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School Lunch Ideas

A girl eating packed lunch at school.
Preparing your children's lunch can save money and help ensure that they eat a good meal. This is a guide about school lunch ideas.
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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 1 found this helpful
February 1, 2010

My kids are always complaining that they are sick and tired of the same peanut butter and jelly in their lunchboxes everyday. I can't afford to get them hot lunch or the Lunchables. Any ideas on how to make lunch more exciting?

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By Hannah from USA

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February 1, 20100 found this helpful

I used to make my own lunchables. I would slice or cube up ham and cheese, and add some crackers.

Do they have access to a microwave? I also sent my kids tv dinners (banquet) that when on sale I could get for 50 cents each after using a coupon.

Another favorite was tacos. I would send the ingredients in several separate contains (bought as a set from the $1 store), and a couple soft shells. They would make their own tacos at lunch and be the envy of the lunch room. Have a small thermos? If so, send soup or chili.

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February 1, 20100 found this helpful

I also used to make my own lunchables. Pepperoni & crackers was always my son's favorite. Hot water in a thermos and put 2 hot dogs in. The hot dogs will be warm & bun ready at lunch time.

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Chicken salad - freeze a water bottle & put in their lunchbag to keep cold.

Leftover cold pizza - oldest son always like this

Wrap - use ham or turkey, lettuce & some cheese. Mustard or mayo if your kids like it.

Some days I would sneak a note in to say hope your having a good day or encouragement for a test. The best was a note to say I would be picking them up after school, a big surprise since I work full time outside the home. A note to say we would be going for ice cream when I picked them up. Good luck

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February 2, 20100 found this helpful

Hannah,

My kids loved the following in their lunches. I large red delicious apple, leave peel on, but core apple.

Mix 2 tbsp peanut butter, and one tbsp each raisins and honey. Blend well.

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Fill the apple core with this mixture. Wrap apple in tin foil and place in refrigerator overnight. Place in child's lunch box and give milk money.

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February 2, 20100 found this helpful

Cold Potato Soup - In warmer months, this was one of my kids favorites. I put in thermos and sent along some crackers and cheese. Nancy

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February 2, 20100 found this helpful

Scrambled egg sandwich was also one of their favs. Just scramble egg, place on sandwich bread with a little mayo and wrap a dill pickle in tinfoil to go with. Add some lettuce in a little bag if desired.

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February 2, 20100 found this helpful

I was going to say we make our own lunchables sometimes, but I see mom-from-missouri beat me to it. :) We use small cookie cutters to cut fun shapes in the meat, but the cheese we just cut in squares. The kids then just add fun stuff that they want for the rest.

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February 3, 20100 found this helpful

Cut up some apple, orange and get some grapes. Slice up a few different cheeses ( you can buy the blocks on sale cheap.) Then add some crackers and they have a great fruit and cheese plate. Use different fruit like kiwi or strawberries, melon, whatever is on sale that week. You can put in a thing of yogurt or jello. Some days add deli meat sliced to fit the cracker (like Lunchables). You can add a little ziploc of nuts. Try to copy the lunchables if they like them so much. And have fun with it! A miniature candy bar is always a nice surprise too! :)

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February 3, 20100 found this helpful

Thanks so much for the ideas. Rose

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February 3, 20100 found this helpful

bento lunches

some are leftovers from the night before and some are just creations from that morning

some bento lunches get more creative with pictures and shapes

but bento is suppose to be small portions of food in divided little dishes that please you when you eat

this site gives me lots of ideas: http://communit  l.com/bentolunch

you can either buy the expensive boxes or use some of your own tupperware with muffin cups/silicone cups

i just bought my own knock off bento box from a sorta Japanese store that saved me lots of money instead of buying it over the internet.

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December 5, 20000 found this helpful

My kids are starting to take their lunches instead of buying them. In an effort to save money, they are taking lunch 3 times a week. Any ideas for the "main dish"? They are already tired of sandwiches.

Thanks.
Lisa

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December 5, 20000 found this helpful

Hi Lisa, Here is a good one. Heat some water in your microwave or on your stove and plop a hot dog in the water so it heats up as well. Put the water and the hot dog in a thermos. Then, all you have to do is make sure and bring a wrapped bun fixed how you like it. Voila`! A hot hot dog for lunch!

