Back to School Lunches

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on August 24, 2009

2819631867_e883bd80c6Here are a few tips for packing lunches!!!

1. Think REUSABLE, not DISPOSABLE!!!

I did a cost comparison of a few popular lunch box items…prepacked vs. make and pack yourself.  And “REUSABLE” saves…not only waste, but money as well!

  • Carrots: 1 lb. bag of baby carrots $1.77 vs. 1 lb. bag of whole carrots $.67 – Take 3 minutes to peel and cut yourself.  $1 a week = $36 savings on the year!
  • Raisins: Large 15 oz. box of raisins $2.49 vs. 7 oz. of smaller mini boxes $1.99 – Divide out raisins into small containers instead of sending the little boxes.  $1 a week = $36
  • Jello (sugar-free): $.72 for make your own jello vs. $1.89 for jello cups – Make a large bowl and then divide it out into smaller containers.
  • Cheese Cubes: 16 oz. cheese block $2.99 vs. 7 oz. prepacked cut cheese $2.50 – Per ounce, you could save $2 a week by buying a large block and cutting your own cheese cubes!
  • This principle applies to all prepackaged “convenience” foods!

2. Spend 15-20 minutes on a Sunday night making jello, cutting carrots and cheese cubes, and dividing up raisins.  If you could save $2 PER LUNCHBOX PER DAY by doing a little legwork yourself each week, you could save over $350 PER LUNCHBOX this school year!  If you pack more than 1 lunch, there is potential for saving LOTS of $$$!

3. Give your kids a choice about what they want in their lunch.  Offer grapes, raisins or blueberries.  Don’t say “What do you want?” Because they’ll likely ask for a sugar laden snack!

4. Wrap your small blue ice pack in a small kitchen towel to keep the “thawing condensation” from making a mess in the lunchbox.

5. Keep sugar content LOW.  Bake your own muffins vs. sending a “high fructose corn syrup” snack.  Your teacher will thank you!

6. Of course, use coupons and watch sales.

7.  And don’t forget a sweet note of adoration every few days!

Visit LunchinaBox.net and LaptopLunches.com for more great ideas!

Have any favorite lunch packing tips or tricks???  Do share!!!

Happy Back to School Lunch Making!!!

Photo Credit: ficbot

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Janel August 24, 2009 at 9:59 am

I’ve always done the same thing with the raisins, cheese, etc. I had no idea I was saving that much money!

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Cortney @ evanhaslanded August 24, 2009 at 10:01 am

Believe it or not, teachers (speaking as a teacher) can DEFINITELY tell the students who eat a more balanced lunch than those who eat sugary and high fat lunches!! The “high” ends about 45 minutes after lunch and the kids are less attentive and more sluggish!! Their work shows it too! Students who eat a healthier diet tend to score higher on test/quizzes/assignments!

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Biz August 24, 2009 at 10:36 am

I actually think that whole carrots taste better than baby carrots too!

Thanks for the ideas!

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Erin August 24, 2009 at 10:47 am

Me too!!!

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Amy Miller August 24, 2009 at 11:43 am

Don’t forget to invest in a thermos! You can send yummy soups,leftovers that have been reheated in the morning before school,and of course hot drinks to recharge your child on those chilly fall and winter mornings! I have even been known to pack a hot dog in chili for my son to make his own chili dog with the bun packed along with his condiments!

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Gina August 24, 2009 at 1:43 pm

A few more ideas: invest in ziploc or other plastic containers so you can stop buying plastic baggies. Teach your kids to close up the containers tightly after eating juicy things (you can make your own fruit cups by dividing up larger packs of peaches & pineapple) or serve hummus or ranch to go with veggies. You can even throw in a fun cloth napkin; just make sure the kids know to bring them home and not toss them!

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Katie August 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm

These are some great tips! Thanks for sharing!

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Katherine August 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm

This article was on my list to write, but rather than writing it myself, I’m just going to link to you! Great ideas. Reusable rather than disposable is “green” too so that’s one more reason to pat yourself on the back!

