Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

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Indy on a Budget
Saving on School Lunches

by Krista Bocko

August 01, 2011

At first glance, packing a lunch seems pretty simple. But upon closer examination, it can seem a little daunting considering you have to plan for and prep the food, find all of the little containers to pack the food in, keep the food hot or cold, and make sure the lunch gets out the door with its owner. Multiply this times the number of family members, times five days a week and the hesitation sets in.

We know that packing a lunch isn’t as easy as buying a school lunch, but it can be easier with some tips and advanced planning.

With school lunches often being of the highly processed variety and containing lots of fat, sugar, sodium and other additives, it’s definitely the healthier option to pack a lunch and it is worth investing in. There is also the added benefit of getting your children involved in meal planning and prep and teaching them about taking care of their bodies by eating healthy. Ultimately, it can be a fun experience for you and your child in the kitchen. The more involved children are in the process, the more likely they’ll be to eat the meal you’ve made together.

Get Your Kids Involved

Get your kids involved by having them plan a lunch menu. I’ve had my kids compile a list of foods they would like in their lunches and I then try to keep those foods on hand. Keep in mind that making extra for dinner is an easy way to have an entrée ready to go for the next day by simply heating up the leftovers in the morning and packing it in a thermos.

Check out kids’ cookbooks at the library together (and see below) for more ideas. One cookbook that my kids like is called "The Usborne Healthy Cookbook". The illustrated pictures make it easy and fun to pick out their next cooking project or lunch menu, and the step by step directions allow them to handle some of the tasks on their own.

Shop Together

Farmer’s Markets are going strong through October, so for fresh, seasonal produce and supporting your local farmers, this is the place to go. In addition to fresh greens, look for foods that freeze well, (such as corn and green beans) that you can purchase in bulk for use in the fall and winter. Usually you can buy fresh eggs and meat as well. And while shopping at the grocery store, have your child help find the ingredients on your list.

Play With Your Food

As the saying goes, “People eat with their eyes.” Presentation and color makes food fun and interesting. Including a variety of colorful foods is important to get a good balanced diet—for example, peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla, grapes, carrots and a banana is an eye catching rainbow that includes not only vitamins but carbohydrates, fat and protein.

Also try dips such as ranch or hummus for vegetables, or crackers and yogurt for fruit. Most kids will eat more vegetables if there’s a dip involved.

Packing the Lunch

This is a perennial issue for my family: I like reusable containers and try to avoid disposable baggies due to the environmental factor, but it’s tough to keep track of multiple containers and lids and can be frustrating when one or the other gets lost. A great solution I plan to try is a bento box—basically a compartmentalized box with a lid that snaps in place. This is an easy way to pack a variety of items as simply or elaborately as you choose, and kids can see everything at once.

Resources

For lunch boxes and bags as well as containers, see www.reuseit.com, and for bento boxes see www.gogreenlunchbox.com or www.planetbox.com. An easy way to find local farmer’s markets and CSA’s is to visit www.localharvest.com and plug your zipcode into the search bar.

Here’s to a year of healthy, homemade school lunches!