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December 6, 20000 found this helpful

If your kids like pizza they can maybe take some leftover cold pizza. If you "train" them to eat things cold or at room temperature, then you could serve them various things. A lot of people have been trained that lunch has to be a sandwich or something heated. They miss out the variety.

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Anonymous
December 6, 20000 found this helpful

I have started taking flour tortilla's, put peanut butter and jelly on it, roll it up and cut it into three pieces. Also peanut butter and crackers or cheese and crackers make a good lunch along with a fruit and carrots and dip. Anything left over can be sent as well as soup or canned products when put in a thermos. I have put left over chili, spaghetti even mashed potatos. (my son loves mashed potatos) Another thing my son likes is a peanut butter a jelly sandwich made with waffles. Salad can even be sent, just make sure the salad dressing is sent in a seperate container. Add some croutons or chow mein noodles a piece of fruit and a peice of left over candy from halloween and your set.

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December 6, 20000 found this helpful

Since when are sandwiches boring? If you only make peanut-butter-and-jelly and bologna-and-cheese, yes, that's boring. However, there are many other lovely ways to make sandwiches.

The deli method: check over the many varieties of cold cuts and sliced cheeses. I'm sure you can find store brand or generic prices on these items; cotto salami, pickle loaf, chopped ham, swiss cheese. There may be other varieties as well. Also consider pimento-cheese spread, chicken salad, and other pre-made spreads. Shredded cheese works nicely in a sandwich if there is enough condiment to stick in in place. Lettuce and sliced tomatos are a nice touch, as are pickles sliced for use in sandwiches.

The home-made method:

You can make many yummy sandwich fillings at home. Of course there are the many salads -- chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad, ham salad, etc. Depending on what you have on hand, you can use any cooked meat in a salad-type spread. If you mix in vegetables, such as finely diced celery, relish, chopped or sliced olives, grated carrot, etc, you can make it both balanced and tasty. Then, beyond those, there are other nifty fillings, like the pickled beef heart I did lots of one year. You can slice or shred any of the hard cheeses for use in sandwiches, adding to the variety. You can make various vegetable pickles as well. If you check an old cookbook, you will find that people of the past ate very well indeed, even away from home.

The left-over method:

Dagwood Bumstead of the Blondie cartoons used to make awesome sandwiches. He would raid the fridge in the middle of the night, and put some of everything in there! There are very few limits to what you can put in a sandwich if you just let your imagination run. What is wrong with a spagetti and meatball sandwich? I grew up loving meatloaf sandwiches. An authentic Dagwood sandwich includes baked beans. If it won't spoil before eating, and it won't make too much mess, it can be put in a sandwich. If you are hesitant to assemble creative sandwiches for your children, why not ask them what they would like? Maybe some youthful genious will point out that a de-boned pork chop would make a lovely sandwich, especially with some well-drained kraut, or that the last four fish sticks are just the right size to fill two slices of bread, along with a dollop of ketchup or tartar sauce.

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December 6, 20000 found this helpful

I've already addressed how to make sandwiches anything but boring, but that is not the full extent of my lunch creativity.

There are other main courses that work well for lunch. If you can keep it really cold, I like a nice sushi lunch -- of course, I make my own sushi, which keeps it frugal. If you are less daring, you can have a nice slice of meat loaf, a hard boiled egg (include salt and pepper), a hunk of cheese, peanuts, a tin of sardines, or some other protein-rich food.

Many uninspired lunches contain, along with the sandwich, a bag of chips, a cookie or brownie, or other such junk as you might find in individual packages at your grocery store. If someone else is making the individual portions for you, you are paying too much. If you want to serve those same snack foods, at least portion them yourself, using washable resealable bowls or snack-size zip bags. You'll get more variety too, because you can use shoe-string potatoes, salted or unsalted nuts, various candies, home-baked goodies, and more flavors of pudding or gelatin.

