How To

5 School Lunch Ideas That Go Beyond the Brown Bag

5 School Lunch Ideas That Go Beyond the Brown Bag :: Mint.com/blog

The first day of school may be just a few weeks away for some students.

How about a new take on the brown-bag lunch to go along with the new backpacks, sneakers and other school supplies?

Indications are, your lunch-packing skills might need some work.

According to a recent “Rock the Lunch” survey on behalf of brands Annie’s, Honest Kids, Organic Valley and Stonyfield, 54% of grade-school kids gave their lunch a “C” or lower.

For a better grade, parents can take a few lessons to heart.

Broaden what you consider lunch fare, and try a few tricks to preset more typical picks in creative ways.

Here are 5 ways to go beyond the brown bag the repertoire and save:

Nix snack packs

Make your own instead of buying pre-portioned bags, says Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com.

“There’s more value in purchasing a larger size container instead of 
snack size portions,” he says.

Re-use the resealable sandwich bags you portion them into, or opt for more durable plasticware instead.

Revisit the thermos

C. Lee Reed of HelicopterMomandJustPlaneDad.com says a thermos is good for much more than soup.

“We preheat the thermos with hot water for one minute, then pour in the warm food—Spaghetti O’s, leftover stew, sliced up chicken, chili, anything that needs to stay warm,” she says.

Want something cold? Put the thermos in the fridge for a few minutes before loading with goodies like pudding, milk or frozen grapes.

Pack a picnic

Deconstruct that sandwich.

“I make [my son] Jack’s lunch each day and there was a time when 
it would come home virtually untouched—he had hit the sandwich wall,” says Ann Morgan James, author of How to Raise a Millionaire.

So she started buying frozen bake-your-own-bread loaves, cutting them up so she could defrost a portion nightly to bake in the toaster oven the next morning.

The fresh bread gets packed up with small containers of other staples: meats, cheese, veggies and fruit.

“Since he started getting picnics instead of a sandwich, the lunch sack 
usually comes home empty,” she says.

Get creative with presentation

PB&J may be more palatable when it’s presented in the shape of a butterfly, or a shark.

Andrea Eldridge, chief executive of computer repair service Nerds on Call, looks to the “Easy Lunch Box Lunches” page on Pinterest for ideas.

“It may sound too time consuming, but you’ll be
surprised at what you can pull off quickly and easily with a few sandwich 
or vegetable shape cutting tools and some reusable packaging,” she says.

Pre-prepare

Wash and cut most of your produce on Sunday, then pack a few days of lunches at once to save time prepping and cleaning, says registered dietitian Michelle Dudash, author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.

Stick with in-season fruits and vegetables to save. Among her picks: apples, grapes, pears, cucumber, celery, carrots, broccoli, and cantaloupe.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.