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Lesson 9: Back to School Lunches on a Budget

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A 12-Month Series by Guest Blogger Julia Wessels, from The Frugal Find

If you're sending kids to school, likely you're making the decision between hot lunches at school or sending a cold lunch.  We have four kids all in school this year and a hot lunch costs $2.50 x 4 that's a whopping $10 a day!  I've talked before about our ENTIRE family grocery budget being only $75/week.  This would seriously eat into our budget so the decision for our family was an easy one to make.

Back to School Kids


Of course, finances aren't the only factor that plays into sending a lunch with our kids to school.  Knowing they'll actually EAT the food I send with them is even more important.  I wanted to share a few examples of lunches we send with our kids each day.  First of all, we invested in a few containers with snug lids to put inside their lunch boxes so that we could cut back on the cost of Ziploc bags.  I also scoured local thrift stores and found a few Thermos containers so that I could send hot lunches from time to time.  Sending hot lunches is a great way to stretch your budget if you have leftovers from dinner.  For example, today my daughter is taking a bowl of White Bean Chicken Chili to school today—I think that beats a PB&J any day!

Cost of food varies greatly from state to state, but I think you'll find that hands-down, eating at home (or prepared at home) food is always cheaper.

Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking about creative (and frugal!) lunchbox meals:
Bagel & Cream Cheese
Homemade Uncrustables (PB&J or Grilled Cheese)
Salami, Cheese, and Crackers - substitute ham, turkey, etc
Peanut Butter and Apple "Sandwiches"
Homemade Pumpkin Muffins
Soups and Chilis

 Homemade Uncrustable How-To!

There are also a few tools that make packing lunches a breeze for me.  The first one is the Apple Wedger which works great for pears too! When packing hot liquid lunches (soups, etc) the Thermos Leak Proof Stainless Steel Food Container is a must!  Of course if you're packing a cold lunch and actually want it to stay cold you'll need a couple Blue Ice Packs.  Also as I mentioned above, a good set of plastic containers are very useful and in the end will help you to save money by cutting out Ziploc bags. I like The Container Store Klip-It Lunch Cubes but there are many different products on the market, the key is to make sure they don't leak especially if you're putting fruit or yogurt into the containers.

Lastly, I thought I'd share one of my family's favorite recipes: Homemade Granola Bars!  They're actually very simple to make and a lot heartier (and healthier) than your average Quaker granola bars. This recipe comes from my friend Sumiko who blogs at Near to Nothing.  She guest posts on The Frugal Find each week in our From Our Pantry on a Budget series!

Granola Bars
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 to 3/4 Cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ*
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup mix-ins (see below)
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract

Dried cranberries
Chocolate chips or peanut butter chips
1/2 Cup peanut butter (plus some chocolate chips, of course!)
Dried fruits (apples, bananas, cherries, blueberries, etc.)
Pretty much anything your heart desires!

 Granola Bars!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 baking pan and set aside. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients; pour wet ingredients into well.  Mix until combined, then spread into the prepared pan. Using your hands, press it evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until they begin to turn brown around the edges. Cut bars while still warm then cool completely. Store in an air-tight container or zip-top bag.

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