Author Topic: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!  (Read 766 times)

LadyMustache

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Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« on: October 11, 2017, 11:30:14 AM »
Hi all,

I'm looking for some ideas for thrifty (and healthy) packed lunches and snacks for kids. I make lunch every day for my two older ones (8 and 6) as well as for my husband. Husband has salad and nuts every day, and is happy with that, but I suspect the kids' lunches and snacks are killing my food budget as I will often pack a ready-made granola bar/applesauce/packaged pretzels. I buy from Costco, but I know I don't need to tell you these things really add up. I know there have to be better options!

What do you make for them? What afterschool snacks do you give? Any cheap/healthy recipes to share? I'm happy to cook muffins/bars/whatever, as long as it's cheap and fairly easy.

Thanks!

LadyMustache

Millennialworkerbee

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2017, 12:16:25 PM »
Have you looked into reuseable pouches? I have these and we love them. The super easy route is adding canned applesauce to them, but of course you could go way more DIY than that. They are freezer and dishwasher safe! I think they have multiple sizes too.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00TXBSHBQ/ref=yo_ii_img?ie=UTF8&psc=1

elaine amj

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2017, 12:19:07 PM »
Why not just fresh fruit and veggies for snacks? Carrots, cucumbers, apples, grapes, oranges, tangerines, etc etc

I hate lunches though. My kids often take sandwiches, buttered pasta, fried rice, grilled cheese, pizza. So many crappy choices and not enough healthy meals :(

MBot

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2017, 12:24:04 PM »
This recipe is easy and unbelievably adaptable. Don't let the "low fat" moniker scare you, they just use some applesauce instead  of all oil

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/52635/low-fat-blueberry-bran-muffins/

I make these with half the sugar. These freeze great too.

Substitutions I have made
- for applesauce: banana, pumpkin, zucchini, chopped fruit
- for flour - usually I use all regular flour. I've also done part oats or part oat flour, all white flour and a little extra bran
- for egg - if I'm out I'll use a flax egg
- spices/add-ins - I've added molasses and pumpkin pie spices; added cranberries instead of or in addition to blueberries, or made plain with no add in an
- toppings - putting oats or pumpkin seeds on top looks nice :)

jeninco

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2017, 12:54:37 PM »
The majority of our lunches for years have been a piece of fruit, some veg, a muffin (for a snack) and little corn-tortilla quesadillas: warm corn tortillas, spread with mashed black beans, add salsa or hot sauce and some cheese (not too much), fold in half and toast in a dry skillet.

We also pack leftovers whenever we can make that work. Fallback is PBJ.

But there are always muffins and fruit. I estimate I've made over 5000 muffins since my kids were born. I recommend heavy-duty muffin tins and spray oil so that they are easy to remove. Also, make several dozen at a time: they keep fine in gallon-sized ziplock bags in the freezer, and are easy to either pop into lunches (they'll defrost) or the microwave to eat immediately.

mm1970

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2017, 01:02:39 PM »
I'm finally done with packing lunches! Kids get free lunch at school.

I always sent a fruit, a veg, a protein, and a carb for lunch.
Snacks were a killer. Only way I could limit them was to set a budget and when they are gone, they are gone.

carb: bread, hummus, pita, crackers, muffins, quesadillas, pasta
protein: cheese, sliced deli meat, beans, leftovers, eggs
fruit: applesauce pouches only when I was desparate.  Otherwise, whatever is on sale
veg: raw veg or leftover cooked veg
mixed nuts, homemade granola bars, etc.

100 days of real food has some good lunch ideas.  Her website, FB page, cookbooks.  Even just looking at the pictures gives me ideas on how to change it up.

Snacks at home: fruit, yogurt (in the big tub), cheese, veggies.

Lkxe

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2017, 01:27:36 PM »
We only have one school aged child left at home but Sunday is prep day. I bake a round of muffins and roll something in bread dough. Some weeks cookies or brownies. We package some veg ( mix of two) usually carrots, grape tomatoes, pea pods or cucumber slices. Then we pack some fruit -canned sometimes in jello, applesauce or whatever berries we have fruit salad if I’ve made it. Bananas don’t survive boys and apples can be quick to brown if cut (no knives allowed you know)
One lunch will be muffin and cheese. Two will be whatever was baked. We have made pizza Stromboli or ham,broccoli and cheese, pepper steak, chicken spinach and Alfredo, Black bean or aloo empanadas even just a hotdog or a cheese stick. One lunch will be leftovers (middle school has microwave) or I will make Mac and cheese with tuna and peas for his thermos.  One more lunch of triscuits and cheese. Or tortilla roll ups of veggie cream (I pulverize my own) or “squishy” cheese most often with spinach and turkey. And a treat granola bar. Trail mix, mini candy bar, homemade cookie or a dove chocolate square. Pasta salad works well, I can make that ahead or chopped salads.
After school is yogurt parfait ,smoothies or that apple or banana with peanut butter. Or nuts or more cheese or microwaved cheesy roll ups.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

LadyMustache

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2017, 06:57:08 AM »
Have you looked into reuseable pouches? I have these and we love them. The super easy

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00TXBSHBQ/ref=yo_ii_img?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Ooh, thanks for reminding me about these - actually a friend gifted me three of them  (different brand but same idea). Am going to try them out as just never got round to it. What do you fill yours with?

