With many kids going to school only on certain days, and some school cafeterias closed or kids eating at their desks, brown bag lunches become a necessity.
And school lunches often don’t cater to special needs, like if a child is a vegetarian or can’t tolerate gluten or dairy. A lunch box or brown bag solves those problems. Homemade lunches can be both cheaper and more nutritious than what the school serves. They should include: a main dish or sandwich, a vegetable, some fruit and a treat, plus a drink.
Most kids are happy with a sandwich. Peanut butter and cheese pack well and don’t spoil quickly. If a sandwich includes meat (such as deli ham or turkey), make it the night before and refrigerate it so it stays cool longer. Try to get your kids to eat wheat bread instead of white, or pack some whole-grain crackers for their meat and cheese instead of bread. Avoid mayonnaise if you can, or snag a few of those little packets at the fast-food condiment bar next time you’re there. Pack one of those for them to use.
A cold-pack also will help keep food cool till lunchtime.
To vary the menu, pack a thermos with vegetable soup, chili, stew or other main dish. Leftovers (like fried or roasted chicken) are great for school lunches – and if you don’t have enough for another family meal, a way to save money (otherwise, it might get tossed).
Buy a big bag of baby carrots (get the generic or store-brand ones) and put a handful in a snack-size zipper bag. Some kids also may like celery sticks, strips of peppers, cucumber slices or zucchini sticks. Ditto for some grapes, apple slices or those cute,, easy-peel Clementine oranges. Avoid bananas – they spoil quickly in a lunch box and everything else will taste like banana!
A little sweet treat won’t hurt. You can buy economy-sized boxes of mini cookies at stores such as WalMart and dole out a few each day in another snack-size bag. Or look for a sale on low-fat pudding cups.
Zipper bags work great for lunch boxes, but you also can invest in some small resealable containers. Generic bags are much cheaper (sometimes half the price) of name-brand bags.
Juice boxes and individual bottles can be expensive unless you buy them on sale (and when else would you buy them?) or get large quantities at a time (if you have room to store them). If they’re too sugary for your taste, send a bottle of flavored water or seltzer instead.
The most rewarding part of the deal is that your kids come home with nothing in their lunch box but an orange peel and empty containers. Now that’s money well spent.