Cheap summer lunch ideas

The Frugal Summer Lunch Program

by K. M. Praschak

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Before the school bus squeals to a stop on the last day of school, the kids are already waiting to pounce on us with that dreaded question, "What's for lunch today?" Past experience has already told me that day after day of the same old sandwiches lead to rebellion from both children and grownups. Also, my dainty little pocketbooks can't handle the boundless funds that daily trips to the fast food place would cost. Therefore, I've gathered some menus ideas for those young gentlemen and ladies who lunch with us over the summer.

  • First, peruse any old school lunch calendars for inspiration. Ask the children what they liked and establish what they won't touch ever again. It's no use making up a batch of pumpkin muffins if they'll feed them to the dog.

  • Think back to what you enjoyed as a child. Turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese, tomato soup, along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are all items the kids might enjoy.

  • Make a week's menu at a time and post it. That way, everyone will know the plan and you won't repeat the same lunch two days in a row. Add fruit and/or vegetables and a beverage to round out the meals.

  • Engage your children in preparing the lunches. Even a toddler can learn to put slices of bread on a plate. Older children can learn how to prepare salads, wash fruit, and other more complex tasks.

  • Remix those leftovers. If you've got extra grilled chicken left from the weekend's barbecue, dice it up and put it in ramen noodles, chicken noodle soup, or wrap it up with a pita or tortilla. Don't forget your veggies. My relatives add all sorts of chopped fresh onion, cabbage, and other goodies to their ramen along with the leftover meat. This week, I turned our leftover bean and chicken chili into nachos. With the remaining chili, I can make easy soft tacos.

  • Beyond the sandwiches and simple lunches, you can also cook up double batches of casseroles or other multiple serving dishes. Serve one for lunch and put the second batch in the freezer for dinner another week. This idea works for lasagna, beef stew, tuna casserole, and meals you can whip up with the slow cooker.

  • Take a picnic to the park or patio. We like to pack the usual suspects of sandwiches for our basket, but we've also taken along cut up vegetables, fruit, yogurt, and cheese. Invite your spouse or partner along, enjoy a cool beverage, and dine al fresco together while the kids play.

  • Enjoy the opportunity to learn about the cuisines of other cultures. Make a family expedition to the library to find recipes for that Greek dish you've always liked. Explore the ethnic food markets in your area and don't hesitate to scoop up the bargains if you find them. Often, staples like rice or beans can be found at a wallet-friendly price.

  • If the weather's too hot to heat up the kitchen, keep your menu simple. Serve up fruit and cheese plates. Once in awhile, make smoothies. Slice up a cooked ham for sub sandwiches and load up on the veggies. Get the kids to help you toss a salad and serve with whole grain rolls or crackers. Hand out dishes of yogurt mixed with fruit and nuts. Also, don't forget that using the microwave or slow cooker doesn't ratchet up the temperature.

  • Don't forget about dessert! Maybe it's time to dig through the recipe box for that peach cobbler recipe your grandma gave you. Or check out the fresh goodies available at farmer's markets or roadside fruit stands. Get the kids involved, too. Washing fruit is easy and learning how to bake is a valuable and fun life skill.

As you can see, the variety of food available for your summer lunch program can take you and your family all the way up to the school bell's first ring in the fall. By keeping your meals healthy, simple, and fun, and you'll dine in relative peace (just don't forget the napkins!).

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