We’ve all felt that tinge of heartache when we find out that our child didn’t eat part of their lunch. Or worse, they traded it for something “better”. We want our kids to eat nutritious lunches that they actually enjoy. And, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could provide that for just a few dollars a day?
With a little bit of planning and some creativity, we actually can! Food is one of the easiest areas to find extra room in your budget. Plus, it’s not as hard or time-consuming as you might think.
Here are 10 of my favorite kids’ lunches that are a breeze to put together and cost next to nothing to make.
10 Easy and Cheap School Lunch Ideas Your Kids Will Love
1. Kebabs – Infinite Possibilities
There’s something about skewering colorful food items on a stick that makes eating extra fun. Parents get bonus points for packing something that’s not just a boring sandwich, and your kiddo’s lunch will be the envy of all their classmates.
The first thing you’ll need is a collection of skewers. You can get 80 bamboo skewers at Target for less than $2.00, or if you’re feeling extra frugal, you can use old drink stirrers.
Here are some of my favorite kebab ideas:
- Classic: Meat (chicken or steak) with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions
- Caprese: Grape tomatoes, mozzarella, basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil, and a touch of salt and pepper
- Fruit: Get creative with whatever you have on hand. I like to use grapes, pineapple, strawberry, blueberry and melon
- Vegan: Bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, and zucchini
- Breakfast: Sausage, leftover French toast, blueberry and strawberry
The trick to saving time and money is to use whatever you have in the kitchen. Personally, I love using leftovers for this!
2. DIY Lunchables
Not only are those pre-packaged Lunchables overly processed, they’re ridiculously expensive!
Make your own for only a few dollars with these ingredients:
- Crackers (Pepperidge Farms Butterfly Crackers are divine)
- Cheese (cheddar, jack and mozzarella are classic favorites)
- Deli Meat
- Trail Mix
- Fruit (finger foods like grapes, strawberries and blueberries are most convenient)
- Kid-friendly veggies like baby carrots, sliced cucumbers and cherry tomatoes
- Optional: mini cookies or cupcakes
Presentation is important here, but you don’t have to break the bank. If you don’t have any bento box style lunch containers lying around, you can use a standard Tupperware container and create your own sections with cupcake liners.
3. Homemade Pizza
The next time you make pizza at home, buy double the ingredients and plan for lunch the next day. Let your kids help decide what kinds of toppings they want. Then they can display their handiwork at school.
Looking for a healthier option? There are some pre-made cauliflower crusts that have popped up in stores recently that are surprisingly good.
4. Chicken Quesadilla
What I like most about quesadillas is that they keep well in a lunch box, and they’re still tasty hours later. If you don’t have any pre-cooked chicken on hand, I’ve had rave reviews using the Swanson brand canned chicken. In addition to chicken, add cheese of your choice and sneak in some diced tomatoes or chunky salsa.
Lay the tortilla flat on the pan and add your ingredients. Fold the tortilla over and allow the cheese to melt, cooking on medium. Slice into four pieces, add an orange and some sliced veggies on the side and you’ve got a delicious an inexpensive lunch!
5. Meatball Sandwich
Who doesn’t love a good meatball sandwich? And, they’re just as good the next day.
There’s a way to make this an easy dinner that translates into a frugal kiddo lunch. I use French rolls, frozen meatballs, a bit of marinara and mozzarella. I bake it all in the oven until the cheese is melted and then I have dinner and the following day’s lunch!
6. Fruit and Yogurt Parfait
This is a fun one for your kiddo because they’ll get to assemble it themselves!
You’ll want to pack a container of yogurt along with granola and berries. Make sure to include a cup and spoon so your little one has a place to work and a way to eat.
They can choose to artfully layer their yogurt, granola and fruit, or they can decide to mix it up and combine it all at once. This is probably the easiest lunch you’ll ever make!
Once you make these for your kids, you will be making them for your own lunches almost immediately. Your coworkers may laugh at you, but they’ll secretly want what you’ve got.
Pinwheels have three basic ingredients: a tortilla (whole wheat is best), peanut butter (or almond butter) and a banana.
The preparation is simple: spread the nut butter on the tortilla (liberally), place the banana in the center of the tortilla and roll it up like a burrito. Using a sharp knife, cut the tortilla into one-inch sections.
If you want to jazz it up, try adding some raisins. They will add texture and a magical flavor combination like you have never experienced.
This whole recipe takes about 90 seconds to make. There are some fancier ones out there, but really, this is just perfect!
Turn your Sunday morning brunch into a Monday afternoon lunch!
I love making breakfast frittatas for my family, and we usually have a ton of leftovers. Frittatas keep remarkably well, so you can pack a slice or two for your kid’s lunch and it will be just as delicious.
Another advantage: I make my frittatas with whatever’s lying around the kitchen (as long as you have a dozen eggs for the base, you can use just about anything). Fun things to add: bacon, sausage, shredded zucchini, spinach, tomato and more. Get creative because just about anything you put in there will taste delicious.
9. Bagel Sandwiches
Toast a morning bagel and pack it with all the fixings for a yummy sandwich. You can do a classic ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato, or opt for something a little off the beaten path like cream cheese, sprouts, tomato, cucumber, salt and pepper.
I like to pack the condiments separately so my kids can put them on themselves. It helps things from getting soggy. I usually have a ton of single serve packets left over from various restaurants, but you can get single sever condiments in 100-packs for a relatively low price at places like Sam’s Club.
10. PB&J Sushi Rolls
No list of kids’ lunches would be complete without some type of peanut butter and jelly concoction (if your child can’t bring peanut butter or any nut butter to school, I’ve found that sunflower seed butter works just as well here).
Other than the heavenly taste and low-cost ingredients, I also discovered that you can freeze these and use them in future lunches weeks later. I won’t tell if you don’t!
PB&J Sushi Rolls are sinfully simple to make. All you’ll need is two slices of bread and equal parts peanut butter and jelly – approximately two tablespoons.
Once you have the ingredients gathered, follow these three simple steps:
- Remove the crusts from the bread. Completely flatten the bread with a rolling pin or a large soup can.
- Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter and jelly on each slice of bread.
- Roll each slice of bread into a tight spiral. Cut each of the spirals into four pieces.
This literally could not get any easier. In fact, once you show your kids how it’s done, they can probably do it themselves!
Feeding Your Kid Healthy Lunches Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank!
Eating healthy on a budget is easier than you would probably expect – it just takes a little creativity.
If you manage to save a little money on food and maybe even make a little extra money each month with a side hustle, next thing you know, you have a nice chunk of savings.
Fun vacations, new toys, early retirement, money for college – the possibilities with your extra savings are endless!
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