Lunch Bucket Savings

by Kelly Jo Landers

One of the well - worn money saving tips is to pack your lunch every day. A typical take - out or convenience meal is going to easily cost you $4 - 6. Your own lunch bag can save you $3 - 5 of that every day.

PB & J can get old fast and you can only eat so many sandwiches. So how do you get yourself to pack that lunch? Variety is the spice of life, and helps motivate you to eat what you pack, also. Keep in mind that if you are new to the whole idea of packing lunches that it takes at least fourteen days to form a new habit.

Start by getting the right equipment. Wal-mart carries a variety of inexpensive lunch boxes, mini coolers and thermos'. Of course, you can brown bag it, if you prefer. Check out the thermos line, for both cold foods, hot foods and drink bottles. Rubbermaid offers a spill-proof drink bottle that is a great alternative to juice boxes. Invest in a collection of plastic silverware. They can be washed and reused, but you won't be devastated if they do disappear.

Be aware that cold drinks may cause condensation with an uninsulated drink bottle. I solve that problem by sewing a pocket from scrap material to place the juice bottle into.

If you can't find juice boxes on sale, you will always be better off sending your own bottle along. Apple juice mixes with any other juice, so you can mix the more pricey juices with apple juice to stretch them a bit. To prevent boredom you can even mix several types of juice into a punch.

One other little thought on lunch box juices. Be sure to read the labels on what you buy. If it isn't 100 percent juice, then why bother sending it? A 10 percent juice drink is mostly sugar water. You could make your own sugar water to add a shot of juice to, but you wouldn't dream of packing that kind of drink. So why buy someone else's concoction?

You need to have a little creativity in packing lunches. If lunches get so boring that you can't stand to eat them, they won't save you a dime. You and your children will see them as punishment. Try to keep the food pyramid in mind and send at least one item from each food group.

The usual sandwich fair can be supplemented with a variety of breads, pitas, English muffins and tortillas. Fill them with egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, lunch meat, cheeses or the old stand by of PB & J. Thinly cut roasts or thick slices of meatloaf can provide a change of pace.

Try the little baby carrots, celery with cream cheese, or little containers of salad to add veggies to lunch. An assortment of veggies, pepperoni and cheese to dunk in a small container of dip can replace the sandwich altogether.

Macaroni salad, potato salad or fruit salad can be made in large batches, then parceled out in smaller containers for lunches. Small baggies of crackers, cheeses, fruits or snack mixes can be made at the beginning of the week to be added throughout the week. (Bag the cheese and the crackers separately, to keep the crackers from getting soggy.)

Leftovers can be cleared from the table after dinner and put right into individual serving dishes for some lunches. We adults usually have the advantage of microwaves to heat up foods for lunch. If not available to you at work, heat your food in the morning and put it in a hot food thermos. If packed away from cooler foods, it will still be hot at lunch time.

Large containers of yogurt can be divided into smaller containers. Add a variety of fruits for different flavors. Or, dash with jelly, honey, nuts, granola or even pudding. Sometimes the small cups of yogurt are the better buy on sale and with coupons. Buy the brands with the lowest fat and sugar.

Use a tortilla shell to be creative. Consider a standard tortilla mix, fruit filling, scrambled egg burritos, cream cheese, melted cheese, butter with cinnamon and sugar or hard boiled eggs. Almost any standard sandwich fair is also game for the tortilla.

Make your own snack mixes with a variety of your own dried fruit, granola, unsalted soy nuts (available at Tops), yogurt raisins or peanuts. Sprinkle the bag of mix with cinnamon for a change of pace. Mix popcorn with nuts and granola and season with taco spices. Or try a mostly fruit mix seasoned with pumpkin pie spices.

Make muffins! Muffins are so handy for lunches because they won't crumble like a cake will with a little rough handling. And the varieties are almost endless! Everything from apple to blueberry, to carrot or mixed veggie.

Lunchables attract the attention of every child in the grocery store. Buy the divided containers and make your own! English muffins can double as mini pizza crusts. Send an assortment of toppings and a bit of sauce. Or send in meats and cheeses with mini pita pockets. Your child will enjoy assembling their own lunch.

Try the rustic approach and pack beef or venison jerky with crackers and dried fruits. Buy the mini pie plates and bake miniature pies, cheesecakes, or quiches. Pack hot soup, stews or chili's in a hot food container with some nice bread or a baggie of crackers.

Lunches don't have to be same old - same old. Use a little creativity and save money!

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