaper idea of 'home made lunchables' I have a special Spiderman container where I throw in some cheese (sometimes low fat), lean lunch meat, a fruit or veggie like apples, grapes, cantelope, pickles or carrots and the special surprise which could be a Hershey's Kiss or bite size Snickers. I steer toward some of the lower fat alternatives, but still allow a little fun. My child is happy because he got what he asked for. I do not send drinks to school. My kids have money in their accounts at school and they can choose from milk or drink from their water bottle.

I don't buy white sandwich bread so my kids are happy with whole wheat. I do make exceptions and buy the flavored deli loafs with various herbs off the clearance racks. My kids love to have sandwiches from that. They enjoy it when I experiment with various bread maker recipes at home. We're still working on it, but eventually, we will find some tasty bread recipes that aren't all white flour.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 12:11PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

Depending on the age of the kid, if they failed to bring home their containers I would either make them pay for news or do extra chores to purchase new ones. When possible, I use plastic wrap for sandwiches, chips, homemade cookies, etc. The bulk roll purchased at Sam's lasts a long time and I have found that the cheapest way to go without too much excessive waste. I have little reuseable containers for things like applesauce or pudding.

My 4yo gets a sandwich, a piece of fruit (those are often in their own packaging)and a drink. Sometimes it may be Go-Gurt, a muffin, fruit and a drink. For the drinks, I freeze a little chocolate milk or whatever else I may have in a little sipper sports bottle and then add more in the morning and it is still fresh at lunch time. Before we homeschooled the older 2, on the rare occasion I purchased snack cakes or things of that nature, they would be shared between 2 lunch boxes. Once a week I would allow them to look at the lunch menu and determine when they would like to purchase lunch. I have to say that most of our lunches come in considerably under the $1.70 a person charged at the elementary school.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 12:34PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I would find out first what they want to eat.

I must be in the minority, but all through elementary school I had basically two lunches. Peanut butter or ham sandwich with chips in a bag (Doritoes, fritoes, potato chips..) OR a Little Debbie. Sometimes I also had fruit but I wasn't that interested in it.I had milk in my thermos.
I was thin and healthy. Still am 35 years later.
I'm a gourmet cook now and the world is my palate. I eat interesting and various things daily. But I still think some kids like routine and familiarity at that age.
I did not like vegetables or fruit until my late teens.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 3:37PM
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My big guy used to love homemade biscuits and fried chicken in his lunch. The biscuits were left over from breakfast and the chicken was left over from dinner and refrigerated. He also liked sausage biscuits or sausage burgers. Use a plastic pill bottle washed in the dishwasher to put dressing in. Kids like to dip their veggies in the little bottles.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 11:01PM
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hi all...thanks for the great tips! just lurking here. my kids pack, including a drink. they can buy milk at school (60 cents for a half pint) but chocolate milk or "fruit drink" are choices and they would make that choice every single day if they could. i know they throw things out but we also have amnesty for uneaten items, so they bring the containers home without fear of being yelled at for not having eaten the item. also, one has a pink princess sandwich container...that ALWAYS comes home. i, too, ate lunch once at the school and although i like junk food very much, it was nasty...flimsy french toast sticks, fake syrup, and wet sausage...need i say more? oh and yeah, it cost 2.35. good luck, my favorite was always bologna wrapped around an olive and secured with a toothpick. kren

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 11:45AM
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I remember when I was a kid, back in the 60's, the school lunch cost 35 cents and a carton of moilk alone was four cents. More recently, my daughter who just turned twenty, used to bring a bag lunch I made for her. She had all kinds of tupperware and thermous containers that never made it back home. She told me recently she always threw away any fruits or vegetables, sometimes all she ate were the snack food (twinkies,cupcakes,etc). And when she got to high school she used her lunch money for french fries. Well, at least it wasn't for drugs. . .

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 5:10PM
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My children's school lunches are $2.75! Luckily, they refuse to buy (my DD says "it's all gross!").

I like to get them Arby's Junior roast beef sandwiches (99 cents with a coupon. They eat them cold or heated in a thermos container.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 9:07PM
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