Gone are the days of soggy sarnies and bruised apples. Pack off your kids to school with a lunch they’ll actually want to eat! These lunchbox ideas for kids will give you plenty of inspiration to create new, exciting and healthy packed lunches that won’t break the bank.
1. Fruit – get fruity for less
Never buy prepared vegetable sticks, fruit pieces or mini pots of fruit salad. Instead prepare them yourself, or (more cost-effective still) grow your own.
Choose fruit that’s quick to prepare like satsuma pieces, sliced banana or pear, and grapes. Get what’s on offer for the best prices, and preserve a batch with a sprinkle of lemon juice.
Or why not try dried fruit? Don’t just stop at raisins. Dried apple, apricots and mango are all loved by kids, and are an excellent source of fibre and vitamins.
2. Meat – swap processed for lower priced cuts
Processed sandwich meats may be cheap – but nutritionally they’re pretty poor, with lots of added starch, salt and water.
Instead try pre-cooking some skinless chicken drumsticks or thighs (buy cooked ones if you’re short of time). They’ll also keep in the freezer. For variety, some decent quality sausages should work a treat too.
3. Cheese – portion it out
Larger blocks of cheese are far more cost-effective than pre-wrapped individual ones.
Mini cheese portions are extortionate for the amount of cheese you’re getting. It’s all packaging.
So cut cheese sticks or slices; try shapes with a biscuit cutter for fussy eaters. Give adventurous kids supermarket value soft, blue or smoked cheeses. They’ll soon forget those packaged versions.
4. Dips – invent your own ‘lunchables’
If you or your child are drawn to the idea of dipping things in little pots, you could make your own ‘little dippers’. For example, prepare mini pots of cream cheese (taken from a larger, more cost-effective tub), with sticks of veg or bread/toast. You could even put it in a branded container to rival the supermarket marketing ploys, and keep your child happy.
Put hummus or cream cheese in a sealed pot. Change the varieties to give them different tastes.
Include breadsticks, or sticks of carrot and celery, for some dipping fun – at a fraction of the cost of packaged dipping pots!
5. Cereal bars - make your own
Although marketed under the “healthy” banner, branded cereal bars often contain high levels of sugar, and are costly too. Make your own batch of muesli bars/flapjacks to last the whole week. Plus they're quite fun to make - a great way to get the kids involved in a bit of baking!
6. Crackers – for added crunch
If your little ones prefer something crunchy, get different types of crackers such as wholemeal or oat. Put in a selection, with a container of sliced cheddar. There are loads of healthy options, some with five crackers packaged together. How quick is that to pop into a healthy lunchbox?
Or go for breadsticks for a change – try cheesy ones, herb flavoured and ones coated with sesame seeds. Yummy with a little pot of soft cheese.
7. Paté - for a tasty topper
Paté or peanut butter spread thinly over their favourite bread is a cunning way to sneak in some goodness.
8. Mini meals – recycle your dinner favourites
If your child has dinner favourites, why not make them available for lunch? Cold mini pizzas with lots of toppings are always a winner.
Mixed pasta, rice or couscous salads are lunchbox ideas that will add variety. Go for wholemeal options with all of these to fill them up for longer.
A portion of bolognese with small pasta shapes makes it easy to eat, or try macaroni cheese for a change.
9. Tortillas or pitta - swap the sarnies for some variety
There are endless varieties of bread, so why keep buying the same loaf? Get creative with these lunchbox ideas and try buttered pitta bread with hummus dip.
Put the usual sandwich fillings in soft tortillas or granary rolls (granary rolls are great with soups in winter). Kids love different shapes of food too, so bagels go down a treat. Stock up with what’s on offer to save pennies, and freeze it to keep it fresh.
But if you’ve got the time and the inclination, you’ll save money (after the initial outlay of a bread maker) by making your own quality homemade bread.
10. Sliced meats – try some tapas
Worried your child isn’t getting enough protein? Try some varieties and see what works. If they’re rejecting ham sandwiches, put different slices of meat and salami in a container so they can see what they’re eating.
11. Egg – more ways than one to get in their tum
If egg mayonnaise isn’t popular, put a sliced hardboiled egg in a container. Fussy eaters are more likely to eat something if they can see what it is.
12. Healthy fillings in a pot – remember the spoon!
Kids love little containers of different flavours and colours. They’re quick and cheap, and can contain healthy fillers for hungry tummies.
Put tuna and sweetcorn in a sealed container, or mixed salad beans from a tin. It’ll take seconds – just remember to include a spoon!
13. Soup – a great winter warmer
If you’ve got a thermos, then soup or chowder in a flask can be a great winter warmer. Or how about warm baked beans with a wholemeal roll?
14. Vegetable bites – add colour and texture
For health-friendly lunchbox ideas cherry tomatoes or sticks of carrot and red pepper add colour and texture for a packed lunch.
15. Treats – healthy, easy extras
For extras that are filling and healthy, try yoghurt drinks, banana chips or popcorn.
Packets of dried cranberries, yoghurt-coated raisins and pretzels are all preferable to chocolate and crisps – and they’ll go down well with your little customers, too!
Extra tips to keep the cost down
- Lunchbox ideas from leftovers - If you plan what you’re going to eat, you can make the most of leftovers. You'll be amazed how much time and money you'll save with a little know-how. The perfect place to start is this guide on 20 great lunchbox ideas from leftovers. All recipes and lunchboxes have been tried and tested by MyFamilyClub’s Gemma – and given the golden seal of approval by her children!
- Slice meats and cheese thinly - It’s worth getting a cheese slicer for this, and layer slices up rather than cutting them into thick slabs. This creates the impression of volume and makes less go further.
- Use supermarket own brands - If you’re looking for lunchbox ideas to save money, swap things like mayonnaise or salad cream for the supermarket own brands - which are perfectly good for sandwiches, and a lot cheaper.
- Refill - If your kids insist on a particular brand of bottled drink that’s neither healthy nor good value, buy one and reuse it. Save money by filling it with fresh juice, to count as one of their five-a-day. Just make sure you replace it when it becomes tatty!
- Save on yogurt pots - Avoid over-priced individual yoghurt pots. Instead, buy a larger tub of yoghurt and re-pot it into smaller pots.