— -- intro: Need fast, easy and inexpensive ideas for your kid's lunches? Here are five meals for less than $2 each, created by Erin Chase, mom of four boys and the "$5 Dinner Mom," and Coupons.com savings expert Jeanette Pavini (also a mom).
Both say planning ahead is key. Take advantage of sales, and combine them with coupons whenever possible. By shopping smart and making lunches in batches, you can save money. As an added bonus, you’ll save time while making meals your kids will actually eat. Chase offers a free lunchbox ideas list on her website, and Pavini's menu uses free downloadable coupons from Coupons.com to cut costs. You can even use a rewards credit card to purchase your groceries, pay it off in full, and treat yourself later for being such a great parent!
Setting a budget and finding creative ways to stick to it can go a long way toward helping you meet your financial goals -- like saving for your kids' college and other big (and small) purchases. It can also help you if you have a plan to pay off your debt. Paying your debts on time and keeping your credit card balances low (or paid in full) can help you work toward good credit, which in turn can give you access to better interest rates when you do borrow in the future.
quicklist:title: Peaches and Cream Baked Oatmealmedia: 33210373text: A big batch of peaches and cream baked oatmeal can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated, then served hot (for breakfast) or cold (for lunch). Here it is served cold with fresh fruit and yogurt.
quicklist:title: Sandwich Kabobsmedia: 33210267text:
Finger food is fun. That same old sandwich can be made into kabobs by simply chopping it into small squares and threading onto a skewer. Here it's served with yogurt, an apple, fruit snacks and fruit punch.
quicklist:title: DIY "No Crust" PB&Jmedia: 33210319text:
Sure, you can buy store-bought PB&Js with no crust -- but you can also make them quickly and easily. Just cut off the crust (as pictured) or if you want to get fancy, use the lid from a large jar of peanut butter to cut it into a circular shape. They can even be frozen. Just take one out of the freezer in the morning and by lunch it should be ready to eat.
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quicklist:title: Tuna Sandwich With String Cheesetext:
The standby lunch staple, a tuna sandwich, is served with string cheese, a fruit roll up, juice and a pudding cup. Want less sugar in your kid’s lunch? Sub out fresh fruit in season and you can still stay under budget.
quicklist:title: Ham & Cheese Kabobstext:
Make a simple meal of ham and cheese more fun by turning it into a kabob. Crinkle cut carrots can be bought pre-made, but if you plan to make them often, you may want to invest $10 - $15 in a crinkle cutter kitchen tool.
quicklist:title:Celery & Peanut Buttertext:
Peanut butter (or a non-nut butter if allergies are an issue) makes even picky eaters want to nosh on celery. Here it’s served with yogurt, string cheese, a fruit roll-up and apple juice.
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quicklist:title:Cheese, Crackers and Fruittext:
Cheese and crackers with fruit are always a hit with kids. Stock up on your kid’s favorite crackers when they are on sale, get some cheese and fresh fruit and lunch is ready to go. You might even want to pack this one for yourself!
Sometimes it's good to keep it simple. Here a turkey, lettuce and tomato sandwich is served with yogurt, grapes, fruit snacks and apple juice.
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quicklist:title: Pita Pockets With Bananastext:
Pita pockets can be stuffed with all kinds of fillings. In this case, bananas and peanut butter (or an alternative) make them especially kid-friendly. Served with cucumbers and chips on the side.
quicklist:title:Turkey & Cheese Roll-Upstext: Skip the bread and just roll lunch meat in cheese slices. These turkey and cheese roll-ups are served with whole grain cookies and fruit, but if you are looking for a gluten or grain-free alternative, you can swap veggies for the cookies.
Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.