However, I do not consider a lunch of mostly store-packs or homemade variations an original or particularly satisfying meal. I like to have a real meal, and include things like fresh fruit, salads, side dishes, and so on. Mac-and-cheese is a very portable side-dish, and it can be enlivened by including any added vegetable you like. Ever eat cold mac-and-cheese with hot salsa? Who needs a microwave! Pasta salads are very apt for lunches, and can be so beautiful with colorful veggies that one's co-workers or co-scholars become envious. Lettuce salads work too, if you put the dressing "on the side." Many of the same side dishes you would serve at home are quite portable and tasty as a cold lunch -- raw or lightly steamed vegetables, stuffing, scalloped potatoes, to name a few. Fresh fruit is easy to pack, and the choices are not just apples and oranges; consider bananas, pears, tangerines, plums, peaches, grapes, or go even more exotic once in a while and include a star fruit, or some fresh figs. Grapefruit segments can be presented in a zippd snack bag, and fruit cocktail can be put in a resealable container. Dried fruits are also tasty, and handy when other fruits are not in season.

It is almost traditional to include pickles and other relish tray goodies in bag lunches. Carrot sticks, stuffed celery, olives, radish roses, can be included if you package them suitably.

If you use enough imagination and ingenuity, bag lunches can be more exciting than the expensive (and usually unhealthy) alternatives from the cafeteria and fast food joints. Who would prefer a greasy burger over a home-made imitation crab meat sandwich? Who would rather eat a fried slab of fish or chicken with boring "special sauce" instead of a nicely sliced turkey with honey-dijon spread on rye or a crusty whole-wheat keiser roll? Who would prefer creamed mystery-meat on toast to a smooth delectable deviled egg or real baked beans that didn't come from a can? Homemade is not only cheaper, but often much tastier and more elegant. Fine dining is not mass-produced!

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December 9, 20000 found this helpful

I've never liked sandwiches, and when I was in school, my mom made me soup. Cup of soup was my favorite, and she'd make it before I went to school and put it in one of those thermos' made for hot stuff and when lunch time came, it was still hot. She also made spaghettio's, and one can would make two meals.

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By guest client (Guest Post)
April 10, 20040 found this helpful

CHILI RICE!!!!!:) ADD CHEESE,ONIONS,EVEN JALAPENOS OR BUTTER!

save your leftovers from those great dinners you make--freeze even in single servings--easy and tasty

cold enchiladas are awesome--anything cheesy is great cold

another tip--mom used to have us put lunch together on sunday night for the week:

(no mayo)

sandwich--ham,mustard, cheese

juice box

other freezable snack

freeze for week

throw in chips before school, packet of mayo

drink is nice and cold at lunchtime

or, just freeze the juiceboxes! they keep everything else cold too

make your own Lunchables--see store for ideas

pop top foods--tuna,pasta,vienna sausage,refried beans

ramen makes fun "chips" season if you want with the packet

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October 3, 20040 found this helpful

Ok. How about some ham and cheese wraps. Just take a slice of ham and put some cheese in the middle. Roll it up and there you go! If your child likes fish how about some tuna and crackers. And kids like to much on things. So maybe some baby carrots, cubed cheese, small baby pickles and celerey. Give them small different dips like ranch, honey mustard and cream cheese. Hope this helps!

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October 9, 20050 found this helpful

Invest in a sandwich maker. Yes, those once infomercial now available at Walmart for ten bucks Hamilton Brand (or other) sandwich maker. We've made stuffed sandwiches with everything from traditional bologna and cheese, to "pizza" pockets, to stuffing them with hamburger meat and sliced cheese and more. It's a great way to get rid of leftovers too! :)

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By guest (Guest Post)
May 31, 20080 found this helpful

Boathoff has a great idea about hot dogs in a thermos! I never would have thought of that and can't wait to try it!

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By 0 found this helpful
October 6, 2010

My nieces started a new preschool and we have to pack them a lunch. That's not hard, but the lunches can't be heated and cannot have nuts in it. So I'm stuck with absolutely no ideas. Please help with any ideas you may have. Thanks.

By Elizabeth from KY

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By 0 found this helpful
September 14, 2009

I need ideas for inexpensive, everyday, delicious ideas for school lunches.

