As I prepare for my children to return to school, I have mixed emotions (ps – pic on the right is out of date! My oldest graduated and I’m about to have #8!). In many ways, I love having them home during the summer. But I also long for the controlled chaos and hint of structure that comes with the fall. :) Last year during registration, I heard a woman who works in the cafeteria tell someone else that hot lunch comes to about $50.00 per month per child. YIKES! For my family, that’d be $250 per month just for LUNCH! My little boys LOVE to have “hot lunch” at school. My older kids… not so much. :)
My plan of attack:
#1 Get the Kids Involved
Over the past two years, my kids have been in charge of making their own lunches. It’s an easy thing for them to do if I’m prepared and have all the tools ready for them. I think it’s also important for kids to have responsibilities at home (more than just keeping their room clean). With 5 in school this year, a newborn and a preschooler, mornings will be CRAZY! So my kids MUST be a huge part of the lunch making process.
#2 Menu Plan
- There’s no reason I can’t come up with a weekly lunch time menu! Make a list of 5-10 lunch ideas and then rotate through it every 1 or 2 weeks. Below you’ll find a long list of lunch ideas. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments!
- Hang the list inside a cupboard drawer, in your pantry, or on your fridge for quick and easy inspiration
#3 Be Organized
- We have a “lunch cupboard” at our house. Inside you’ll find the bags, baggies, containers, peanut butter, honey, and other lunch time snacks. It’s all in one place kept together, easy to find! Don’t have the extra space? Place items in a tote in your pantry!
- I know some people (namely my sister) that will make up sandwiches for the entire week on Sunday evening and then throw them in the freezer. This is great for busy mornings! Just pull the sandwich out of the freezer, grab your fruit, snack and drink and lunch is ready!
- Another family I know would make the lunches the night before. Each night someone is assigned to make lunch for everyone the next day. Bags/totes are packed and placed in the fridge. This definitely helps with the morning rush!
- PB&J (wow your kids with this fast easy homemade strawberry freezer jam recipe!)
- Or try this version of a PB&J Roll-up!
- Healthy PB&J Muffins
- Ham/Turkey Sandwhiches
- Tuna fish sandwich
- Homemade Uncrustables (use a cut and seal tool like this)
- Lunch box smoothies
- Angry Birds Lunch
- “Sandwich Sushi” – tortillas with a layer of cream cheese, ham, cheese, spinach leaves – rolled up and then sliced.
- Mac & Cheese (see how to keep it hot in the tools section below)
- Cubed Chicken/Ham/Cheese
- Lettuce Wraps
- Bagel Sandwiches
- Homemade lunchables
- Fresh fruit
- Triscuits with cream cheese & sliced cucumbers
- Veggie trays
- Homemade Cheeze-it Crackers
When I asked our readers about this last year, they had a TON of great ideas for making cold lunch “cool” (and “hot”!). And it starts with the tools!
- Freeze low sugar jello/fruit/cottage cheese salad in muffin liners for individual portions (I like these silicone muffin cups!)
- Use reusable lunch bags that can be stored in the freezer (like this PackIt brand)
- Ice packs (like these skinny ice packs)
- rubbermaid containers (there are some for sandwiches, some with compartments, or a whole kit of different sized containers)
- A nice thermos (see our readers’ testimonial here), or a cheaper one. Use thermos for hot meals like chicken, spaghetti, stew, leftover dinners, and so on… Here is a large selection of top rated Thermos’ on amazon. Just make sure you get one that has a wide opening so it’s easy to eat from!
- Got picky eaters? Use these cute animal shape sandwich cutters!
- Or make your own “uncrustables” with this cool cut and seal tool!
- Reusable water bottles… keep em hydrated! The schools my kids go to allow them to keep a water bottle at their desk!
Shop the Deals and Save Money:
- In August there will be a TON of coupons you can use towards school lunch stuff! We’ll be updating this post regularly so you can easily find coupons for cold lunches.
- You can also search for coupons in our database here, or easily sort through what coupons.com has right here. Printable coupons make saving money really easy… just click on the ones you want and print!
- Typically there is always a huge Kraft sale at most grocery stores in August as well. And in years past Kraft also puts out a ton of coupons that you can match with those sales. You can stock up on cheese and lunch meat and the pop them in your freezer. (Cheese will store well, unopened in your fridge, for at least 6 months.)
- When you find a great price on food and/or supplies, stock up to last you for the whole school year if you can. Not only is it nice to save tons of $, it’s also awesome to never have to run out of some of those every day items.
- In the mood for saving money? Check out the latest school supply deals we have found!
Got Special Diets?
- Check out Vitacost! They have a TON of gluten free and organic food! Sign up using our link, you’ll get a $10 credit to use on your first order! (We’ll get a $10 credit too, thank you!)
- Here are some recent Gluten Free Recipes and Gluten Free Deals we’ve found.
So… what else?
Anything I’m missing? What have I forgotten? Do you have favorite brands that you love to use for some of these items? What are you putting in your kids cold lunch?