Friday, February 28, 2014

Gotta get creative for school lunches

2 kids bring lunch to school daily, as do DD and I to work, although "the girls" tend to take leftovers that we can heat up as we both have access to microwaves.  We're in austerity mode, as March's unpaid leave is just down the road. While we usually have one or 2 pkgs of cold cuts on hand (Aldi's bologna, or sliced ham), they are both long gone. I do not want to replace them at the moment, so I am turning to alternatives.

I defrosted a pkg of BSCB and will be using a bottle of French's zesty Italian flavor infuser marinade (sale + cpn deal) and bake these off in the mini table top, convection oven. Sliced thinly, this can top a sandwich. I also still have a 1/2 of a home roasted turkey breast in the freezer. Canned tuna, fzn chopped turkey (also taken out last night to make turkey salad), hard boiled eggs (either sliced atop bread or chopped and blended with mayo for egg salad), frozen ground ham for deviled ham sandwiches, leftover meats such as meatloaf/ham/beef etc (think Sunday supper leftovers/planned overs) are other high protein meat options. Peanut butter and jam also is available. I also have some sliced Swiss, Cheddar and Provolone along with LOL American Deli (unbelievable sale @ $1.99/lb limit 4 lbs several months ago, I froze it in one lb amounts) sliced cheese for plain cheese and mustard sandwiches. Lent is around the corner and we practice meatless Fridays.

All bread/rolls are home made as are any baked goods that find their way into lunches.

Another choice is to take a pasta salad, which is what the boys have today. I intentionally made too many dried tortellini's last night, reserving 1/2 of what I cooked to be coated with some homemade Italian style vinaigrette. My kids love this kind of salad. I certainly have a mountain of pasta on hand, so no worries. Cubed/shredded cheese, chopped celery, sliced olives, canned or dried and cooked beans/lentils/chic peas can all be used to mix up a luncheon salad to tote in a plastic tub. I can mix vinaigrette for pennies, and do have some  pouch mixes on hand for "ranch" dressing, as an alternative, if not just mayo mixed with some herbs such as dill or tarragon.

Refillable Rubbermaid bottles are taking either generic "koolaid" made with less sugar or home brewed tea, which we prefer unsweetened, so I am pushing that alternative, to ration out the sugar for baking and coffee.

Sometimes fruit will join the lunches, we are using whatever is $1 or less/lb for fresh (currently have bananas, Gala apples, some Halos mandarins) along with home canned apple sauce, and commercially canned pears, peaches, pineapple.

Do you have any other suggestions? am I missing the obvious? TIA!


Mary Lou said...

Do you put any snacks in their lunches to go with sandwiches? I was going to say homemade popcorn is always good and fairly inexpensive to make a good sized batch and the kids would have some for home also.

Lunches from home do get challenging after a time. I know my dd always brought lunch to school even high school and now as a working woman she brings her lunch from home.

Lili said...

Hi Carol,
Servings of fruit/veggies -- when I am out of fruit, I send carrot sticks and dip. I also make rhubarb and berry sauce, or stewed frozen fruit (will make a double batch at dinner, to have some for lunches). Or, carrot-raisin salad, or, canned fruit suspended in jello.

Pumpkin muffins, trail mix composed of whatever we happen to have (this week it was peanuts, raisins, large clusters of homemade granola and broken pretzels), flour tortillas rolled up with cinnamon/sugar/butter -- all desserty items added to lunches.

For beverages -- homemade lemonade made with bottled lemon juice/sugar, or plain, filtered water from fridge, or drink made from canned fruit liquids/juices.

Main dish -- in addition to pbj or egg salad, we also do homemade yogurt w/ frozen blackberries and jam, or, homemade bean burritos (my kids tell me they're not bad at all eaten cold).

This next month will see cabbage on sale mid-month, and we'll begin coleslaw as a serving of veggies in lunches. I have some nice screw-top Glad plastic containers. They don't leak and are great for fruit sauces and liquidy salad items like cole slaw.

My two daughters put their own lunches together, so I try to have some easy to grab items they can take.

We are down to the last of the frozen fruit from this past summer. I'll be completely out by the end of March. We'll switch over to carrot salad, carrot sticks, cole slaw and rhubarb sauce for most of lunch fruit/veggies. I do buy bananas twice per month and a bag of raisins one time per month. And if I find oranges for 50 cents/lb at the produce stand at the end of next month, I'll buy a bag or two.

Good luck this next month. I imagine that no income for the entire month will not just impact March, but will carry forth some effects for coming months.

CTMOM said...

Mary Lou
One kidlet literally transports his drink and sandwich filled lunch bag to/from school, not touching it until he gets home STARVING @ 2:45. @@ I insist that he take it, and know that it's there should he decide to eat instead of socializing.

