You've got all the ideas for your kids' nutritious lunches, the best lunchbox on the market... that just leaves one big dilemma: feeding kids every day can put a crunch on your budget. We're here to help with a few lunch ideas for kids that save money. From brilliant new ways to reuse leftovers to shopping produce sales and making canned beans the star of your show, these eight lunch box ideas feed kids well without paying a fortune at checkout.
1. Repurpose old bread and rolls
Watch those leftover hamburger buns become the secret ingredient for these shortcut quiche cups that fit perfectly in lunchboxes! No burger buns? Any piece of bread will do. Start with eggs, then add any combination of ham, turkey, cheese or veggies and you’ve got a brand new twist on lunch.
2. Put a Can of Beans to Work
This hearty vegetable soup comes together with the help of the cheapest, most satisfying item on any grocery list: canned beans! Ladle this hot stuff into a thermos and send those littles off for a cozy day ahead. Tip: To keep soup warmer, fill your thermos with hot or boiling water for at least 20 minutes before pouring out and replacing with soup.
3. Transform Leftover Pasta
Last night’s cheese tortellini dinner leftovers become lunch by adding a few chopped veggies, a little extra cheese and your favorite Italian salad dressing. Cold pasta salad is the secret weapon to use for reducing waste and not lining your pantry shelves with half-opened pasta boxes. I finally started cooking the whole pound of pasta, then using the extra for lunch boxes. It’s a huge hit every time!
4. Break Out the Blender
Chickpea bites are the vegetarian lunch of any kid’s dreams. Crispy, bursting with flavor and perfect for dipping, it all starts with a humble handful of beans that cost about a dollar at the store.
5. Reuse Leftover Taco Filling
Whether your taco filling is beef, turkey or veggie crumbles, try adding an extra can (or two) of black beans. This will help your filling go further—far enough to produce lunch the next day, too! Then, use a simple roll of store bought biscuit dough to create fast taco pockets. Roll out the dough, add filling plus some cheese and then bake. Bam! Tomorrow’s lunch is already organized.
6. DIY Lunchables
Not only are these cheese and crackers kits simple to assemble, but when you fill each compartment with whatever fruit is on sale this week, the kids get a fresh burst of flavor you can’t find in the pre-packaged stuff. And don’t forget the freezer aisle—those frozen peas are the most unexpected crowd pleaser you’ll ever find in a lunch box. Who knew?!
7. Macaroni & Cheese 2.0
How do you hold mac & cheese in your hand? When it’s baked into convenient cups, leftover macaroni and cheese becomes perfectly portable. The secret is stirring in a couple of eggs and adding a touch more cheese plus salt and pepper on top. In only a few minutes, you’ll have a hearty lunch featuring every kid’s favorite food.
8. Bake the Main Dish
Sometimes I put so much pressure on lunch, like it’s the only meal our lucky kids will eat today. But baking a nice batch of quick bread, muffins or even protein balls can become lunch at the ready! Fill out lunch boxes with hearty boiled eggs, cheese or nuts (if your school allows) and bam, you’ve got the fixings for a filling lunch.
Happy (budget) lunching!