WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Video: Frugal, healthy school lunches

Posted August 4, 2012
Updated August 5, 2012

As the kids head back to school, it's time to think about that daily necessity: lunch. My girls bring their lunch to school most days so we are always looking for frugal and healthy meal ideas. Here are the lunch foods my girls like to take to school. Please share your ideas for tasty lunches that won't break the bank!

Frugal lunch Smart Shopper: Frugal school lunches

The cost of school lunches in the Triangle is approximately $2 and even more if the kids buy any extras. For $1.50 or less, I can provide a healthy, delicious and portable lunch with whole grains, lean protein and fruits and/or veggies my kids will actually eat. I buy the ingredients when they are on sale and with coupons, when applicable.

Please share your other ideas for frugal lunches!

Main lunch dishes:

* Salad with grilled cubed chicken and light dressing on the side

* Turkey and cheese sandwiches on pita bread or whole wheat

* Bagel with light cream cheese

* Tortilla roll ups with light herb cream cheese, turkey and tomato or light cream cheese with chopped black olives and salsa on the side. I cut the tortilla into sushi sized pieces and they are perfect for dipping into the salsa.

* Chicken salad (made with light mayo) and served with crackers

* Cold homemade veggie pizza (because we all know that cold pizza is good anytime of day, breakfast included!)

* Cold tofu cubed with soy sauce on it (yes, they both like this!)

* Cereal in a plastic Ziploc container and then they buy milk to pour on to the cereal in the Ziploc bowl

* Soup in a thermos

* Spaghetti in a thermos

* Hummus and crackers

* My oldest likes jelly on whole wheat bread

* My youngest likes peanut butter and a little honey on honey wheat bread

* Neither of them likes peanut butter and jelly on the same sandwich!

* Cold nachos packaged separately and pieced together at lunch (like a Lunchable only healthier). My youngest likes to do this. We use tortilla chips (often baked), an ounce of 2% light shredded cheese, and salsa.

* Homemade "lunchables": Cut up smaller pieces of deli meat, sliced cheese and crackers packed in separate containers.

Sides we pack for lunches:

* Fruit salad

* Whole fruit

* Carrot and/or celery sticks

* Nuts or trail mix

* Yogurt

* Cheese stick

* Granola bars

* Sliced veggies with a side of light ranch for dipping

* Pasta salad

* Raisins

* Honey wheat pretzels (Trader Joe's has some really tasty ones)

* Light Popcorn

* Muffins

* Banana or zucchini bread

* Baked chips

* Homemade breadsticks with a little side of pasta sauce to dip them in. You could use the dough from the Harris Teeter whole wheat pizza dough balls and I bet they would be delicious. I may try that this week to see how well it works.

Drinks: We pack water in reusable water bottles. Every once in a while they buy milk, but I don't send sugary drinks like juice boxes or sports drinks.

Tips for packaging lunch:

* Include the kids when packing lunch. It's good for them to help decide what to bring and it's good practice for when they are older and packing their own lunches.

* If you let your kids pack their own lunches, double check to see what they are bringing. My kids have told me stories about some of their classmates bringing multiple bags of chips, sugary juice boxes and desserts, with nothing healthy in the whole lunch.There is no protein, no whole grain products and no fruit or veggies.

* Prepare and pack as much of the lunch as possible the night before so you have very little to do in the morning, when life is usually a little more hectic.

* Invest in small reusable containers for single servings of dips and dressings like salsa and salad dressing. You can also use them for servings of nuts, raisins and small servings of other foods.

What other tips and ideas do you have for frugal lunches?


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  • pss3 Aug 6, 2012

    jkparrish, I'm not Faye but I read your comment and I would like to respond.

    I am not the parent of young girls, but I believe teaching children to make smarter health and eating choices includes the use of "light" products. I think that children raised in a home where they see smart choices will grow up to make better choices for themselves. My family never purchased regular beverages, I didn't know what regular coke or pepsi was until high school.

    In today's society it is impossible to shield your child from being food or body conscious. As a former middle school teacher, I have known quite a few students struggling with body image issues. The best thing a parent can do is provide a healthy environment and talk with their child about proper choices for diet, exercise, and peer pressure.

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Aug 6, 2012

    Amy, thank you for your comment! It encouraged me to look up the studies you mentioned & I found some info. Here's an article from Prevention magazine about the salad dressing/fat absorbtion question:

    Basically it indicates that you should injest 20 grams of fat in salad dressing so you will have a better rate of carotenoid absorption. It does not show any figures on what all that fat does to you in other ways. One of the quotes in the article is: “You need a little fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K and other nutrients," says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association."

    A little fat I agree with. To me, it's a common sense issue. 20 grams of fat in one serving of dressing makes me feel yucky so it's not a good choice for me. I don't want to feel all bloated & full after I eat. I prefer my veggies with hummus, light dressing or just plain.

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Aug 6, 2012

    amyv- I can't imagine our bodies need the 15 grams of fat found in many regular salad dressing servings. The amount of saturated fat in 1 tablespoon is nasty! I'm good with 5 or 6 grams but 15 grams is just too much for anyone in one tablespoon, in my opinion. We all get plenty of fat in other foods throughout the day.

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Aug 6, 2012

    Continued from below regarding girls and healthy eating: By middle school, all the girls are already food and body conscious. It's just the way it is. For those of you with teen girls, you know what I mean. Some are even too uncomfortable with their bodies at this point to change in front of the other girls at gym and they head to the bathrooms to change. Which is fine, of course, but is another indicator that there is plenty of body consciousness by that point. Feeding a child a light mayo doesn;t influence that as long as it's not coupled by negative body talk about getting fat, etc.

    As a parent, I think it's important to offer good options and model them as well. I like tofu just as much as the kids and enjoy plenty of fruits and veggies every day. The lighter products are a small portion of their daily diet in addition to plenty of additional healthy, whole food options. So no, I don't think that lighter food sets them up for additional body issues other than normal teen ones. :)

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Aug 6, 2012

    It has nothing to do with dieting, jkparrish. It has to do with making healthier choices. My girls don't need products full of saturated fat, which is what you get with regular salad dressings, full fat dairy products and "buttery" popcorn. The key is balance and too many parents load up their kids with the same unhealthy fatty, fried foods they eat thinking it won't do them any harm because the kids are still young. In reality, they will grow up to eat the same way they were raised and have the same weight problems their parents have. If we model and offer healthier choices now including whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, veggies and reasonable amounts of treats, they won't be facing the issues that so many obese kids and their parents have. Obviously, I am not a nutritionist so these are my personal opinions. But my child's pediatrition concurs with less sugar and saturated fat. In addition, my oldest doesn't care for the taste of most full fat greasy, oily foods.

  • jkparrish Aug 6, 2012

    i see a lot of light this and light that on that suggestion list. Especially with young girls, isnt this kind of setting them up to be dieters and food and body conscious?

  • couponmom Aug 6, 2012

    Amazon has some cheap containers, I am going to try out and see if they are any good.

  • teecee Aug 6, 2012

    Jus in case anyone is interested -

    QVC carries the lock-n-lock containers/sets.they also have other brands as well as lunch bag "sets" .

    HSN carries a super set of rubbermaid containers - many are a great size for lunch kits ( child or adult ).Price was recently around 20 cents per container !

  • amyv Aug 6, 2012

    Great ideas. Just a comment on the light salad dressing, several recent studies suggest that our bodies need the fat from salad dressing to absorb the nutrients in the salads and/or vegetables.

  • faulkner Aug 5, 2012

    Thank you Faye for always taking time to answer questions!!
    I will be on the look out for more deals!!