By Tiffany, Contributing Writer
The back-to-school season brings mixed emotions for parents. Some are excited for the kids to start the new school year in a new grade, with a new teacher. For those that homeschool, you might look forward to new curriculum or repeating a tradition of supply shopping with create-your-own smoothies. Kids, no doubt, look forward to seeing their friends again and going on fun, exciting field trips.
Unfortunately, there’s one big obstacle that every parent will encounter regardless of where their child goes to school: lunch.
In my opinion, the only thing worse than meal planning for dinner, is meal planning for school lunches. It’s not easy coming up with new, fresh ideas to feed our family real food on just $330 each month. Plus, there seems to be unwritten rules, precautions to take and things to consider before the lunch can even be made!
- We want our kids to eat healthy… but vegetable sticks just aren’t cool.
- However, we don’t want to buy special, expensive ingredients just for lunch… but packed lunches can’t be boring.
- We save money and waste less food by packing leftovers… but bringing the same thing two days in a row is a no-no.
As health-conscious parents, it’s a battle to find the balance between packing wholesome lunches and packing something the kids will enjoy. Fortunately, this school lunch meal plan satisfies everyone involved:
- It’s fun. What kid doesn’t like pizza or a box full of items to dip?!
- It’s frugal. One week of healthy lunches can be made for less than $5. Really!
- It’s easy. These ideas don’t require special kitchen skills and can be made in a few minutes while preparing or cleaning up dinner.
- It’s fast. From start to finish, you can have an entire week of lunches ready in less than 30 minutes.
- It’s healthy. There’s nothing processed in these lunches – just real, delicious food!
Note: This plan is written for one elementary-aged child. Modify serving portions as needed.
5 Easy Real Food School Lunches Ready in 30 Minutes for Less Than $5
Big and Little Dippers, Total Approximate Cost $1.19
- 1/2 apple, sliced (22¢)
- 2 homemade pretzels (32¢)
- 1 cup sliced/cut seasonal veggies (25¢)
- Dips: 2-3 Tbsp homemade nut butter, mustard, guacamole, homemade ranch, hummus, homemade Greek yogurt, etc. (40¢)
Tip: Some ideas for lunch-box friendly dipping vegetables include broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, tomato wedges and sweet potato fries. Choose 2-3 that are affordable and in season.
Buffalo Chicken Strips, Total Approximate Cost $1.08
- 3-4 slices of chicken breast from leftover whole roasted chicken (28¢)
- 1 carrot and 1 rib celery, sliced into sticks (20¢)
- 1 small piece of seasonal fruit and water (20¢)
- Dips: 2-3 Tbsp of mild or medium wing sauce, homemade ranch and/or homemade blue cheese dressing (40¢)
Tip: Save money by choosing a dip based on what you’re already using in the current meal plan, what you currently have on hand and your child’s preferences.
Real Food Lunchables, Total Approximate Cost $0.86
- 1/4 batch of homemade whole grain crackers (8¢)
- 2 ounces of sliced cheese (40¢)
- 2 ounces (approx 2 slices) of leftover roasted chicken (18¢)
- small piece of seasonal fruit + water (20¢)
Homemade Hot Pockets, Total Approximate Cost $0.81
- 2 homemade hot pockets (61¢)
- 1 small piece of seasonal fruit + water (20¢)
Tip: Here is an excellent way to pack homemade hot pockets so that they’re warm for lunch. These too can be made ahead of time and frozen. Just be sure to re-heat before you send the child off to school!
Homemade Uncrustables, Total Approximate Cost $0.86
- 2 slices homemade bread (12¢)
- 2 Tbsp homemade nut butter (21¢)
- 2 Tbsp homemade fruit butter (13¢)
- 2 small pieces of seasonal fruit + water
Tip: Only buy special tools like this sandwich cutter and sealer if your kids really don’t like crusts and you make these often. Otherwise, save your money and use a wide-mouth jar or a glass to cut the sandwich instead. Also, these sandwiches can be made ahead of time and frozen!
Total Cost of 5 Real Food Lunches = $4.80
Healthy food doesn’t have to be difficult and it certainly doesn’t have to be boring! Think outside the box when you’re meal planning and give lunch an extra dose of creativity. With a mere spin on conventional school lunch ideas, you can send your child off to school with a healthy school lunch that will make even the pickiest eater proud to say they packed!
What is your greatest struggle with school lunches? How do you overcome that hurdle?
Want even more healthy lunch ideas? Kitchen Stewardship’s The Healthy Lunchbox has 45 real food recipes, plus 8 colorful printables. You’ll be ready to pack amazing lunches for your family this fall! Pick up your copy HERE!