10 Kid-Friendly Meals on a Budget

Just as the cost of buying lunch at work can quickly add up — the average American spends nearly $1,000 each year eating out for lunch — ready-made lunches for your children are expensive, not to mention often unhealthy. But making lunch every day doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost a fortune. These kid-friendly meals on a budget are easily prepared, healthy and affordable.

Deconstructed BLT

If you’re trying to get your child to eat more greens, this fresh take on a classic BLT sandwich removes the bread and replaces it with croutons in a leafy salad. The best part? The only thing you have to cook is the bacon. To safeguard against sogginess, remember to put the dressing in a small container on the side.

Upgraded Cold Cuts

Level up a traditional turkey sandwich with whole-grain bread, cheddar and apple slices. You can also swap the apple for an avocado. By toasting the bread, the sandwich should hold up until your child makes it to the lunchroom. Or, remove the bread and opt for a skewer version, or try a pinwheel-style roll-up.

A Better PB&J

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a classic for a reason, but as with cold cut sandwiches with sauces or dressings, the key to keeping your child from singing the soggy sandwich blues is toasting the bread. The added crunch gives the sandwich a little something extra — as do bananas, almonds or a dash of honey (or all three!). Get creative with your PB&J by trying different combinations based on what’s already in your cupboards or what fruit is in season.

Liquid Lunch

Smoothies are another way to get creative using what’s already in your house, and frozen fruits work just as well as fresh. Add yogurt plus flax or chia seeds for some extra nutrients. Keep the smoothie frozen so that it keeps any other lunchbox items cool and will be ready to drink by lunchtime. Experiment with different combinations until your kids — and you — find your favorites.

Big-Batch Lunches

Grain, bean or leafy salads are easy to make in large quantities, allowing you to make them ahead of time and dole out each morning. While some dishes are better warm, others like macaroni and cheese or broccoli pesto pasta (bonus: hidden vegetables) are just as delicious when they’ve cooled off.

New Take on Tuna

Canned tuna is inexpensive and packs in healthy omega-3 fatty acids — aka the one you want. Pack the tuna and some crackers to dip, and you have a lunch made in mere minutes.

Breakfast for Lunch

Leftover waffles and pancakes from Sunday breakfast make an easy Monday lunch. Try cream cheese and strawberry preserves between two waffles, or the reliable duo of peanut butter and banana. Oatmeal and a dash of brown sugar and cinnamon is another option. Pack it in a thermos to keep it warm.

Leftover Lifesaver

Have a bunch of odds and ends to use up? Creating a meal of rice topped with any vegetables and proteins you have leftover makes for an easy way to use up ingredients. Have leftover meatballs from a spaghetti dinner? Try rolling them in a tortilla for a quick snack.

Quick Quesadillas

Quesadillas are another way to pack leftovers into an entirely new meal. Start with the basic tortilla-and-cheese version and from there try adding ham, corn, rice or … really, your imagination is the limit.

Soup Savings

Soups are another easy meal that you can make in big batches ahead of time. They’re even easier when they have minimal ingredients, like tomato soup. Just reheat and put in a thermos (and pack some toasted bread or crackers for dipping).

To save additional time and money, prepare what you can over the weekend and buy enough ingredients to make your own lunch, too. And remember, a small treat — a piece of fruit, a small piece of dark chocolate or the occasional cookie — can go a long way toward creating a memorable lunch.

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