Back-to-school time can be exciting for kids … and stressful for the adults. It’s a time of financial reckoning, when parents and guardians have to find innovative and creative ways to make a tight budget work for an entire school term of lunches, transportation, co-curricular activities, homework assignments and all kinds of miscellaneous expenses. In Jamaica, the school lunch can present a unique challenge because healthy food items are often so expensive in the island. This presents a limited inventory of affordable food items with which to be as creative as possible. Not all parents/guardians can summon the energy to rise to the challenge. Below, we have outlined some simple, healthy, cheap lunch ideas.
Pasta should be a parent’s best friend. It’s an easy dish to prepare that does not take a lot of time, or skill. Yet it offers so much variety and choice. You can modify traditional pasta dishes to include foods that children enjoy, like bacon and turkey, eggs, cheese, salami, chicken breast, ham, beans … and you can mix it up: use different colours and lengths of pasta to create a dish that is visually interesting. Truly, pasta epitomises versatility in quick and simple dishes.
Say yes to sandwiches …
In a child’s world, bread plus anything equals sandwich. In the adult equation, that’s pretty much true too. You can do an easy sandwich for your child’s lunch, adding ham, salami, bacon, tuna, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet peppers, onion, garlic, pepper … Or do something like a classic peanut butter and jelly. Also, toast the bread a little to give the sandwich a little flair.
How about it? This is one of those dishes that you can create by just tossing together pretty much any variety of fruits and vegetables that your child enjoys. The combinations are hardly likely to be harmful. To make it interesting, try giving your child a salad in a jar for lunch – it may come across as something exotic and may even be a topic of excitement for them and their classmates.
How about hot dogs …
Easy. Simple. And most kids love ’em. Try making a hot dog for some of your child’s school days. And add a twist by packing little dips like ketchup, mustard, and mayo … and then other kinds of condiments to which your child may not be accustomed – like pickles, chutney, chili sauce, and maybe even some sauerkraut.
This dish tends to be a winner with children – and parents. Why? Spaghetti is fun food for kids, and really easy for parents to prepare. An additional plus for this is that you can cook in bulk and use twice for the week: for lunch one day and for dinner another. Or it can double as your lunch for one day at work too! Ensure you pack spaghetti in one container, meatballs and gravy in another.
On a roll with chicken and rolls …
This is a somewhat healthier, home-made version of KFC. Give your child rolls and fried chicken. It’s not difficult to assemble, and very easy to pack without the mess that often accompanies dishes that have gravy. A bonus is that your child gets to choose his or her favourite part of the chicken to take to school for lunch, guaranteeing that he or she will like what is there – and is more likely to eat it.
Lunches are a great way to get rid of leftovers, and also provide your child with a wholesome, home-cooked meal. Parents have been doing this from time immemorial. Just be sure to be creative with your presentation of lunch, and it is also best to not give them leftovers the day immediately after it was cooked. Not the very next day, but maybe the day after that?