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Rebecca August 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I found some small plastic containers with lids that are a similar size to the jello or pudding cups at the store. Try looking in the baby aisle. Baby snack size reusable containers are also good for single servings of chips and crackers and they don’t get crushed!

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Lindsey August 24, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Thanks so much for the laptoplunches.com link! My husband and I have been trying to think of a system we could use to bring our lunches to work! I was esp worried about cheap, bad plastics. It will be a great way to pack healthy left overs without using baggies.

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Judie Ashford August 24, 2009 at 4:49 pm

You can also make your own gelatin dessert instead of using the boxed brand. It is firmer and you know what is in it. Mix one envelope of unflavored gelatin with 1/4 cup of cold water and let it soften. Heat in microwave or on stove until mixture is clear, and almost boils. This takes a very short period of time – maybe a minute or two.

Stir in one and a half cups of your own 100% fruit juice, pour into a shallow container, and chill.

For the lunchbox, cut into cubes and put into the Bento container. No artificial anything! ;->

judilyn

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Candace August 24, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Hurray for low-sugar snacks! Yes, I’m a teacher, and it is so evident which students did and didn’t have a balanced lunch in the afternoon.

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Angie August 25, 2009 at 8:49 am

Love the helpful tips. Here is another one. When cutting up carrot sticks and celery sticks, store them in a container full of water in the fridge. It will actually prevent the white look to carrot and the curling of the sticks and the browning of the cut ends of the celery. It also helps bring out the sweetness of the vege’s.

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Treva August 25, 2009 at 9:02 am

I second the ideas of pre-packing whatever you can on Sunday nights and the insulated container for hot foods. I actually just sent a rare treat to school with DD — mac-n-cheese with hotdogs! It’ll still be nice & toasty warm for her when lunch rolls around.

I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I find a small list of what to pack keeps me focused — 1 main item, 1 fruit, 1 veggie, 1 dairy (if no cheese in the main), 1 drink, 1 fun item. My DD is a healthy eater so her idea of fun item is yogurt or a scratch pumpkin/choc chip muffin or the Disney Princess raisins her grandma sent in a care package. Makes my life so much easier!

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Shari August 25, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Im especially excited because Im expecting my daughters laptop lunch today or tomorrow. When using a regular lunch box I always feel inclined to get prepackaged items because you can’t fit many plastic containers in a reg lunch box well. I always send my daughter with a small container (take and toss brand, but we dont toss) of applesauce or fruit salad but it smashes her sandwhich and then she won’t eat it. I can’t wait for our laptop lunch.

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B. Keefer August 25, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Don’t you just love those Laptop Lunches? We have 4 of them, and only one child. LOL DH takes his lunch and uses one, they are also great for family picnics etc. They are also great gifts for Holidays and birthdays!

I have a very nice collection of Bentos that get used on a daily basis. So much more environmentally friendly and the meals are just leaps and bounds more healthy than anything you will find in a school/work cafeteria, not to mention the savings involved.

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Suz August 25, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Have to say that I love the happy-sack I received from my sister for my bday last year. Ideal since it can be washed in the dishwasher OR washing machine + I can bring small amounts of crackers, grapes, sandwich, etc while using an eco-friendly container. http://happy-sacks.com

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Lynn August 25, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Check out the Dollar Tree for disposal plastic containers. Most times they have the brand names.

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Andrea August 27, 2009 at 7:29 pm

You know, I’ve seen a lot of blogs about back to school lunches, and I think back to my own school experience – we almost NEVER got to buy hot lunch. The whole, “spending money on lunches” is just so foreign to me!!

But I am LOVING the bento boxes, that is for certain. I went so far as to buy one for my 2 year old for when he starts kindergarten in 3 years. ;) I cannot WAIT to pack lunches every day – my dad (he was the Stay at home parent) packed my lunch almost every day until the day I graduated from high school! :)

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