Kid # 2 has special needs and it takes him longer to chew/eat so a sandwich and a drink is fine. He also takes RX which reduces his appetite, so I offer a snack when he gets home in the afternoon. He has a really good supper, with a dessert, and a good breakfast the next morning.

CTMOM said...

See my response to Marylou. A sandwich and a drink is all I need for the boys. Due to one wearing braces, raw carrots are out for now. He's Mr Picky anyway, so besides cooked carrots, he doesn't eat much produce unless I sneak it in.

In a pinch, I have packed refillable cups of yogurt, homebaked tea loaf such as banana/pumpkin bread or muffins.

I've also sent in "cold tacos" and reheated hotdogs in buns, wrapped in foil.

Neither boy really likes fruit, save apple sauce, which I put up again this year, have plenty on hand. DD and I are the real produce eaters, as well as college boy when he comes over.

Mr Picky won't drink water voluntarily, other kidlet will without complaint.

Neither like coleslaw, one will eat a salad topped with whatever I put in it. It's really Mr Picky that is a challenge. Guess that every family has to have one. : )

CTMOM said...

Forgot to add, yes, you are correct. No pay in March impacts me thru August as these funds have to support us until my next contract year. I tried to reduce expenditure effective in Dec when I learned of the impending unpaid leave, and have continued to cut back in jan, Feb. March will be LEAN to be sure. Hoping for better weather to reduce my oil bills and also for more improvement with my arm, as well as less restrictions so that we can use the wood stove again.

Lili said...

My two daughters are out of the house all day, until dinner, so I have to make sure they're taking a huge amount of food with them each day. In addition, one of them has been underweight for some time, and is working hard to gain a few pounds. This can be a real challenge. I try to front-load her day with homemade, high calorie protein shakes for breakfast, which she takes in a thermos. She can "work on" the shake all morning, if need be.

As you said, you really have to be creative, not just because of boredom, but also with trying to minimize grocery purchases.

I am thinking ahead to Easter, and what items may be featured as specials. With turkey prices higher this past Thanksgiving, many people didn't buy up turkeys as they have in previous years. At Christmas, I then saw frozen turkeys at the same price as at Thanksgiving, just not a big ad campaign, and no minimum spend. It was just quietly, inconspicuously signed in the frozen meat section. So, I'm curious to see if whole turkeys will be on sale at Easter, too. That could be a source of inexpensive lunch meat for your family.

Also, for the past several years, Walgreen's in our area has had eggs on sale the week before Easter, at 99 cents/dozen. (Last year I bought about 8 dozen eggs. This year I'll buy a few dozen more, if I find that price again.) When I did the math last month, egg salad from sale eggs turned out to be less expensive for sandwiches than peanut butter.

I forgot to mention, I also make a sandwich spread from beans. I have a couple of variations, and they're quite good. Not sure if your boys would like it as well as we do. One is simply cooked black beans, pureed with salsa, oil and salt to taste. Another is a variation on a recipe from Laurel's Kitchen. I use cooked garbanzos or white beans, pureed with marinara sauce, oil and any extra herbs or salt for flavor. It seems to me that cookbook also has a recipe with pureed split peas, some seasonings and grated cheese.

This just reminded me to make up a batch of bean spread for this next week's lunches. It will be a good change of pace.

CTMOM said...

thanks for taking the time to share your ideas. We love beans here, and the Italian marinara-bean combo sounds like something the boys would like! I have Laurel's kitchen, so I'll check that out.
Please share your personal recipes as well. Thanks!

Lili said...

Carol, In Laurel's Kitchen, it's the recipe for Soy Spread that I've adapted to just using marinara sauce, oil salt and vinegar, and with garbanzos or white beans. Her recipe is also very tasty, and uses ingredients that I would put into marinara. You could use any type of beans pureed, but for this one, I like the look of a pale bean blended with marinara.

Here's my post on black bean spread

Here's my version of Laurel's Kitchen's Soy Spread

The Laurel's Kitchen Split Pea Spread actually calls for cottage cheese and Parmesan. But I remember making it with grated cheddar in place of those two cheeses.

About the bean spreads, my son always told me that he preferred the bean spreads over pbj, as they were more moist, and on my homemade whole wheat bread, that's a plus!

CTMOM said...

Thanks, Lili. Guess what book I'll be reading in bed tonight! : )
I also want to check my Moosewood cookbook for some ideas. I have dried garbanzos, white navy beans, butter beans, pintos, split yellow peas, split green peas, whole yellow peas all on hand. Really trying to limit myself to what I already have, to use stuff up, to reduce expenditure.