LadyMustache

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2017, 07:00:27 AM »
The majority of our lunches for years have been a piece of fruit, some veg, a muffin (for a snack) and little corn-tortilla quesadillas: warm corn tortillas, spread with mashed black beans, add salsa or hot sauce and some cheese (not too much), fold in half and toast in a dry skillet

Love the quesadillas idea, thanks! My six-year-old is veggie so this would be great for him :)

LadyMustache

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2017, 07:02:14 AM »
This recipe is easy and unbelievably adaptable. Don't let the "low fat" moniker scare you, they just use some applesauce instead  of all oil

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/52635/low-fat-blueberry-bran-muffins/

I make these with half the sugar. These freeze great too.

Substitutions I have made
- for applesauce: banana, pumpkin, zucchini, chopped fruit
- for flour - usually I use all regular flour. I've also done part oats or part oat flour, all white flour and a little extra bran
- for egg - if I'm out I'll use a flax egg
- spices/add-ins - I've added molasses and pumpkin pie spices; added cranberries instead of or in addition to blueberries, or made plain with no add in an
- toppings - putting oats or pumpkin seeds on top looks nice :)

Thank, MBot. These look perfect! Better stilll, I have all the ingredients already :)

LadyMustache

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2017, 07:04:45 AM »
I'm finally done with packing lunches! Kids get free lunch at school.

I always sent a fruit, a veg, a protein, and a carb for lunch.
Snacks were a killer. Only way I could limit them was to set a budget and when they are gone, they are gone

I like the idea of setting a specific budget for snacks. They work out so $$$ with three kids and a husband with an obsession with almonds and dried figs!

LadyMustache

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2017, 07:07:19 AM »
We only have one school aged child left at home but Sunday is prep day. I bake a round of muffins and roll something in bread dough. Some weeks cookies or brownies. We package some veg ( mix of two) usually carrots, grape tomatoes, pea pods or cucumber slices. Then we pack some fruit -canned sometimes in jello, applesauce or whatever berries we have fruit salad if Iíve made it. Bananas donít survive boys and apples can be quick to brown if cut (no knives allowed you know)
One lunch will be muffin and cheese. Two will be whatever was baked. We have made pizza Stromboli or ham,broccoli and cheese, pepper steak, chicken spinach and Alfredo, Black bean or aloo empanadas even just a hotdog or a cheese stick. One lunch will be leftovers (middle school has microwave) or I will make Mac and cheese with tuna and peas for his thermos.  One more lunch of triscuits and cheese. Or tortilla roll ups of veggie cream (I pulverize my own) or ďsquishyĒ cheese most often with spinach and turkey. And a treat granola bar. Trail mix, mini candy bar, homemade cookie or a dove chocolate square. Pasta salad works well, I can make that ahead or chopped salads.
After school is yogurt parfait ,smoothies or that apple or banana with peanut butter. Or nuts or more cheese or microwaved cheesy roll ups.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Great ideas, thanks! I like the idea of prep day. At the moment I get up at 6am and put them all together before I get the kids up. Seems to take forever.

kimmarg

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2017, 07:43:39 AM »
Have you looked into reuseable pouches? I have these and we love them. The super easy

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00TXBSHBQ/ref=yo_ii_img?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Ooh, thanks for reminding me about these - actually a friend gifted me three of them  (different brand but same idea). Am going to try them out as just never got round to it. What do you fill yours with?

I find fruit is easiest. I've tried various veggies but it never purees as well as the commercial snack pouches.  Canned fruit in 100% juice tossed in the blender works great. A 28oz can drained plus a 15oz can with juice makes about 8 pouches.  Apples, pears, peaches, applesauce, frozen berries also work well. Also you can freeze them. Just grab one from the freezer in the am and toss it in the lunchbox so they become both the ice pack and the afternoon snack.

FLBiker

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2017, 07:55:53 AM »
DD is only 2.5, but here's what we've been doing.

