When you're on a budget, taking your lunch to work or school is a great way to save money and eat nutritiously. You can control portions and bring healthy options, so you (and your kids) don't have to rely on vending machines or cafeteria meals that are often highly processed.
On the other hand, your life is busy. Amid the morning rush, sometimes it is easier to resort to lunches out or cafeteria food. Still, with a bit of planning, you can develop creative ways to ensure, healthy, filling, and frugal meals for you and your little ones.
Cook extra at dinnertime. For a long time, I avoided leftovers like the plague. Since I've been developing my cooking skills and learning new tricks to make my food taste great, however, I actually enjoy eating the remainders the next day. Some of my favorite lunches are leftover-based, and they're so easy. How hard is it to cook a bit more rice, bake one or two extra salmon filets or sauté a few more vegetables? A fast-food cheeseburger pales in comparison to a delicious homemade meal. To help make lunches convenient, stock Pyrex or Tupperware containers for easy transportation.
Make healthy choices that are portable. Sometimes it's easier to reach for a bag of chips or a fast-food meal because you can take them with you easily. Truthfully, a little preparation helps make healthy food just as convenient. To stave off impulse lunches, pack fruits and vegetables like apples and celery sticks. If you're used to sweets at lunch, pack peanut butter—it goes well with apples and celery, adds protein and helps calm sugar cravings.
Avoid soda. When you are around vending machines all day, it is tempting to drink one or two or more throughout the day. As a cost-efficient solution, pack healthy drinks that will quench your thirst and help you resist sugary sodas. Try a thermos of unsweet tea, or ice water with a lime for added flavor, or a small container of 100 percent juice. All of these choices are good for you and much cheaper than vending-machine soft drinks.
Let treats be treats. If your children enjoy buying candy and junk food in the school cafeteria, it's a good idea to give them a limited allowance, such as $5 per week, so they can enjoy treats in moderation. They will learn to manage money, and they will begin to see candy, sodas and processed food as occasional treats, rather than an everyday lifestyle.
Prepare lunch the night before. Everything is hectic and rushed in the morning, and it's tough to get everyone out the door with a healthy lunch. Take 10 or 15 minutes in the evening to get lunch ready, and you're assured that the morning will be much smoother and everyone will eat well.
Lunch should be delicious as well as healthy. By turning to real food that you bring from home, you'll save money and have more energy throughout the afternoon.