For kids, back to school means meeting new teachers, swapping summer stories with friends and showing off new school supplies and clothes. But back to school has a different, sometimes dreadful, meaning for parents.
Yes, we parents now have to get ready to pack those lunches, check the homework, and once that's all said and done, volunteer at the school. I do all the above while working full time and can say it's no easy task, especially when you add extracurricular activities into the mix.
While almost everything is manageable, packing my children's lunches are the hardest thing to do. I could only wish my kids would make my life easier by eating at their school cafeteria -- it's cheaper and they also have healthier options.
However, since my kids only eat home-packed lunches, I thought of another way to make lunches simpler and more pleasurable. During the summer, I sat down with my kids to create a weekly menu. Because they were involved, it was more exciting and they know what to expect in their lunchboxes -- no more complaining and whining. Plus, when you have a menu, you can shop smarter and end up saving a whole lot of money because you can buy things when they go on sale.
Here is an example of what our weekly menu looks like. You're welcome to use and share it, but I highly suggest sitting down with your kids and coming up with your own customized menu:
Mac and Cheesy Monday: My kids love macaroni and cheese whether it's regular cheese or even cashew cheese. It's really easy to make, and if you have a good lunch bag (we use the PackIt), it won't go bad. Plus, it's probably one of the cheapest lunch options. I pack some celery and hummus to accompany it and a package of 100 percent fruit gummies. I don't give my kids juice, so water in a water bottle is what they expect.
Taco Tuesday: The name isn't creative, as many families do have Taco Tuesdays for dinners, but my kids have it for lunch. I usually pack corn tortillas that I heat in the morning with four spoonfuls of chili (which I always have ready to go in the fridge or freezer), cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and avocado. I pack all the ingredients separately, so the kids can make their own tacos when it's time to eat them. I also usually pack some mangoes or blueberries on the side to cover their sweet tooth.
Waffle and Strawberry Wednesdays: My kids hate peanut butter and jelly. I don't know why. So to encourage them to eat peanut butter, cashew butter or almond butter, I came up with a wafflewich. It has strawberries and peanut butter (or any other nut butter), and they're sandwiched between two waffles. I use whole grain waffles, so they're nutritious and tasty. I usually pack carrots and hummus to accompany the wafflewich, and my kids just love it.
Tomato Sandwich Thursdays: I have kids who do not eat meat, so I've come up with some ways to make tomatoes taste phenomenal. I usually marinate tomatoes in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, with some salt and pepper, the night before. I add a minimal amount of truffle oil to a halved French baguette. Then I top it with tomatoes, arugula and thinly sliced avocados. I usually buy reduced salt potato chips to accompany the sandwich and include a packet of 100 percent fruit gummies.
Farfalle Fridays: There is nothing special to this no-nonsense pasta, but my kids love it! I boil Farfalle the day of, drain it and add olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. I usually have some packets of Parmesan cheese from the Costco food court that they can use to top it. I'll also pack some cornichons (a French pickle I purchase from Trader Joe's), and I'll also include a banana with dark chocolate syrup.
We've already had one week of school, and our customized menu is working great! Like I said before, sit down with your kids and create a menu together so that your mornings aren't so dreadful and packing lunch is something you look forward to.
Susan Yoo-Lee is the editor of Savings.com personal finance blog and founder of Mommas in the House blog.