There are three pieces to the “school lunch puzzle” that make it challenging for childcare providers. The first is the “what,” while the second is the “how” and the last is the task of keeping it affordable. In the midst of a busy week that tugs on our time and resources, how do we fit these puzzle pieces into a perfect picture five lunches that work for both your student and you? We start with a plan (and the right tools).
Always cook more than you need.
Affordable and easy lunches start at dinner. Get into a pattern of making more than you need and you will automatically be making lunch at the same time. Focus on the basics like diced or shredded chicken, sliced vegetables, as well as casseroles and soups. Note: Keep your leftovers safe with this guide that ensure that you store foods correctly.
Keep easy ingredients on hand.
You made extra chicken, grilled more vegetables than you needed or saved some fresh garden salad. Now you just need to round out these extras with ingredients that turn it into a meal. Keep pantry staples like microwaveable grain pouches, low-sodium beans, and seeds on hand, as well as part-skim cheese, non-fat plain Greek yogurt and hummus or similar dips in your refrigerator.
Make your own lunch pack.
Pass on pre-packaged lunch packs that are not usually a good value or nutritionally balanced and prepare your own version instead. Known as “snacky lunch” in my home, this bento box style meal is ideal for students who aren’t into sandwiches.
Bulk portions of snacks and fresh foods are often more affordable. Take advantage of this price break on foods your family loves and enjoy frequently. However, this only works if your family doesn’t eat your “party size” chips in one sitting. Be sure to store snacks out of the way so that the right portion can be packed in a reusable container.
Take time for slicing and dicing.
Prep time generally means you are saving money. Find a time to wash and cut fresh produce, prepare your own granola or trail mix, and do other steps that make lunch come together quickly on a busy school morning. Pack that trail mix or granola along with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit for a perfect parfait that’s sure to satiate.
Follow a blueprint for success.
Beans and rice: You made rice last night, this morning reheat it and mix in low sodium black beans (well-rinsed). Flavor it with a scoop of salsa and a sprinkle of part-skim cheddar cheese. Lunch in flash!
Rainbow Salad: Prepare this lunch the night before when you are cleaning up dinner. Fill a reusable container with colorful greens and diced veggies, fruit and beans that cover every color of the rainbow. Pack dressing on the side to keep it fresh until lunch. Note: include diced tofu, cheese for protein or avocado, nuts or seeds for additional fat.
Eggroll Bowls: This fun lunch is easy to assemble and perfect for an after school snack or as part of dinner too.
Enchilada Casserole: Make this Guiding Star rated recipe that feeds a crowd and then pack some (along with a warm pack) for tomorrow’s lunch.
Quinoa Salad: Quinoa rounded out last night’s meal. Combine the leftover grain with a dash of low sodium tamari sauce, rice vinegar and ginger along with diced cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and edamame or diced chicken for additional protein (if you have it on hand).