8 Cheap and Creative School Lunch Ideas You Should Try

By Malcolm Baltar | Apr 13, 2020

If your kids are sick of Lunchables and the classic PB&J, it may be time to get a little creative in the kitchen. This doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time and money on sack lunches. On the contrary, there are endless recipes out there that can take your lunch game from mediocre to incredible with just a few dollars.

So, if the kids come home whining about the amazing lunch Jenny’s mom packed, take a leap of faith and give a new recipe a go.

1. Lunchbox Kebabs

This recipe is incredibly straightforward and cheap. All you need is some lunch meat, a few juicy veggies or fruits, your kids’ cheese of choice and skewers. While this particular recipe calls for ham, cherry tomatoes and cheddar cheese chunks, it also suggests taking the liberty to use your own variations. This might include mini pickles, bell peppers, cucumbers, turkey, salami and more. No matter how you slice it, your kids will be getting a decent amount of protein, dairy and fruits or vegetables.

2. PB and Banana Roll-Ups

If your kids love peanut butter and banana toast, this fun spin on the breakfast classic is sure to be a hit. Plus, it’ll give them a break from the overstated PB&J sandwich. With only five ingredients, this recipe is also super simple and cheap to make. Cut in half or into pinwheels and pack them away in a Tupperware container for lunch. Pair with yogurt and fruit for a well-balanced meal all their little friends will envy.

3. Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo

Many schools have microwaves in the lunchroom. If this is the case at your children’s’ school, then this one-pot alfredo with tomatoes and peas is the key to a cheap and creative lunch. Since this recipe is vegan, it does call for ingredients that may be a bit pricier — like soy milk and vegan butter. However, you can easily substitute cheaper, non-vegan ingredients if you don’t mind eating dairy. Make this pasta the night before for easy, convenient lunches.

4. The Perfect Parfaits

Parfaits are a sublime combination of sweet and savory and make for the perfect breakfast — or lunch! Of course, you should probably company it with a granola bar and maybe a hard-boiled egg or two. But a parfait can make an excellent main course. Use any flavor and type of yogurt your kids prefer. Then, layer on the fruit and granola. Pack the parfait in an insulated lunch bag or freeze the yogurt the night before. By the time lunch rolls around, it’ll have thawed.

5. Taco Mason Jar Salad

This recipe does call for a few more ingredients than you may be used to using for school lunches. However, they’re all relatively low-cost and you might even have some of them in your fridge already. Layer the cooked and more liquidy ingredients on the bottom of a mason jar and the dryer, lighter ingredients on top to keep everything fresh until lunchtime. Either refrain from filling the jar completely or pack the salad with an extra container so your child can dump it out.

6. Thai Quinoa Salad Wraps

Colorful and nutritious, Thai quinoa salad wraps may just become your kids’ new favorite lunch. Filled with bell peppers, red cabbage, broccoli and edamame, these wraps are sure to please. Plus, quinoa is an excellent source of fiber and protein, giving your kids that mid-day boost they need to finish out the school day. Make them the night before and freeze. Then, simply place them in your child’s lunch bag in the morning to unfreeze.

7. Vegan Pasta Salad

Packed with flavor and vibrant colors, this vegan pasta salad is the perfect pre-made lunch — and it only takes 15 minutes to throw together. So gather up some cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, celery, bell peppers and a few other basic ingredients and get to slicing and boiling. This recipe also includes instructions to make your own delicious sesame dressing for the salad. Pair with some meat and cheese slices and fruit for a well-rounded lunch.

8. Chicken Fried Rice

Send your kids to school with an Asian-inspired lunch full of veggies and chicken. This recipe requires a package of frozen mixed vegetables but you could easily pick out fresh ones at the grocery store. The only other ingredients you’ll need are a few kitchen staples like salt and eggs, rice and chicken. Drizzle with sesame oil and store in the fridge until your kids are ready to head off to school.

Keep It Simple

When it comes to packing lunches for your kids, it’s best to keep things simple. After all, the fewer ingredients there are, the cheaper the lunches will likely be!

Plus, you probably don’t have a lot of time to prep meals so the quicker and easier lunches are, the better. So give these recipes a go and feel free to modify them any way you see fit for cheap, easy lunches that will surely thrill your kids.

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