School’s starting back up again, and the summer days of skipping lunch because you didn’t bother to pack one are now firmly in the past. But let’s face it: packing lunches for your kids can drag on time and resources. When life gets busy, healthy eating often takes a backseat.
Thankfully, with some planning and creativity, it doesn’t have to! Apart from being incredibly fun (I mean…packed lunch Bento boxes!), packing nutritious lunches doesn’t have to break the bank either.
To give you an easy head start, I created a whole week of delicious yet super-affordable recipes that will surely make your child’s lunchbox sing!
Choose Healthy and Affordable Ingredients
First things first, let’s talk about ingredients. You don’t need to buy expensive, exotic foods to make a healthy meal. Stick with basics like fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy.
- Fruits & Veggies: Look for seasonal produce; they’re often cheaper and tastier. Remember, frozen or canned fruits and veggies are just as nutritious as fresh ones and won’t spoil as quickly.
- Whole Grains: Opt for whole grain bread, pasta, and rice. They’re packed with nutrients and fiber that’ll keep your little ones full and focused throughout the school day.
- Lean Proteins: Think beyond meat. Eggs, beans, lentils, and tofu are all great protein sources and usually cost less than meat. If your kids love chicken or turkey, go for it but try to avoid processed meats as much as possible.
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, and milk are excellent sources of calcium and protein. Look for low-fat or non-fat versions to keep it heart-healthy.
Being a savvy shopper is key to staying on budget. Here’s how:
- Plan Ahead: Make a list before you head to the store to avoid impulse purchases.
- Buy in Bulk: Things like rice, pasta, canned goods, and frozen fruits/veggies are often cheaper when bought in larger quantities. Just make sure you have enough storage space!
- Store Brands: Often, store brands are just as good as name brands but at a fraction of the cost.
Meal Prep Ideas
Meal prepping can save you time, money, and stress during the week. Set aside a few hours on the weekend to prep lunches for the week ahead.
- Bento Boxes: These are fun and easy to put together. Include a variety of foods – some protein (hard-boiled eggs, sliced turkey), a grain (pita bread, rice), some veggies (baby carrots, cherry tomatoes), and fruit (apple slices, grapes).
- Silicone muffin cups. These are so versatile and fun to fill younger kiddos’ lunches with different snacks.
- Pasta Salads: Make a big batch of whole-grain pasta salad with lots of colorful veggies, some grilled chicken or tofu, and a simple vinaigrette. Pack it in individual containers for quick grab-and-go lunches.
Now let’s get into a week’s worth of school lunches!
Monday: Chicken and Veggie Wrap
This wrap is an excellent way to get your children to eat their veggies. Use whole-grain tortillas( we love the Aldi ones!) to add fiber and wrap up some strips of grilled chicken, cheese, and mixed greens. Spread some hummus on the tortilla before adding the ingredients for extra flavor.
Tuesday: Tuna and Egg Salad
You can make this recipe the night before to save time in the morning. Boil some eggs, chop up some celery and red onion, and mix with canned tuna. Add some non-fat Greek yogurt to make it creamy, and spread it on whole-grain bread.
Serve with a side of grapes ( or whatever fruit is in season when reading this for the best deal) or baby carrots for a well-rounded meal.
Wednesday: Peanut Butter and Banana or Pickle Sandwich
Toast slices of whole-grain bread and spread a generous amount of peanut butter on each side. Slice up a ripe banana and place the slices on one side of the sandwich.
Now hear me out, one of my daughter’s friends loves peanut butter and pickles! It sounds insane right, but try it. It’s a cheap and easy lunch idea.
My kids are all about Nutella, but it can be pricey. We always grab it at wholesale clubs, but if you don’t want Nutella to, add a drizzle of honey if desired.
This sandwich is high in protein and fiber, and the natural sugars from the banana will supply your child with energy to power through the school day.
Thursday: Homemade Lunchables
Create your own lunchable! My girls love it when I use special lunch containers and add in pepperoni, Salami, cheese, and crackers for a side use whatever fruit or veggies are in your fridge. I like to pair this with apple slices and peanut butter.
Friday: Greek Yogurt Parfait
A parfait is an excellent option for a fun and exciting lunch. Layer some non-fat Greek yogurt, mixed berries, chocolate chips, and granola in a jar. You can also add some honey or maple syrup to sweeten it up. This is also a great breakfast when you are short on time in the morning.
It is easy to get stuck in the same lunchbox rut when trying to feed your children healthy meals on a budget. However, with just a bit of research and creativity, you can find many great recipes that won’t break the bank.
Introducing new meals to your child’s rotation can help encourage them to adopt healthier eating habits while offering something they will enjoy. I hope these affordable lunch options are the perfect starting point for achieving an easy and nutritious weekday meal plan!
And if you want to stay organized during your meal planning grab my digital meal planner today!