You must all be starved for frugal lunch ideas, ’cause the email from my Lunchables food hack was a lot for me to digest. Who knew that shopping for crackers and cheese and then tallying the costs could give so many readers food for thought. But it did, and I know why.
We all eat lunch, and it’s easy to get stuck in meal rut when there are daily school lunches to make and busy schedules to keep. Sure, buying prepackaged lunch boxes may save a few minutes today, but over time the cost of these meals can add up. Instant meals are not always healthy either.
So I busted a gut, hit the supermarket, calculated the costs, and came up with ten kid-sized meals worthy of your a growing student’s lunch box all for under two bucks. Each lunch idea is fun, frugal, and pretty darn healthy too. I have also included vegetarian, vegan, and meat eater’s options for your family’s preferred meal plan.
The trick to packing a frugal healthy lunch is to plan meals ahead of time, make a grocery shopping list, and stock the fridge with snack-sized portions of food ready to pack in your kid’s lunch box.
Ready to get gastrointestinal? Chew on these ten healthy lunch box ideas and munch a little frugal lunch for under $2 this back-to-school season.
1. Cookie Cutter Sandwiches
Don’t be a square. Sticking a standard rectangular sandwich in your kid’s lunch box is kinda boring. Think outside of the box by cutting crusts and shaping tasty sandwiches using circular cookie cutters.
Make a standard turkey sandwich exciting with tasty flower-shaped melon and cheese slices. Nested sets of flower cookie cutters or heart cookie cutters may inspire your kid to eat healthier foods since various fruits and veggies can be shaped and presented in fun ways.
Total Cost: Gobble gobble. A turkey, cheese, and lettuce sandwich costs just $1.87 with melon, kiwi, almonds, and a homemade chocolate truffle bar on the side. Add yogurt, and a cereal butterfly snack pack for around $.50 more and you’ve got a packed lunch for little cost.
2. Leftover Chicken Lunch Kabobs
Skewer food costs by using dinner leftovers in your kid’s lunch box. Lunch kabobs are easy to make by sticking a drink stirrer through cubed meat chunks, vegetable pieces, and cheese cubes. Check out 1 Organic Chicken, 22 Healthy Meals, $49 Bucks for more ways to use leftovers across multiple meals.
Little fingers like little eating challenges with dipping sauce on the side. Keep the mess contained in frugal lunch boxes with dividers.
Total Cost: Stretch your food dollar by incorporating leftovers into your kid’s lunches. Two tasty chicken kabobs with fresh veggies and a little homemade salsa for dipping pecks your wallet for a paltry $1.23, including a few flower-shaped whole wheat wraps. Add a blueberry butterfly snack for $0.65 and you’re still under two bucks for a healthy fun meal.
Kids like to wrap and roll kabob pieces in whole wheat pita shells or flavored wraps. Any number of dinner leftover options work here, so get creative with lunch kabobs to save money.
3. Peanut Butter and Banana Pinwheels
Your kid hates crusts, meat, cheese, and all other regular sandwich fixings. Awesome. Now what? Go a little bananas by rolling this tasty fruit into a bunch of nutty butter pinwheel bites.
Just spread a little peanut butter, almond butter, or whatever gooey substance onto a wrap, add a banana, and roll away. Use a sharp knife to slice the roll into bite-sized pieces perfect for a pouty mouth. Try my homemade peanut butter recipe for something a little different — it’s less expensive than your regular spread.
Total Cost: Peanut butter and banana pinwheels with crackers, cheese, veggies, and a mini yogurt keep your kid happy for $1.94, including the candy pieces.
Keep food from touching by using reusable silicone muffin cups as dividers. These little cups are cute for kids, add a little color to lunch, and can be used for baking too. A set of reusable silicone heart baking cups are fun to add to a kid’s lunch box too.
4. Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sandwich
Lunch meats and hard cheeses are not cheap. Make a meal (or two) every week meat-free and save some cash with a fresh lunch filled with fruits and vegetables.
