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Lunch Ideas for Kids: Healthy and Budget-Friendly

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 10/14/2009

Kids tend to prefer a lunch box to the school cafeteria, but typical lunch box meals are not only expensive, but unhealthy. The trick is to pack items that are high in nutrition, kid friendly, and affordable as well. Here's how to pack healthy school lunches that are budget-wise.

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    Dippers and Dunkers

    Dippers and dunkers always appeal to kids, and they can be a great addition to low budget, lunch ideas for kids.

    Dunkers

    Think carrot and celery sticks, apple sections or cucumber slices. Don't buy the washed baby carrots unless they are on sale. They are much more expensive. Try grating carrots into ridged chips. You can do this with cucumbers too. This is a fun, kid-friendly way of serving them. Make a bunch at one time and keep in a ziploc bag for convenience. Instead of purchasing single serving dips, invest in several small plastic containers with lids to hold the dips. Make it even more fun by choosing your child's favorite color or character. This way you can pack lots of different dips and you won't pay extra for overly-priced single serving items.

    Dippers

    Some healthy and cheap lunchtime dips to pack for dunking might include simply mixing peanut butter with a bit of honey. The honey helps thin the peanut butter a little to make it better for dipping. Peanut butter is high in fiber and protein, and a classic kids' favorite. Low-fat ranch or another favorite salad dressing makes a great dip for veggies.

    Hummus is a unique, but cool idea for a dip. Cut out whole wheat pita bread into fun shapes with a cookie cutter. Pack some homemade hummus for a satisfying and healthy lunch. It's much cheaper to make your own hummus than to buy it premade. There are just a few ingredients required, and it's mostly a matter of tossing them into a blender or food processor. Hummus, which is made from garbanzo beans, is full of fiber and protein, and when served with a complex carbohydrate, makes for a blood sugar stabilizing, high energy food. The mild taste of hummus is appealing to kids who find dippers and dunkers a fun way to eat.

    Dippers and dunkers are a great way to sneak in lots of healthy fruits and veggies into your child's lunch. Be creative.

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    Make Your Own Granola/Cereal Bars

    Those expensive, individually wrapped cereal bars are outrageously priced, especially when a whole batch can be made at home for less than the price of a box of six. Make your own and wrap in plastic or place in a small snack size ziploc bag. Use your child's favorite cereals for a kid-tempting treat she won't wanna pass up. These yummy treats help make healthy school lunches more appetizing.

    You'll need:

    1/2 bag of mini marshmallows

    1/2 stick of lower fat margarine

    Your child's favorite cereals (mix together 2 or 3 types if you like)

    raisins, dried cranberries, dried blueberries or other dried fruit

    chopped nuts

    Simply melt the butter and marshmallows in a large saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well and press into a pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Let the bars set up for a half hour and then cut. Pack in plastic bags for lunches.

    These cereal bars are free of preservatives, and include plenty of fruits and nuts for a healthy mix of protein and carbohydrates, and vitamin C. The berries are full of phytochemicals, flavonoids and antioxidants. Blueberries and raspberries are rich in lutein. This makes these bars a treat you can feel good about serving to your kids, and they make healthy and cheap kids' lunches easy to accomplish.

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    Cheaper Cheesy Treats

    Since you're looking for some healthy lunch ideas for kids, how about a cheesy treat on the cheap? Kids need 2-3 servings of dairy products each day, depending on age, according to the new kids' food guide pyramid. (mypyramid.gov) There are some really expensive cheese cutouts geared for kids in every grocery store, but why pay such high prices? Sliced cheeses of any type that your child likes can be more fun at no extra cost. Just use a small cookie cutter and cut cheese slices into fun shapes, like stars, hearts, or crescents. Include some baked whole wheat crackers for a healthy lunchtime addition your child is sure to love. Whole wheat crackers provide a serving of healthy grains. You can also do this with low fat lunch meats, like turkey, making really cool stackables. Cheese, low fat meats, and whole grain crackers are not only filling, but provide a serving of meat, dairy, and grains. Your child will also get sustainable energy from the mix of carbohydrates and proteins, to help get him through the afternoon.

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    Cheaper Cheesy Treats

    The cheapest and healthiest drink for your child's lunch is simple: water. Make sure to get your child's attention with a colorful, sealable, plastic bottle. Find one with your child's favorite character on it. Fill with filtered water and ice. It will be nice and cold at lunchtime. If your child balks at water and would rather have something different, fill a drink container with 100% organic fruit juice or milk. There are also some fruit flavored low sugar vials that can be added to water for a more flavorful drink with less calories.

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    Resources

    1. Kids' Health: www.kidshealth.org

    2. Keeping Kids Healthy: www.keepingkidshealthy.com

    3. Eating Well: www.eatingwell.com