Frugal lunches and snacks for kids

by Frugal Brian


You can help them begin their day by providing a good healthy breakfast, then when dinner time comes around you feed them a substantial, healthful, and tasty dinner. But what do they eat at lunch time? Growing children need three good meals each day, plus a snack or two in between because we need to feed their brain, their body, and their spirit so they grow up strong and healthy. Right? Well that’s the idea but it’s also not always practical when everybody in the family either works or goes to school (or sometimes both). Back when my grandmother was a young mom she never considered working outside of the home. The typical housewife and mother was always there for her family and it seemed like she was always at the stove, cooking up some fantastic meals for her large family. My mother however, had to go to work because she became a single mom when I was quite young. We struggled but we survived. I took a brown bag lunch and to this day (some 60 years later) every time I smell a banana I think back to the bologna sandwich with a banana for dessert I ate nearly every day!

When my son was young he “brown bagged” it too but I made sure he had more variety in his sack, and healthier foods too! So I’ve compiled some of those recipes here to share and added a few that are kids favorites too!

Kids want color and that doesn’t mean brown or grey!

Turkey is one meat that kids tend to love! It’s not too strong and mixes well with a low fat mayonnaise, lettuce, and whole wheat bread, so moms can either buy a turkey for around $10, bake it, then slice into thin slices for sandwiches (or dice it up and add to sandwich spread), freezing leftovers for another week. You can also buy deli turkey already sliced. Adding the lettuce (red leaf romaine is so pretty) makes it really appealing.

Ham is another popular meat that is healthful and makes a pretty good looking sandwich, either sliced thin or diced up and made into a ham salad spread.

Add a cup of soup and a container of fruit (made at home)

I used to buy small plastic disposable containers the kids could bring back home that night. Buy them cheap enough and you don’t worry if one gets thrown away now and then. You can get them from places such as Use a coupon to get more discounts. Buy some fresh apples, peaches, grapes, and pears, dice them up into bite sized pieces, then fill each container with a helping of nice healthy fruits for their dessert. They don’t have the sugar laden juice you will find in those ready packed fruit cocktails but will taste far better without it. Once a week I would make a pot of some kind of soup like vegetable, baked potato, or chicken and rice. This would be saved in individual little plastic containers then stored in the fridge for a daily supply of good healthy homemade soup. I knew it worked when they came home asking what was in it because their friends wanted their own moms to make them some!

Can’t get much more frugal than a pot of homemade soup

Soups are easy and taste oh so good when made from scratch at home! My grandma used to keep a big pot simmering on the back burner of her stove for several days of the week, adding in whatever was left over from the daily meals. Perhaps it would be a ham bone with some ham still attached. Or white beans cooked with bacon. She would then add in a few tomatoes, carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, and maybe a few cloves of garlic. While this simmered we could ladle out a cup of soup whenever we wanted. Little did we kids know that the snacks we got at grandmas house were so healthy! I love making soup because it’s such a personal thing and not only reminds me of the love from my grandmother but how easy it is to feed good substantial and additive free foods to my own family. My baked potato soup is so easy and here is what it consists of:

Grandma’s Baked Potato Soup

6 medium size baking potatoes (Russets or Yukon Gold) When I bake potatoes for a weekend meal like steaks, I add more so I don’t have to bake more separately
1 Cup fresh corn (cut off the cob) or frozen
6-8 slices crispy bacon (for garnish)
1 Stalk Celery (sliced thin)
3 + 1 Thinly Sliced Green Onions (keep one for garnish)
6 cups milk (or 3 cans evaporated + 3 cans water)
1 Cup AP Flour
8 Tbs Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Sharp Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 Cup Sour Cream (reduced fat)
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp White Pepper
½ tsp Black Pepper

Melt Butter, then slowly add the flour to make a roux (sauce). When combined it will thicken then add milk slowly. Add potatoes, corn, celery, 3 green onions (thinly sliced) White and Black Pepper and the salt. You can add more salt and pepper if needed but wait until it’s cooked a bit before deciding. After simmering about 30 minutes to allow ingredients to “meld” their flavors add in the sour cream and shredded cheese. Now here’s where you can “personalize” your soup a bit. Add in leftover peas, green beans, or broccoli and maybe some chopped ham for a variety and even more flavor! Simmer until cheese mingles in then garnish with that remaining chopped green onion and the crumbled crispy bacon, serve or pour into small containers for lunches.

Chicken or Tuna make delicious and easy sandwiches

Take a can of tuna or chicken, add some mayonnaise, chopped up celery, a bit of diced onion, a spoon of dill pickle relish, and a hard boiled egg or two and you have a sandwich mixture kids love! Spread it on whole wheat bread or bun; add some romaine lettuce and you have a great looking sandwich.
Deli Ham works for me!

When I bake a ham there is always plenty left over to make sandwiches or ham salad for sandwiches. But the lean deli variety works too. Ask the person behind the counter to give you a half inch thick slab of ham and then dice it up at home, add some mayo or sandwich spread, hard boiled egg, and a chopped green onion. Spread on a sliced soft bagel or hamburger bun.
Let them choose what they eat (really!)

Kids love to have a hand in deciding what they eat and school lunches are the ideal time for them to make sensible choices. Make room on that crowded refrigerator door for a lunch list and let them write down what they want from each of the four columns you provide: Fruits, Sandwiches, Snacks, & Desserts. Let them choose but make sure they don’t get too far away from healthy foods.

Think small unique shapes and bite size

Kids like small mouth sized items like donut holes and cookies so make their lunch even more inviting by mimicking the shape of their favorites. Use cookie cutters shaped like dinosaurs, cats, dogs, or even “ginger bread” men. Cut their sandwich meats, cheese and bread into popular shapes and they’ll have their classmates trying to con them out of their lunches! A small cup of soup, a healthy tasty sandwich, a helping of fruit (apples, oranges, melons, bananas, or grapes), and a small dessert (homemade cupcake, mini apple pie, Jello cup with grated carrots, nuts, and a few grapes) will not only satisfy your child at lunch time but be a really frugal way to insure they get a good healthy meal while they’re away from home.

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