Back-to-school lunches that won't bust the budget

A healthy lunch should contain foods from each of the five food groups: carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables.

Back-to-school shopping can blow up a household budget. Sometimes the only way a family can save money is by monitoring what it spends each week on groceries.

I've got some great ideas for starting off the new school year by shopping on a budget for your weekly work-and-school lunches. Try using some of these tips each week, and soon you should see some relief in your grocery bills while creating healthy, food-safe lunches for the whole family!

Invest in a good lunch container: Choose an insulated bag and freezer packs to keep food at a safe temperature.

Use washable and reusable containers: Avoid using plastic sandwich baggies. Buy containers in a variety of sizes to fit your lunchbox needs.

Buy in bulk: Avoid single-serve packaging. You save money when you buy food in bulk and pack it yourself into single servings. Buy a large container of yogurt or pudding, and use 4-ounce containers to pack your own. Buy a block of cheese and cut it into cubes or shred it. Buy crackers in boxes, rather than individual packages.

  • Do it yourself: Look beyond lunch meat. Slice your own meat or grilled chicken breast and cut it into strips or cubes. Avoid prepackaged lunches, since they are high-priced.
  • Send in leftovers: Invest in a good insulated food container to keep food warm. Homemade soup is always a good option.
  • Buy what's on sale and use coupons: Get whatever is on sale each week and work it into a menu.
  • Buy store-brand food: And be sure to compare unit prices.
  • Look high and low: Bargains are usually on the top or bottom shelves, not at eye level.
  • Plan ahead: Make a list when you go to the store. The more time you spend in a store, the more money you spend.
  • Include the five food groups: A healthy lunch should contain foods from each of the five food groups: carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Choose whole-grain products like bread, tortillas, pita bread, bagels or whole-grain crackers. These are more nutritious, have more fiber, vitamins and minerals; and keep blood sugar steady for optimal learning.
  • Select protein foods wisely: Use lean meat like chicken or turkey breast, hard-boiled eggs, tuna packed in water, beans or peanut butter. Protein in every meal helps keep blood sugar steady.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season and serve them creatively: Examples include baby carrots with yogurt dip or other cut vegetables with low-fat dip or hummus.
  • Shelve sliced bread: When making sandwiches, use whole-grain bagels, whole-grain pita pockets or whole-wheat tortillas.
  • Rethink side items: Instead of that bag of chips, choose carrots sticks, celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, apple slices with peanut butter, fruit salad, whole fruit, raisins or pretzels.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy: Yogurt, milk and cheese are great calcium and protein sources.
  • Think beyond the cookie: For dessert, try whole-grain graham crackers, ginger snaps, raisins, unsweetened applesauce, homemade muffins or fresh fruit.
  • Avoid drinks with calories and no nutrients: Pick a beverage that hydrates, like water, or choose low-fat or fat-free milk for additional protein, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Add some fun touches: The traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich can become pretty boring. Get a couple of cookie cutters and have kids cut the sandwich into different shapes.
  • Include the kids: Take them along when grocery shopping. Let them pick one new fruit or vegetable each week that they would like to try. Then let them help prepare and pack their lunch.

Try this money-saving recipe for my Rainbow Lunch Wraps. Purchase premade hummus and coleslaw mix to save time. You also can stretch your food dollars by serving any leftover hummus with the sliced vegetables as a snack, and combining any leftover coleslaw mix with a creamy low-fat dressing as a side salad.


4 tablespoons hummus

2 (8 inch) whole-wheat tortillas

1/2 cup shredded coleslaw veggie mix or any combination of thinly sliced crudite, like carrots, celery, zucchini or red bell pepper sticks (like those used for dipping)

3 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion

6 cucumber rounds, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette

1. Spread hummus evenly over each tortilla. Layer each tortilla with equal amounts of coleslaw mix or the sliced vegetables, onion and cucumber slices. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

2. Roll up tightly, slice diagonally and place in a reusable container for lunch or in the refrigerator if preparing ahead of time. Makes 2 wraps.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children's author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is "The Kitchen Diva's Diabetic Cookbook." Her website is To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis. (c) 2019 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis

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