While mums need to come up with flavourful and healthy lunch box ideas daily, everything has to stay on budget. It’s challenging, I know. But with a little bit of planning, we can make prep a cinch and have the kids look forward to lunch break!
1. Go for Simple and Portioned Lunch
To make budget-friendly lunches, stick to your children’s favourites and healthy staples. Mums can work with simple ingredients in minutes. Plus, the kids are likely to eat food that they know or recognise. Here are more useful tips to add to your lunch box ideas:
- Make a weekly meal plan. Create a school lunch menu for 1 to 2 months to monitor your ingredients list and avoid overspending. Then assign one meal favourite per week, say, pizza scrolls for the first week, ham and veggie sandwich next and so on. Rotate and repeat!
- Have a well-stocked pantry and fridge. Have pantry items like pasta, dried fruit and rice crackers on hand. Don’t forget to shop for deli meat, fruit, vegetables and cheese. And buy your staples in bulk to save more.
- Keep portions small. You do not have to pack a whole sandwich every time. Prep bite-sized mains and pack healthy school snacks (in case the kids are extra hungry).
2. Use Fresh Fruits or Vegetables in Season
Pre-cut fruits or vegetables at the store are convenient but costly and even come in wasteful packaging. Keep an eye on seasonal fruits and veggies instead. You can buy them in bulk then cook or pop them in the freezer. These lunch box ideas may help:
- Make fruit or veggie purees. Blitz berries, bananas or carrots then swirl them in plain yoghurt as a natural sweetener. You can transfer the rest in an ice cube tray for freezing then use them for smoothies or overnight oats for breakfast.
- Cook or bake them. Make grated carrots or zucchini for bread, crisp fritters or pasta salads. Frozen or overripe bananas are perfect for making banana muffins. Chopped hidden veggies can go in mini quiches, omelette or frittata.
- Use fresh veggies for wraps or dipping. Buy vegetables that your kids will eat like cucumber or carrot. Make vegetable sticks then turn them into healthy mains or pack with hummus or tzatziki. If possible, look for baby whole vegetables as kids are likely to eat and finish them. Check out this article for more ideas to make kids enjoy vegetables more!
3. Stock Up on Homemade Food
When making healthy lunch for kids, steer clear from store-bought convenience foods like potato chips, cookies and chocolate bars. I know they are easy to grab and pack, but these probably contain more salt, sugar and preservatives than nutrients. To overcome busy school mornings, try meal prepping some of your lunch box ideas. This way, you can batch cook meals, freeze or chill them, reheat then repeat! With homemade food, you will save more and know what your kids are eating, which is crucial if they have food allergies. Get the kids involved, too, and make:
- Granola or muesli bars. These are healthy and easy to make. What’s more, there are no-bake recipes available online. Homemade trail mix and popcorn are other great alternatives.
- Home-baked goodies. Look for a regular muffin recipe, stir in your flavourings (fruit, veggie, cheese or deli), bake and freeze. You can use mini loaf pans, too. Cookies, on the other hand, can be frozen raw or pre-baked.
- Rolls, scrolls or pinwheels. No matter the filling or shape, baked pastries are a lunch box delight. You can also use frozen puff pastry dough for making mini hand pies or turnovers.
- Pancakes or pikelets. Big or small, pancakes go beyond breakfast and are perfect with any fruit. You can cook them in advance and freeze as well.
- Fruit water. Ditch fruit or chocolate drinks from the supermarket and pack bottled water instead. Then make it extra refreshing by stirring in citrus fruits, berries or herbs.
4. Add a Twist to the Usual Sandwich
The all-time favourite sandwich is the king of affordable lunch box ideas. But kids can get tired of eating the same thing. A little makeover should do the trick. You can cut sandwiches into interesting shapes, turn them to kebabs or why not swap your slice of bread with:
- Tortilla. Try making grilled cheese quesadillas, salad wraps or a burrito.
- Tacos. Prep your ground chicken or beef in advance then chop the veggies in the morning.
- Waffles. Crisp waffles will surely add a tasty twist to good old bacon, lettuce and tomato.
- Grain crackers or flatbread. Pack grated cheese, tomato sauce and pepperoni for DIY mini pizzas!
- Pita. Look for wholegrain ones for an extra dose of fibre to their chicken or tuna salad.
5. Save and Repurpose Leftovers
Finally, not letting food go to waste, including leftovers, helps save money and time. So, when planning, consider recipes that you can easily double and store. These suggestions can take dinner to your kids’ lunch box:
- Make mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner then use leftover elbow pasta for salad or soup.
- Turn grilled or roasted meat and chicken into a sandwich, wrap or add-on for soup or fried rice.
- Whip up extra helpings of mashed potato to make potato casserole, croquette or patty cake.
- Nuggets and meatballs go well with homemade dips. They make fantastic sandwich fillings, too.
- Leftover salad ingredients are perfect for making rice paper rolls. Don’t forget the dipping sauce!
Making a budget-friendly school lunch does not mean skimping on variety and flavour, too. List down your options, shop smart and use these ideas as your guide. Have fun and experiment. Who knows, you might even create something new to add to your kids’ lunch box favourites!