Making sure your kid is well-fed at school isn’t always easy. If you buy school lunches, you run the risk of your child not liking what is served and refusing to eat. Plus, those lunches are pretty expensive to just throw away.
Packing your child’s lunch gives you more control over what they eat, but if you aren’t careful, it can take a toll on your wallet, too. It’s also easy to fall into the bad habit of sending cheap, easy snacks that provide little nutritional value. Sure, they keep your kid happy, and they make mornings quick and easy, but the lack of nutrition is a serious concern. In addition to being detrimental to your child’s health, they may not even be allowed be by the school.
So, what is a parent to do? When you want to provide proper nutrition without spending a fortune, it takes a bit of planning and prep work. It’s easier than you may think, though. Here’s some helpful advice on packing affordable and nutritious school lunches for your child.
When it comes to packing healthy lunches without breaking the bank, the key is to plan ahead. Taking a few extra minutes on the weekend to shop for the best deals and prep meals in bulk saves a lot of time during the week, and the effort is likely to pay off big. By saving money on food, you can widen your child’s back to school clothing budget and making it easier to buy a few more uniform polo shirts and t shirts.
A healthy lunch should include protein, produce and healthy fats. Instead of buying just enough ingredients to make a single lunch, buy in larger quantities. Cook proteins in advance, and store them in serving-sized packages. Wash and cut veggies and fruit, and pack them in individual bags or containers so they’re ready to toss in lunch boxes. Something as simple as buying an entire bag of baby carrots instead of purchasing the individual serving packages will add up in terms of savings.
There is no reason why last night’s dinner can’t be today’s healthy lunch. Save those extra salad veggies for a lunchtime salad, and toss the leftover roasted chicken in a sandwich. You could even intentionally prepare a bit extra at dinnertime for the sole purpose of having leftovers for the next day. Doing so is smart since it saves time, reduces waste and helps you spend less on school lunches.
Make It Kid-Friendly
There are probably a lot of vegetables and other healthy foods that you would love to send to school with your child. If they don’t like what you are sending, though, they are just going to throw it in the trash. This, of course, is a huge waste of money and prevents your kids from getting the nutrients they need at lunchtime.
When planning your nutritious school lunches, remember to keep them kid-friendly. You may love plain, fresh broccoli, but there is a good chance that your son or daughter doesn’t. When sending fresh veggies, also send a small container of ranch dressing or another favorite dip. If you pack a salad, make it a bit more appealing by mixing in some dried cranberries.
Give a Lunchtime Classic a Healthy Makeover
Most of our mothers packed us sandwiches when we headed off to school. Folks, plain white bread, bologna and American cheese is no longer considered a “healthy” lunch. And the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Forget about it. Peanut butter is banned in many schools. The classic sandwiches we grew up with may not be the best choice today, but there are plenty of ways to add your own spin to make it a bit healthier.
Switch out the bread for a whole-wheat tortilla or pita, and load it with slices of roasted chicken or turkey breast. For cheese, use cream cheese or a slice of cheddar. Add a few slices of lettuce or spinach, and you have a modern take on the classic sandwich that is just as tasty as it is healthy. Your kids will love it, and since you can make it for around $1 per serving, your bank account will love it, too.
Skip the Store-Bought Desserts
They’re convenient, but most prepackaged treats are extremely unhealthy. Not only are they loaded with sugar and calories, but many also contain high levels of sodium and are packed with preservatives. While they may seem like a great deal, if you break it down to the cost per ounce, they’re also more expensive than they may seem at first glance.
Instead of wasting your money and loading your kids up with junk, make your own desserts. Baking a large batch of granola bars or whole-grain cookies doesn’t cost much, and it keeps a lot of unnecessary fat, calories, sodium, etc. out of your child’s body. Plan to bake in large batches, and store the treats in the freezer until you are ready to use them.
Switch to Reusable Containers
Packing a healthy and affordable lunch isn’t just about the foods you choose. You can also make school lunches a bit more affordable by using reusable stainless steel or plastic containers instead of plastic baggies. It may cost a bit more in the beginning, but once you have a collection of containers for different food items, you’ll never have to worry about buying more. Plus, when you use reusable containers, you never have to discover at 6:00 a.m. that you are out of bags and have no way to pack your child’s lunch.
As parents, we want to provide our kids with the best possible nutrition both at home and when they are in school. Packing their lunch gives you control over what they eat, and with a little careful planning, you can create meals that are delicious, nutritious and won’t cost a fortune to prepare.