We use one "big" reusable container for the main course, usually either a fried egg or a PB&J.  We have two small reusable containers (very small, like 1/4 cup) that we do fruit or veg (ie sliced grapes, peas and carrots, sliced tomatoes, etc.).  We do include some "readymade" stuff, too, though.  Today, for example, she has an organic yogurt pouch that we got on sale.  Sometimes she'll have a string cheese.  And we use those reusable pouches to include crackers.  Oh, and she has a little jar of "trail mix" -- shelled sunflower seeds, chopped dates and cheerios.

Millennialworkerbee

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #14 on: October 12, 2017, 09:09:25 AM »
Have you looked into reuseable pouches? I have these and we love them. The super easy

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00TXBSHBQ/ref=yo_ii_img?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Ooh, thanks for reminding me about these - actually a friend gifted me three of them  (different brand but same idea). Am going to try them out as just never got round to it. What do you fill yours with?

I find fruit is easiest. I've tried various veggies but it never purees as well as the commercial snack pouches.  Canned fruit in 100% juice tossed in the blender works great. A 28oz can drained plus a 15oz can with juice makes about 8 pouches.  Apples, pears, peaches, applesauce, frozen berries also work well. Also you can freeze them. Just grab one from the freezer in the am and toss it in the lunchbox so they become both the ice pack and the afternoon snack.

Yeah I haven't had a lot of luck with adding veggies. Still trying though- I have the most success with orange veggies (carrot & sweet potato) mixed with applesauce. I've got a frozen banana "nice cream" experiment in the freezer to try too.

Most of the time, straight up unsweetened applesauce goes straight from the jar into the pouch :)

jac941

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #15 on: October 12, 2017, 11:34:16 AM »
There are some great ideas in here that I'm taking to add variety to my kids' lunches!

Our kids' preschool has a really strict food policy -- no sugar, no salt, no nuts and no disposable packaging. Practically this means no cookies, candy, muffins, dried fruits, crackers, chips, nuts or nut butter of any kind, etc. It also means no prepackaged single serving cheese sticks, yogurt, applesauce, fruit pouches, veggie sticks & dips, etc. unless we unwrap them or transfer them to another non disposable container. While annoying at first, this forced us to come up with a frugal, healthy, easy lunch / snack packing system that we've continued even though our older child has moved on to elementary school which has no restrictions.

So, here's what we do...

Dinner leftovers are our primary lunch strategy -- this covers roughly 50% of lunches. When our kids fail to eat dinner or eat only a small portion of what they've served themselves, the food left on their plates gets loaded directly into the lunchbox for the next day. We tend to cook a little more than we need to make it more likely that we'll have extra for lunches.

When we don't have dinner leftovers, we pack a fruit + veggie + protein + starch.

Fruit: Whatever is cheap or in season. Banana, apple, grapes, oranges, berries, melon, etc.
Veggie: My kids are pickier about veggies & prefer them raw so we just cut a bunch over the weekend and pack whatever we have. Carrots, celery, lettuce, cucumber, etc.
Protein + Starch: Often we can cover this with dinner leftovers -- e.g. chicken and rice, bean burritos or quesadillas, pasta, etc. If that's not possible, we have easy to pack proteins ready to go and pack them with a tortilla or slice of bread as the starch. Hard boiled eggs, lunch meat sandwich, cheese (cut off a block), beans, tofu, nuts or nut butter sandwich (for the elementary school kid only), etc.

The only extra food prep / cooking this requires is precutting some veggies & hard boiling a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the week. I have also occasionally cooked a big batch of beans and brown rice & made a dozen burritos for the freezer which I can pull out and thaw anytime for those days when we've got nothing. This system is mostly healthy, cheap, easy, and meets the strict preschool requirements. It also strongly discourages picky eating -- refused dinner foods are almost always lunch the next day.

For our own sanity, we use lunchbots bento boxes ($$$) instead of our regular tupperware to pack lunch because it means only 1 container & 1 lid per child to wash every day rather than 3-4 tupperware containers each. Plus, our older kid only gets 20 min to eat, and we've found that he tends to eat a wider variety of food when he only has to open 1 lid to get to all of it versus only eating 1 of the packed items when he has to fumble with a different lid for each food item.

LadyMustache

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #16 on: October 12, 2017, 04:39:57 PM »
There are some great ideas in here that I'm taking to add variety to my kids' lunches!

Our kids' preschool has a really strict food policy -- no sugar, no salt, no nuts and no disposable packaging. Practically this means no cookies, candy, muffins, dried fruits, crackers, chips, nuts or nut butter of any kind, etc. It also means no prepackaged single serving cheese sticks, yogurt, applesauce, fruit pouches, veggie sticks & dips, etc. unless we unwrap them or transfer them to another non disposable container. While annoying at first, this forced us to come up with a frugal, healthy, easy lunch / snack packing system that we've continued even though our older child has moved on to elementary school which has no restrictions.