By marlene67nyc

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Answers

September 15, 20090 found this helpful

Remember to keep it healthy - you know what they say "what you eat today, walks and talks tomorrow" - try vegie sticks - carrot, celery, etc. Home made muffins are nice - you can make savoury as well as sweet ones - they can be frozen ahead of time and just popped in to defrost during the day. Pita bread pockets filled with healthy things, different kinds of breads to keep it interesting, fruit of course. rice or noodle salads are always nice and keep nicely. Good luck

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February 1, 20100 found this helpful

Back to school lunches (yuck) is what I hear. I have a 6 year old starting grade 1 who doesn't like sandwiches, soup, cheese and crackers and not much fruit. Very fussy. Anyone have some good creative ideas that would appeal to this fussbucket? Thanks.
- Cheapie

Answers:

Back to School Lunches

My daughter was the same way. She's 18 now and off at college. Still pretty picky. Anyway, I found I had to move outside the mind-set of normal "lunch" foods. She liked some breakfast items, like biscuits, bacon, etc. She got those some days, in little biscuit type sandwiches. She liked cottage cheese, so I often packed that in a small Tupperware container. I sent little apple juice containers, frozen (my only real lunch splurge for her), and the cottage cheese stayed cool 'til lunch. She liked macaroni and cheese at room temp, so I did the same thing with it. Peanut butter sandwiches worked with her. She didn't like any other kind of sandwich, but would eat cheese cubes and hotdog pieces, cold pigs in blankets, homemade trail mixes or granola.

If she liked what we ate for supper the night before, she took some leftovers for lunch. It took time, but after a while she got pretty good about eating a slightly wider variety. She also was quite a hit with the other kids, who saw her fussbucket lunches as cool. Basically, just think outside the normal lunch time fare, and send whatever she will eat. Kids are smart. They will eat when hungry. Her pediatrician always told me not to sweat it so much, just make a variety available, and over time she'd widen her likes. (09/04/2001)

Lauri

Back to School Lunches

How about a thermos of spaghetti, stew, chili, chicken and dumplings, or hot dogs and baked beans. Does he like tacos? Mix everything, meat, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. up together in a container to eat along with a bag of taco chips. You can always try scaling down the amounts on some of the things he likes eating for dinner. (09/05/2001)

KayD

Back to School Lunches

I've been making my own trail mix to take to work for lunches. Finger food ought to appeal to a six year old as much as it does to me, even though I'm somewhat older. Mix up a batch in a canister or Tupperware like container from which the youngster can fill a Ziploc bag to take to school for lunch. Some suggested ingredients: cashews, raisins, M and Ms, chocolate chips, Cheerios, and dried banana chips. A mix with any or all of these ingredients will be quite filling and provide an energy boost. Be imaginative. There are probably a host of other ingredients that might be appealing. Dineen (09/05/2001)

Dineen

Back to School Lunches

Tell her that she eats what you pack or she doesn't get lunch. Our picky son knows that if he doesn't eat what we feed him, he doesn't eat. I mean, come on, doesn't like any sandwiches? Sounds way too spoiled. (08/01/2004)

By Ann

Back to School Lunches

I also feed picky eaters. I often pack hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets, and Hot Pockets. I invested in several bowls that you heat with hot water, they help to keep the food warm. Whenever we do fast food, I save the packets of ketchup for the lunch box, some times I ask for extras. I buy the snack size pudding and Jello that does not have to be refrigerated. And I try to pack a piece of fruit. If I have a melon, I'll put it in a bowl with a ice pack under it and send that. Her best friend told me to be sure to send enough melon for her on melon days. I hope some of this helps. (08/02/2004)

By Lisa

Back to School Lunches

How about cereal? My son, who is also picky, often asks for a bowl of cereal for lunch or snack. Put it in a bowl, send a container of milk and a piece of fruit. (08/20/2004)

Back to School Lunches

Make a fruit smoothie with milk or yogurt and put it in a thermos to keep cool. (09/13/2004)

Back to School Lunches

My daughter was a picky eater when she first started school then the nurse gave me an idea. Let them fix their own lunch. It worked. I would let her decide what she wanted for lunch (within reason, no junk food) and I have never had a problem. She also did not drink enough water so I bought her some individual packs of Crystal Light to put in her bottled water. (08/14/2007)

By filie3665

Back to School Lunches

I have the pickiest son ever. He does not like sandwiches of any kind. He says the bread gets soggy. So since he does not like much lunch meat, I give him either salami or pepperoni in a plastic bag. Then give him sliced cheese cubes in another. He buys his milk. For snack he has pretzels. You can also get Go-Gurts and freeze them and put the in their lunch. (08/14/2007)

By mom

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