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Friday, January 16, 2009

Lunch on the Cheap!

As part of my crusade to cut food spending I decided that we threw away way too much lunch meat. The kids for some reason never realized it was in the drawer, and I tended not to eat it and it goes bad fairly rapidly -- and in truth with all the nitrates, high sodium, and other added chemicals,'s really not that good for you. So-- instead I decided to try to keep other things on hand for lunches that were more in line nutritionally with what I wanted the kids and I to eat. So-- no more lunchmeat, and also about that time we were going through two entire bags of potato chips a week. Even with my shopping mean and getting them for no more than $2 a bag.. that was still $4 a week on just chips, or $16 a month on potato chips-- without counting what we ate in tortilla chips every week.
So if you don't eat potato chips and you don't eat lunch meat, you're eatin lots of PB and J right? --well not exactly. Two of my kiddos have severe peanut allergies so that's not gonna work. First off-- the kids pack their own lunch the night before, before they have their evening snack. It's their job not mine and they know what they like so there is less waste-- they have of course been instructed in things like -- no more than one juice box a day, no you can't pack all cookies and no other things, etc... and for the most part they stick to it.

Things I keep on hand for lunches include:

*Lots of little thermoses-- we've had to change this policy recently but at first I bought bunches of short thermoses at places like the thrift store, goodwill, and garage sales so there was always something available for them to pack leftovers in. The kids did hotdogs for a while and lots of soup-- much cheaper than lunchmeat-- however, if you are doing canned soup-- there is alot of the same chemicals, msg (yummy neorotoxins) , etc.. that we now try to avoid. And we just won't even discuss the health benefits of (We have now switched to homecanned or frozen soups, meatballs and sauce, etc.

*Tiny little containers that seal well -- like 1/4-1/2 cup size for packing things like ranch dressing or peanut butter for dipping carrots, celery or apples in. --We've also had discussions about how it's not neccessary to fill the container with ranch dressing only enough to dip in.

*Plastic silverware-- when they return it I wash it and reuse-- but it's not one I harp on--bigger battles exsist.

*Meatballs- I make them up in packets of three or four meatballs with sauce --after spaghetti night with the leftovers, yep I just make them up the night we eat spaghetti-- that way they don't end up stuffed to the back of the fridge and rotten next week.
The kids can bring a bun and put them on it and make a sandwich or they can thaw some noodles-- yep those are in the freezer too in individual packs--easily thawed in a colander in warm tap water--seriously 2 seconds!

*Cheese and crackers

*Hard boiled eggs-- I boil at least a dozen a week -- maybe more now that I'm pregnant -- I label them on the end with a B --(some folks do the date)-- in water washable marker--using different colors each week so I know how old they are--should one happen to escape me and the kids. I keep them loose in the meat drawer--unpeeled. They eat them just as is--peeled, dipped in salt and pepper or with salt and pepper sprinkled on them, we make deviled eggs for snacks, or egg salad, or they love them mushed up with a fork and a tiny bit of butter, salt and pepper and then put in the microwave for about 10-20 seconds--covered!

*Egg Salad for sandwiches or my girls love to eat it just plain or with crackers

Egg Salad
6 boiled eggs--peeled and chopped fine with a pastry blender in a bowl
1/4 cup mayo
1 tsp mustard, dry
1/4 tsp salt
dash of pepper

mix it all together and walla ! Cheap great complete protien for sandwiches.

*Premade burritos -- this is one I learned from my mom-- you make up a big batch of burritos and the leftovers can be heated the morning of school and then cut into somewhat largish peices and smashed into a thermos.. they stay warm all day that way -- some kids can use a microwave at school and if that's the case you can just pack the burrito in some saran wrap and they can heat in the saran wrap and eat it that way --- about 1 min for heating time. I've taken this a step further and I make the burritos up with whatever is left over on taco or burrito night -- beans, cheese and meat and stuff em in a tortilla --wrap em in saran wrap and put them into a container or bread bag in the freezer so they all stay together and none of them become dregs on the bottom of the freezer when you clean it out.. label with a sharpie marker as to what they are and the date you made them.

*Chicken, Turkey, Tuna, Ham, Steak -- any meat -- salad.
You can chop in a blender or food proccessor or just chop finely any meat -- minute steaks are especially yummy in the blender with just mayo, if there are leftovers-- (my kids actually fight over the leftovers of those) -- But anyway! Mix about 2 cups of meat, about 1/4 cup of mayo-- I don't like much, some mustard if you choose, 1/2 cup of nuts if you like them, or celery, or pickle relish, a hard boiled egg or two--extends it out a bit more to make more servings. --- This one is one you can do the bulk of the work ahead of time-- you would just chop several bags worth of meat at the same time and then stick that in the freezer in baggies.

*Cheese sandwiches

*Spiral Sliced Ham and Sliced Turkey breast from the big bird. -- A big bird or a big ham will yeild alot of meat --both for casseroles, soups etc. and for lunch. If you use the cooking bags or make it on the weekend it isn't a whole ton of work to bake one.. just takes baking time, then you have to be on the ball enough to package it all up into a few days supply of meat in baggies and freeze those. I buy several hams, or turkeys when they are on sale for the holidays and cook about one a month if I can.

*Soups, Casseroles, whatever --frozen in individual servings so you can easily reheat-- quiche would be great this way --that's where all those containers come in handy.

*Homemade hot pocket style sanwiches-- I've never done them so I don't have a recipe -- but I keep intending

*Cups of unsweetened applesauce-- one of the few prepackaged things I buy. I buy them in bulk when they are on sale since they are shelf stable.

*Fresh Fruit-- whatever is on sale --kids are instructed to bring home anything that doesn't get used--even nasty bananas.

* Popcorn or pretzels instead of potato chips--cheaper and better for you.

*homemade quick breads-- apple, banana, whatever, slices can be prepacked and frozen

* drop cookies and bar cookies-- same thing frozen in serving size baggies for the freezer put them inside another container so you don't find them lost on the bottom of your freezer. You can make a triple or double batch of cookies next time you make them and package up half the cookies this way and let the kids eat the other half fresh or do a baking day.

*muffins-- homemade and frozen

*** Time saving tip! -- Egg salad, tuna salad and even PB&J freezes! Have the kids help you on an assembly line one night and make up a ton of sandwiches. I pack mine in the sandwich sized fold over or zipper bags -- then I put them back in the bread bag the bread came in and label the bags with premade address label stickers and/ or sharpie--if you use sharpie --do it before the sanwiches are in the bags. The night before the kids pull them out and put them into their bag in the fridge and by the time they eat them they are thawed and perfectly fine!

Hope this helps all who had requests for easy money saving lunch ideas! I'll try to keep posting so keep coming back for more.

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