Friday, August 27, 2010

School Lunch Strategies

Keanna and her teachers on the first day of school.

To save money and feed my family more nutritiously, I do not buy pre-packaged snacks.  Though individually packaged snacks are super convenient, they can cost three to five times more than if you bought a regular package and divided it up yourself.  For example, I checked the price of goldfish crackers at WinCo last week.  If you buy the 100-calorie packs, you will pay over $0.70 per ounce.  However, if you buy a big box and divide it up into little containers or bags, you will only pay $0.21 per ounce.  The same is true for just about all pre-portioned snacks:  raisins, applesauce, fruit cups, pudding cups, crackers, chips, cookies, cheese, and drinks.

To be a little more environmentally friendly, I try to use cheap reusable plastic containers.  I love these Glad containers.  They hold ½ cup and are the perfect size for snacks.  I bought this pack of eight for only $2.22 at Wal-Mart.  Before sending them to school with my daughter, I used a permanent marker to write her name on them.  Hopefully we’ll end the school year with almost as many as we’re starting.  These don’t work for long, stick shaped snacks like pretzel sticks or carrot sticks.  I have yet to find small, cheap containers that accommodate snacks of this shape so I use zip-top bags.  Anyone have any suggestions?

But I have to admit that packing school lunches is one of my least favorite things to do.  I currently only have to pack two lunches (one for my daughter and one for my husband), but someday I will have to pack five.  Just thinking about it makes me tired—or maybe I’m just tired from the middle-of-the-night feedings.  Anyway, last year I kept finding myself scrounging around the kitchen every morning trying to pull healthy lunches together at the last minute while trying to make breakfast and help Keanna get ready for school.  Can we say “frazzled”?!?!

Packing snacks like this does take time.  That’s one reason why my mornings used to be so hectic.  But I am not willing to pay the extra money for convenience.  I decided I did not want to continue in this manner for the next 17 years so I came up with a system for preparing school lunches:

Sunday night:  prepare and package up all snacks for the week
Each night:  fill lunch box/bag with non-refrigerated items (including napkin and utensils); fill thermos and put in fridge
Each morning:  add refrigerated/frozen items (including ice pack)

By packaging up all the snacks on Sunday night, the rest of the week is grab-n-go.  There are some things I cannot do on Sunday such as cut fresh fruit and vegetables for the entire week—I usually portion these out on Sunday and Wednesday nights.

I never buy baby carrots.  They are more expensive and don't last as long in the fridge.

I usually send my husband with dinner leftovers for lunch.  I simply package those up for him as I am putting the leftovers away.

Good school snack ideas:
  • Crackers and peanut butter
  • Hummus with pretzels or pita bread/chips
  • Grapes, sliced apples or peaches, or orange slices
  • Cheese sticks (cut from a block to save money)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Pudding
  • Whole wheat noodles
  • Carrot or celery sticks (ants on a log!)
  • Homemade trail mix/snack mix
  • Raisins or other dried fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Granola bars
  • Popcorn
This week's snacks:  grapes, cheese crackers, hummus, pretzel
sticks, chocolate graham crackers, peanut butter sandwich crackers,
and carrot sticks.
You can also get your kids involved.  Keanna made the peanut butter sandwich crackers this week.  Even small children can fill containers or bags.  Not only does this take some of the work off you, but it helps teach them that everything they eat needs to be prepared by someone.

If you have other great ideas for quick, healthy school snacks, please post a comment to share them with all our readers.

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