Make lunchtime a fun time with these easy summer lunches!

Easy Frugal Summer Lunches

by Susan Sundwall

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When my daughter-in-law asked me where I got the cute sectioned trays for the kids' lunch, I smiled. I'd saved them from some kids' TV dinners I'd bought with a coupon. That day two of my grandchildren were staying for lunch, and we were going to play cafeteria. It's part of my healthy can be fun agenda for helping them explore the variety and yumminess of good food. Try one of the following easy summer lunches to thrill and delight your own young diners.


Arrange your table so kids can walk all the way around. Roll up a fork and spoon in a napkin. As each child enters the "cafeteria," give him/her a tray or paper plate along with the rolled napkin. Line up your food items, along with serving utensils, on each side of the table. Kids walk around the table to pick their favorite items or you can play the roll of cafeteria worker. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into fingers
  2. American cheese chunks on toothpicks
  3. Celery bites filled with peanut butter or cream cheese
  4. Pretzel sticks
  5. Assorted crackers
  6. Cherry tomatoes and ham chunks on skewers
  7. Yogurt in small paper cups
  8. Egg salad on toast triangles
  9. Granola bars, cut into thirds
  10. Juice or milk

Allow kids to eat in another room on snack trays or outdoors. Use one end of the table for dessert, but with a twist. Whatever I'm serving (let's say oatmeal cookies), I put them in a basket and cover with a dishtowel. To get dessert, the child must show a clean plate to the cafeteria lady (that's you). No peeking allowed! The element of mystery is usually enough to get the last bite of lunch down.

Lunch in Space

They'll love experimenting with tastes and textures by concocting one of these "out of this world" lunches.

  1. Martian Mud - Place one cup of peanut butter in a bowl and thin with one tablespoon of milk, stirring until smooth. Place jelly, plain popcorn, celery bites, pretzels, dry roasted peanuts, raisins or dried cranberries in bowls of varying sizes. Arrange in planetary formation around the bowl of peanut butter. Provide bread or crackers as a base and then urge kids to use their imaginations with toppings.
  2. Lunar Baloney - Using a round cookie cutter, cut circles out of cheese squares and white bread. Cut smaller circles out of baloney. Make "craters" with the baloney on the cheese rounds. Dot with mustard or mayonnaise from squirt bottles.
  3. It Came from Planet Pluto - This one requires a plain cheese pizza and kids' gross imagination. It's also a great way to use up leftovers. Before you bake your frozen pizza, let the kids design an alien face, using food items like cottage cheese, gummy worms, raisins, tuna, pepperoni, corn flakes or anything else they'd be willing to taste once it's out of the oven.
  4. Houston, We Have a Taco - Cut open a lunch sized bag of corn chips on one end lengthwise. Empty chips into a bowl. Layer shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and seasoned ground beef into the bag. Top with corn chips and cheese. Serve with plastic fork and salsa on the side.
  5. Swamp Sludge - Chocolate or strawberry milk with a lime green straw.

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Fruit Frolic

Kids need fruit for good nutrition. So, once in a while, make it an all fruit lunch. Here are some ways to do it.

  1. Whip up fruit cocktail sundaes using parfait glasses or clear plastic cups. Layer the fruit with some crunchy granola and then add whipped topping and a strawberry or pineapple spear for garnish.
  2. Pare then slice several varieties of apples into wedges. Color plain sugar with food coloring using one drop per 1/2 cup of sugar and shake in a jar to mix. Make several colors and place a tablespoon of each color on each child's plate. Instruct them to "rake" the sugar with their fork, making cool patterns to dip their apples in.
  3. Cut pears, apples, bananas, oranges and kiwi into chunks. Let the kids use bamboo skewers to make kabobs. Provide vanilla yogurt in small paper cups and show how to dip the fruit at the end of the skewer from yogurt to mouth. Push the next piece of fruit to the end of the skewer to dip again.

Think of these easy summer lunches< as learning opportunities, too. Returning to school looms large at the end of August and cafeteria etiquette needs to be remembered. Learning about the solar system is way better when you're eating lunar baloney. And what's a cooler way to experience the nutritional value of fruit than by adding a touch of raked sugar? All of these easy summer lunches can be made economically, using what you most likely have on hand. You'll also need is some eager kids, and that's the easy part!

Reviewed June 2017

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