Shop Cheap

Sharing the best prices on groceries and other stuff in the Sacramento region.

August 13, 2009
School lunch is in the (reusable) bag

It's back-to-school time and outside of what to wear, what's for lunch is the most important part of having a good day. More and more kids will be bringing their lunch to school this year so Shop Cheap researcher Sheila Kern came up with tips on putting together a good meal and a few surprises you can add. She also provides for some out of the ordinary lunches that are healthy and easy.


Variety is the Spice of Lunch


1. Include enough range to keep your kids from getting bored, but don't be surprised if they settle on a few favorites and request them week after week. Kids like to have a few familiar, comforting things nearby when they are away from home.

2. Give them some choices from each food group, and allow them to mix and match for a nutritionally balanced lunch.

3. Beyond sliced bread, try crackers, pita bread, naan, corn bread, English muffins, tortillas, baked tortilla chips, mini bagels, or lettuce wraps.

3. For protein, there's good ol' peanut butter, but the kids might also enjoy hummus, bean dip, sliced cheese, yogurt, cold cuts, tuna salad, pasta salad, egg salad, or a thermos full of chili.

4. When serving tuna, egg, chicken, or pasta salad, mix in shredded carrots, apples, zucchini, bell peppers, raisins, nuts--anything to add nutrition and fiber without adding lots of empty calories.

Lunch Tips

1. About food safety: lightweight, freezable cold packs or frozen juice boxes enable you to send the kids to school with perishables such as pasta salad, egg salad, meat sandwiches, yogurt, tuna, etc.

2. Get your kids into the habit of washing their hands before eating. Include antibacterial hand wipes if that's what it takes.

3. Make lunches the night before to ease the morning rush out the door.

4. Reusable lunchboxes are earth-friendly and save the expense of brown bags, but be sure to wash them out frequently.

5. You've heard this one before, but a little note from you tucked into a lunch once in a while is a comfort. Keep notes small enough so kids don't have to haul out a long, loving letter from home in front of the rest of the lunchroom.

6. When you pack nutritious lunches you know your kids will love, you might even feel okay about slipping a cookie or a brownie into the bag!

Now for some super lunch ideas...

Pita Pockets


Sprouts and cubed cheese are a perfect filling for pita bread, especially when your kids have had the fun of growing their own sprouts (pick up a sprouting package and follow the simple directions).

To make an apple pie pita, season cubed apples with cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice and stuff them into a warm, buttered pita.

For a carrot salad pita, mix shredded carrots with raisins and chopped walnuts and season with a splash of vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.

For a cheese melt, spread a pita with mustard or mild salsa and fill it with shredded American, Cheddar or mozzarella cheese. Melt in the oven or microwave and wrap in foil.

Spiral Sandwiches


Serves: 2-4


1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature

4 chives, 1 sprig of dill, and/or 3 basil leaves (optional)

2 eight- to 10-inch flour tortilla

1 tomato, seeded and sliced into thin rounds

6 spinach leaves


1. Place the cream cheese in a small bowl. For herb cream cheese, use scissors to snip the herbs into tiny pieces, then mash them into the cream cheese with the back of a spoon.

2. Spread a little cream cheese on each of the spinach leaves, then spread the remainder in a thin layer onto the tortillas. Place three tomato slices in a row down the middle. Top with the spinach leaves, cream cheese facing up.

3. Roll up each tortilla tightly into a log. Pinch the seams shut. Use a serrated knife to slowly slice each log crosswise into 5 or 6 pinwheel sandwiches.

Garden Turkey Sandwich with Lemon mayo



1 teaspoon(s) grated lemon peel

1 tablespoon(s) low-fat mayonnaise

2 slice(s) whole-grain bread

1 cup(s) loosely packed baby spinach leaves

2 ounce(s) turkey breast, sliced

1 small tomato, sliced


Stir grated lemon peel with mayonnaise; spread on both slices bread.

On 1 slice bread, alternately layer spinach leaves, turkey, and tomato, starting and ending with spinach. Top with second bread slice.

Peanut Butter and Banana Wraps


Makes 4 servings


1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

4 whole wheat or regular flour tortillas (8 to 10 inches in diameter)

1/4 cup honey

2 small bananas, sliced

1/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips, if desired


1. Spread 2 tablespoons of the peanut butter evenly over each tortilla. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the honey over each tortilla. Top with banana slices and chocolate chips.

2. Roll up tortillas. Secure with toothpicks.

To keep sliced bananas from turning brown, just dip into lemon or orange juice before assembling wraps.

Not a chocolate chip fan? Use 1/4 cup chopped walnuts instead.

Quick Kebobs


Makes 1 serving


1/2 ounce cubed roasted deli turkey

1/2 ounce cubed Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grapes

6 dried apricots


Thread turkey, cheese, grapes and apricots onto a wooden skewer.

Sticks and Stones


Makes about 7 cups

This crunchy, lunch-box-friendly snack mix is sweetened with fruit juice and brown sugar.


4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup frozen orange or apple juice concentrate

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 cups oatmeal cereal squares (we used Quaker Oatmeal Squares)

2 cups pretzel sticks

1 1/2 cups whole almonds

1 cup raisins or dried cranberries


Heat the oven to 300°. Place the butter, juice concentrate, and sugar in a large, microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 45 seconds to melt the butter. Stir in the cinnamon.

Spread the oatmeal squares, pretzels, and almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toss the pieces with the melted-butter mixture to coat. Bake the mix, stirring the pieces every 10 minutes, until the mixture is dry to the touch and the nuts are lightly toasted, about 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, then stir in the dried fruit. Let the mix cool completely before storing it in an airtight container.

Apple Yogurt Dip


Makes 1 serving


1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 tsp. Cinnamon

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 medium apple


Combine the yogurt, cinnamon and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Core and slice apple to dip into mixture.

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About Shop Cheap

Pam Dinsmore is The Bee's Community Affairs Director. When she's not working, she's shopping. The goal of this blog is to help you save time and money at the grocery store. She's pretty good at it but she can't do it alone. That's where you come in, sharing your tips and secret methods for saving money. You can either respond to the blog or email her at

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