I had to come up with a few rules for myself as well as my daughter to avoid wasting food and money when she wants to brown bag her school lunch. Albeit easier on me when she buys her lunch from the school, I do like to pack her lunch so that I can choose (with some input from her) what she will be eating. It also gives us some fun time together at the grocery store and in the kitchen.
There is savings in being prepared
My daughter and I grocery shop every other week. Prior to us going to the store we decide if she is taking her lunch that week or buying it. This decision is important in being prepared and is the basis for my first rule, if she wants to take her lunch, in order to not waste foods that can expire, she needs to take a lunch each day that week. This allows me to buy some items in bulk and not waste money on products that may go bad before being used.
Dual purpose shopping
Another lunch shopping tip I have learned is looking for meal items and snacks with dual purpose. I try to find items that I can cook for dinner and can easily be converted into left over lunch items. An example of this is planning a chicken dinner where I can take left over chicken and make a pulled-chicken sandwich out of it as part of her lunch the following day. Vegetables are another item I buy with this intent, carrots and broccoli are common dinner side-dishes we have that often make it into school lunches the next day.
Fresh not pre-packaged
Grocery stores are littered with pre-packaged, kid targeted, lunch items. In the past, I have for time sake purchased these items as lunch filler. I call them lunch filler because to me that is all they are, filled with their not-so-real cheese and lunch meat that I don’t think ever was really meat. I’m almost embarrassed to admit feeding it to my child.
It takes a little more time and planning, but purchasing fresh vegetables and fruit has been ideal for our routine. Not only is the fresh fruit and veggies healthier, but it allows me to make purchases with dual purpose as mentioned earlier. Cooked carrots for dinner and some set aside before cooking gives my daughter carrot sticks for her lunch. Had I purchased those “pre-packaged carrot nubs” I would have had to buy carrots for cooking also.
Dessert tricks (or treats)
Dessert items are a harder sell when it comes to my kid. Convincing her that fruit is a dessert has not been easy, she loves fruit, but the call of the sugar filled cookie is often stronger. To help with this, I started purchasing sugar-free wafers (strawberry, vanilla, chocolate) which so far has worked out well. Another trick that I do is pack a small Tupperware container of whip cream, so she then can dip her fruits (strawberries, bananas etc) in it as a dessert.
With some pre-planning you can easily put together a cost-effective healthy lunch for your child. When its time to shop, go in with a plan and include your child in the decision-making process. This teaches them responsibility and promotes healthy eating habits that they will carry with them as they get older.