Total Cost: A cucumber and cream cheese sandwich (with crusts removed) costs just $1.44 with apple slices, grapes, and a few veggies on the side. Add a homemade granola bar for a few cents more and your lunch is cool for school.
Too much green? Skip the cuke and make a plain cream cheese sandwich on quality bread. Yum.
5. Breakfast for Lunch Kabobs
Serve your kid breakfast for lunch by kabobing (new word) cubes of homemade omelet, chunks of sausage, and pieces of bread together on a skewer.
Colorful reusable silicone muffin cups keep lunch items separated and prevent dipping sauces from spilling over into dry foods.
6. DIY Pizza Bagels
Does your kid like to play with food? Let the little ones stack and assemble their own lunches by putting together the ingredients for pizza bagels.
Total Cost: A stick of string cheese, pizza toppings, grapes, bagel, tomato sauce, and a couple of cookies costs just $1.88 for a very fun lunch.
Make every day pizza day with this simple lunch box idea. If there’s a microwave available at school, then your kid has a hot lunch ready to go!
7. Baked Potato Toppers with Dip
Bake a batch of tiny potatoes and top ’em with cheese, tomatoes, ham, or whatever you or your kid likes to eat. A side of homemade hummus served in an easy-to-clean reusable silicone muffin cup is a simple way to jazz up a lowly spud.
Total Cost: Spend $1.67 on potatoes, cheese, veggies, cookies, and kiwi slices and your kid will dine on a few dimes.
Buying in bulk at stores like Costco can help cut food costs. Check out Price Check Experiment: Is Costco really worth it? to see if shopping at warehouse stores makes financial sense for your family.
8. Noodles in Sauce
Spaghetti, linguine, tortellini, fusilli. Whatever your pasta preference, toss those heated noodles in a thermos or pack them in a container for a noodleicious lunch.
Total Cost: Pasta is a cheap, fun, and tasty meal worthy of a your kid’s lunch box. A frugal $1.74 serves a side of pasta, with tomato sauce and humus for dipping. A sliced apple, some grapes, and a few candy covered nuts complete this kid’s meal.
Use an apple corer and divider to make perfect apple slices the easy way.
9. Bagel Egger and Ham Sandwich
Is your kid a good egg? I thought so. Add a couple of hard boiled eggs (shells removed) with slices of ham and a bagel to break from the boring lunch box routine and crack your kid up.
Total Cost: Two bucks will get ya two eggs, a bagel, lean ham slices, some kiwi, strawberries, melon, green peas, and a Kashi granola bar topped with chocolate chips.
Save some cash by baking a batch of homemade granola bars. Yeah, the prepackaged granola bars are often easier.
10. Perfect Pinwheel Sandwiches
Picky eaters can pick apart pinwheel sandwiches for a fun and frugal time. For this lunch I used the leftover cookie cutter meat and cheese pieces from previous meals to turn a leftover lunch into something pretty special.
How to make pinwheels: Toss leftover cheese and meat pieces onto a wrap. Heat in microwave until cheese is melted. Layer some lettuce, place a few pickles onto the stack, and wrap everything into a tight roll. Use a sharp knife to slice roll into elegant pinwheel sandwiches.
Total Cost: This one was hard to calculate due to the little leftover pieces. I’ll guess this meal costs around $2 after adding up the cheese, chicken, and pickle wrap with a side of homemade salsa and mustard for dipping. Three mini cookies, a few vegetables, and a mini yogurt turn scraps into a spectacular midday meal.
This meal is made possible since a frugal lunch box with dividers keeps all the ingredients separate, and not soggy.
What about the adults?
You too can take a bite out of the homemade savings by adding around $0.50 more food to each meal and dining on adult-sized portions. You can keep (and eat) the heart-shaped cheese pieces if that makes you happy. Kudos. Check out my recipe for Vegetable Sushi Nori Rolls — it is one of my favorite adult lunch box options.
Your Turn: What do your kids like for lunch?