So, here's what we do...

Dinner leftovers are our primary lunch strategy -- this covers roughly 50% of lunches. When our kids fail to eat dinner or eat only a small portion of what they've served themselves, the food left on their plates gets loaded directly into the lunchbox for the next day. We tend to cook a little more than we need to make it more likely that we'll have extra for lunches.

When we don't have dinner leftovers, we pack a fruit + veggie + protein + starch.

Fruit: Whatever is cheap or in season. Banana, apple, grapes, oranges, berries, melon, etc.
Veggie: My kids are pickier about veggies & prefer them raw so we just cut a bunch over the weekend and pack whatever we have. Carrots, celery, lettuce, cucumber, etc.
Protein + Starch: Often we can cover this with dinner leftovers -- e.g. chicken and rice, bean burritos or quesadillas, pasta, etc. If that's not possible, we have easy to pack proteins ready to go and pack them with a tortilla or slice of bread as the starch. Hard boiled eggs, lunch meat sandwich, cheese (cut off a block), beans, tofu, nuts or nut butter sandwich (for the elementary school kid only), etc.

The only extra food prep / cooking this requires is precutting some veggies & hard boiling a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the week. I have also occasionally cooked a big batch of beans and brown rice & made a dozen burritos for the freezer which I can pull out and thaw anytime for those days when we've got nothing. This system is mostly healthy, cheap, easy, and meets the strict preschool requirements. It also strongly discourages picky eating -- refused dinner foods are almost always lunch the next day.

For our own sanity, we use lunchbots bento boxes ($$$) instead of our regular tupperware to pack lunch because it means only 1 container & 1 lid per child to wash every day rather than 3-4 tupperware containers each. Plus, our older kid only gets 20 min to eat, and we've found that he tends to eat a wider variety of food when he only has to open 1 lid to get to all of it versus only eating 1 of the packed items when he has to fumble with a different lid for each food item.

Our preschool was picky too: no chips, no nuts, no cookies, no muffins, no juice and so on. And nothing disposable!

I LOVE that you give them for lunch what is left over from the night before! Kudos! On a similar note,  my new rule is that whatever they bring home from school (like uneaten carrot sticks/whole mandarin) they eat for snack after school. They always leave the healthy stuff even though they are good eaters, but I am done with throwing that away and giving them something fresh for snack when they come in. Yes, they actually hate me now, but I think it hit home :)

Blonde Lawyer

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #17 on: October 12, 2017, 04:45:52 PM »
For people sending leftovers or rice or pasta, does your kid have the ability to heat the meal up? I didn't have that option when I was in school.

LadyMustache

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #18 on: October 12, 2017, 04:56:15 PM »
For people sending leftovers or rice or pasta, does your kid have the ability to heat the meal up? I didn't have that option when I was in school.

My kids don't. I use a mini Thermos for pasta sometimes. My son tells me it is still warm at lunch.  Not done it for rice as Im paranoid about rice and food poisoning, but that's probably just me. 

jac941

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #19 on: October 12, 2017, 07:07:48 PM »
For people sending leftovers or rice or pasta, does your kid have the ability to heat the meal up? I didn't have that option when I was in school.

My kids canít heat it up, but they also donít mind eating it cold. So itís cold pasta, cold beans and rice, etc. There are a few things my kids prefer warm (soup for example) so I donít send that. Occasionally Iíll heat stuff up and put it in a Thermos for them to take, but I really donít think that increases their likelihood of eating it and itís more work for me in the morning.

ChiefMomOfficer

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Re: Help with economical packed lunches and snacks for kids!
« Reply #20 on: October 15, 2017, 04:10:16 AM »
We try to make school lunch packing as easy as possible. Our two older boys never buy lunch-they have no interest in doing so and think school lunches are gross. Since my oldest is now 14 that means we've been packing lunches now for almost 10 years.

We also buy in bulk (at BJs) and typically will pick up whatever is a good bargain or has a coupon. Sandwiches and sides are packed in reusable containers. For drinks they mostly have water or juice boxes bought in bulk. I'll also bake on the weekends so they have things to bring during the week. I bet you could make an amazing batch of applesauce for much less than the cost to buy.

One other tip is to keep it simple. My kids usually get something similar every day, and we have a box filled with sides that we already packaged and ready for the week. So morning of we just assemble and it's ready to go.

I also echo MM1970 above with the 100 days of real food recommendation. It's a great site. She focuses more on healthy food than cost though.
Mother of three boys, breadwinner & sole income earner with a stay at home dad husband. Writes at www.chiefmomofficer.org