School is out already for some students. When the kids go back to school in the fall, the hot frugal discussions range from the cost of school supplies to school lunches. It's understandable that some of the menu items available for our children aren't the most nutritious, so let's remember that we have a choice and plan ahead. You can pack a lunch from home.

I gave up on the brown bags and plastic baggies a long time ago. My children have two different types of lunch boxes: a soft-sided insulated bag and a plastic lunch organizer. Both of these are reusable and are gentler on the environment. I have two for each of my school-aged children in case of an emergency, such as the time my son "lost" his lunch box on a Friday and didn't tell me until Sunday evening. Each child also has a thermos, ice pack, food jar and reusable drink bottle. You're probably thinking that all these supplies aren't very frugal. You can either brown bag it or purchase your lunch boxes at thrift stores, garage sales or online auctions. Keep in mind that maybe the overall appearance is part of why your children don't want to take home-packed lunches. Ask them for their reasoning.

You are in charge of what your children eat.

Here are some suggestions when no one wants to face another peanut-butter-and-jelly day.

BREADS: If you're tired of the same old soft white enriched bread, consider alternatives such as pitas, bagels, croissants, biscuits, English muffins, tortillas, crackers, breadsticks, rolls, cereal, pasta, rice, pancakes, muffins or rice cakes. Don't forget breads such as rye, pumpernickel, wheat, multigrain, raisin and sourdough.

DAIRY: Instead of packing juice, have your children drink milk. If they aren't fond of white milk, even flavored milk is acceptable. Cut cheese into cubes or offer string cheese. Offer yogurt, cottage cheese and cream cheese.

MEATS AND PROTEINS: Sandwiches that include lean meats are best, but you can also pack chicken, eggs, sunflower seeds, cashews and almonds. Peanut butter, chickpeas, hummus and kidney beans can be incorporated into soups, sauces, dips and sandwiches.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: Apples and celery are popular. Mix it up a bit and offer melons, blueberries, raspberries, kiwis, mandarin oranges, pineapple, baby carrots, salads, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, vegetable juice, green beans and cherry tomatoes.

SWEETS AND SNACKS: Sugary snacks should be offered sparingly. Even Cookie Monster now says that cookies are a "sometimes food."

ADDITIONAL TIPS: Cut foods into fun shapes; use a lot of color so lunch doesn't look bland; add a note; use a food jar to send dinner leftovers; ask your child for help and to be involved; prepare as much as you can the night before; visit for reusable lunch containers.


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