Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Ideas for cheap kids lunches for lockdown
As if it's not tough enough homeschooling and working, we're also cooking like never before. Many families are also struggling without provided school meals or with the scraps our government seems to think is sufficient to feed our kids each week.
I'm mainly plant-based myself, although I refuse to be hard on myself if I have a bit of fish every now and then. Just to assure you, I'm not preachy in any way. I've just found that after much experimenting a plant-based diet seems to work better for my body, energy and also my budget. Anyway, the point is, don't worry, I'm not going to try and convert you! I love cooking and I hate waste so much of my meal plans are about experimenting with whatever needs to be eaten up on the day. I'm on a very small budget for food but I find heaps of veg and lots of cans of chickpeas, beans and lentils are really cost-effective and nutritious. Of course, there are more expensive items I buy to ensure our diet is balanced and we're getting all the protein and zinc we need. So there's tofu, nuts, seeds, capers, avocado (because you have to love avocados if you're going to call yourself a Brighton Mum), and falafels as well.
Anywhere, I wanted to share some of my top cheap lunch ideas for kids and for you (because making different meals will create the largest dent in your purse). Each strives to be affordable on a tight budget because I'm living on a very tight budget too! I'd love to hear your top ideas for affordable lunches for kids in the comments below too.
Jacket Potatoes and Baked Beans
A bag of potatoes and a can of beans is all you need for this one. I won't waste time telling you how to make this, it's pretty straight-forward. What I will say is that it can be expensive to keep the oven on for long enough to bake potatoes, so I microwave them for five minutes first (cut a cross in them before). This reduces the amount of time they need to be in the oven but you won't be sacrificing the crispiness. Also, choose the cheap beans. The ones that are supermarket own are not only a lot cheaper but often have a lot less sugar and salt in. Each differs so please check the label. The last beans I bought were 40p and covered two jacket potatoes so I reckon this meal comes in at under £1 per person. Plus it's a great source of protein. To make it healthier, use sweet potato which counts as one of your five-a-day, whereas white potato doesn't.
My daughter and I are addicted to ramen. She calls it 'Mummy's magic Ramen' because we're sure it stops colds developing. With a healthy dose of immune-system-boosting garlic and ginger, it could well be true. Mostly, it just feels like a hug. Some of the ingredients in ramen can be expensive. It benefits from sesame oil and it needs quite a bit of soy sauce which can be costly. However, sweetcorn and noodles can be cheap. You'll want to cook your meat or tofu with spring onion and greens. Add a generous amount of soy sauce to ginger, garlic, Chinese 5 spice (just a teaspoon), and stock, and cook the noodles in the broth. Technically, you're supposed to cook the noodles separately but I don't have a dishwasher and there's no way I'm washing an extra dish when I don't need too. Add the sweetcorn and your meat/tofu and veg last and serve with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. I quite often add chilli to the grown-up one(s).
I used to make these for my daughter's lunch box as it's a great fix for foods which would make untoasted bread go soggy by lunchtime. They take less than five minutes to make and you can put so many things in them. I usually use black beans and cheese (vegan for me). I have also used courgette and cheese though. Cook your protein or veg partly first, then place in your wrap with the cheese. Fold and fry, with only the tiniest bit of oil, on each side until the cheese melts and the bread browns.
Delicious, filling and especially good with a little coleslaw on the side.
When I was a teenager I'd make my sister 'surprise lunches'. She loved them. Even though I'd just selected a load of random stuff from the fridge and put it on a plate for her. Usually, they'd be ham, cheese, maybe cut up raw carrot, biscuits, grapes and breadsticks. I never understood why she loved these lunch plates so much, but I also never understood what I'd really done. Which was to assemble dairy, protein, fibre, fruit and veg - a totally balanced lunch! This is the core principle of a Buddha bowl.
Buddha bowls on Instagram can look very beautiful, very complex, and very expensive. Yet, really the method is the same as my childhood snack plates. They're about giving a space for each food group. Know why they look so good? Because nutritional balance often means eating foods of different colours. I swear by the 'eat the rainbow' way of eating. Plus, it makes it easier to get the kids to try it all.
Here are some ideas for each food group to make up your bowl: Carbs/fibre - Quinoa, brown rice, noodles
Protein - Chicken, tofu, nuts, beans
Vegetables - Greens, grated carrots, red cabbage, peppers
Fruit - Cut up apple, grapes, orange, pomegranate
Dairy - Paneer, halluami egg
Dressing - Satay sauce, yoghurt, pesto
Buddha bowls are so adaptable, can use up leftovers and can be adjusted for each family member far more easily.
One of the items in my kitchen that's made everything so much easier this winter, is our soup maker. A couple of mornings a week I'll toss whatever leftover veg I have into the jug, press 'go', and then work all morning letting the smell fill the house. When we break for lunch all I need do is pour.
I also add all those things I should eat, but don't, into my soup, like chia and flax seeds, which are pricey but go far, since you only need half a handful a week. People say to add them to salads and cereal but they sit between your teeth all day! Adding them to soup is the ultimate solution.
You don't need a soup maker to make soup though. Just boil or roast the veg and then blend, adding garlic or ginger, stock, herbs, salt and pepper. Healthy and warming on a cold day!
Our favourite soups are green veg soup, parsnip and miso soup and, of course, sweet potato soup.
Ok, so it's not the healthiest option but make it a Friday treat and that might give you all something to look forward to in the week. Make your chilli con carne with Quorn or pulses to bring the cost down and go with the non-brand tortilla chips, since you're going to cover them with dip anyway.