Money Saving 301
July 9, 2021

Thrifty School Lunch Ideas

School is back in session and with that comes the sometimes daunting task of packing lunches daily! Need some tips to change up your kids’ school lunch routine? Whether they pack or buy lunch at the school cafeteria, having a game plan can you help you make this task a little easier, and hopefully tastier too! We’ve rounded up some ideas for keeping your kids fueled up during the day – without draining your budget.

Buying vs. Packing

Let’s give the school lunch ladies a round of applause. They work hard to get a hot, nutritious meal in front of your child during the school day – and those meals tend to be reasonably priced (even free, if you qualify). But even a free lunch doesn’t do your child any good if they aren’t eating it. Some studies done over last few years show high levels of food waste in school cafeterias. In other words, a lot of the food (especially when it comes to healthy fruits and vegetables) that’s put-on kids’ trays get thrown in the trash. That means many kids may not be getting the fuel they need to get through the school day alert and ready to learn.

What about your kids? If they get lunch from the cafeteria but come home extra-hungry on a regular basis, several factors could be at play. Maybe they didn’t like what was on the menu that day or maybe they’re bored with the cafeteria’s offerings if they’ve been at the school for several years already. Maybe they like the food just fine, but don’t have time to finish it. Class schedules are tight – and lunch periods tend to be short. If your child has to spend 15 minutes in the lunch line, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for them to finish everything that’s on their tray.

Sending kids to school with a packed lunch can help with the time factor and with pleasing a picky eater – but if you’ve been relying on the same old staples to fill your child’s lunch bag, maybe it’s time to change things up a little. We’ve rounded up some fresh, affordable ideas for getting your kids to love lunch again.

Mix it up

It helps to get you and your kids familiar with what the school cafeteria is dishing up. Which school meals do they love? Which ones do they complain about? To make sure they’re getting a good lunch each day, check each week’s lunch menu in advance and plan accordingly. If the cafeteria serves up your kid’s favorites on Monday and Friday, have them eat the hot lunch on those days and pack for the rest of the week. By doing a combination of cafeteria lunches and food packed from home, you can still get the benefit of low-cost, healthy lunches – and kids will be less likely to get bored or waste food they don’t like.

Get everyone involved 

For days when they’ll be packing, give kids healthy options in each major food category (protein, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables) and let them choose. Then have them participate in the food prep and packing their own lunches. This helps them learn about making smart nutritional choices and becoming self-sufficient. Plus, every member of the family will be more likely to enjoy lunch if they’ve had a say.

Say so-long to prepackaged lunches

Sure, those ready-made lunches that feature crackers, meat and cheese are easy. But they can also be pricey and full of additives. As a healthy alternative, buy some reusable containers. Fill them with items that are tasty and nutritious – like whole grain crackers, lean meats, cheese, veggies, yogurt and fruit.

Pack inexpensive foods with big nutritional punch

Scan your weekly grocery ads to see what’s cheap or on sale and build your “packed lunch day” menus around nutritious choices that you can get for less. Try to choose one or two sale items from each food group (think protein, grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy). To prevent boredom and waste, use perishable items in different ways. Cook as many hard-boiled eggs as you need on Sunday afternoon and store them in the fridge (they’ll keep for up to a week when refrigerated). Pack them whole for Monday. Slice them up and toss them into a salad for Wednesday. On Friday, chop them up to include in an egg salad sandwich.

Pack smarter

In addition to getting kids involved in the process, make packing easier on everyone by combining tasks. Designate Sunday as a meal prep day for the whole week, or pack leftovers into the next day’s lunch as you’re cleaning up after dinner.

To stay alert and engaged in the classroom, kids need the right fuel. By getting your kids involved, choosing wisely and thinking outside the typical lunchtime routine, you can help keep them on the right track.

What are your favorite school lunch strategies? Visit the Check `n Go Facebook page and share!