The Lunch Box Project: Volume 1

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When the boys started school, they wanted to buy their lunches.  Being overwhelmed with a new baby, and a husband in flight school, we agreed, happy that we could make their one little request possible.

Then we ate lunch with them one day.
Oh, Sweet Lord.  
Pancakes, fried french toast, loaded pulled pork, fried fish, french fries…  That was their menu.  I’m sorry?  The veggies were so awful even I wouldn’t touch them, but the fried stuff they gobbled down.  And people wonder why America has such an obesity epidemic.  I know this is not a new concept, but please, can we take a look at the crap we’re feeding our children, and then maybe link it to why we have health problems?  One of the ultimate tragedies of our times is that it’s less expensive to feed our kids junk than it is to give them good, whole, nutritious food.     
Enter the lunch box project.    
I have always looked at the awesome lunches put out by Weelicious and thought, gee, I wish I had that time.  Truth is, though I stay home, time is a precious commodity in this house.  We have four little boys,   I take an average of five to eleven cake orders a week, and I’m spending every other moment folding laundry and trying to hunt down a literary agent (those guys are hard to get!).  But this year, we had another catalyst for not only not buying school lunches, but changing what I pack in our boys’ daily yumms.  Chase, our third little guy, started kindergarten this year.  While AJ, Aidan, and Brody are lean like daddy, Chase has my body style, and we’ve fought since his infancy to keep his weight healthy.  That meant I needed to take a good look at what I was packing.  It’s easy to slip in a PB&J, a bag of chips, a granola bar, maybe a piece of fruit, and call it a day.  I’ll admit that even that is better than what is rolling out of the cafeteria.  I needed to stop going for what was easy.  But how much would that cost us?
So, I decided to challenge myself.  Could I pack a healthy, diverse lunch for the kids and come in under what it would cost us for school lunches?  I replaced old lunch boxes and bought the kids awesome little boxes called lunchblox to contain the awesomeness that was about to ensue.  We needed two new lunch boxes and I bought a set of three of the lunchblox, which totaled about $42.  No, I’m not tallying that in to the figure because I pulled it out of the school supply budget… muwahahahaha (insert evil laugh here). What I really wanted were planetboxes, but Jason wasn’t going for the $60 a piece price tags.  Yeah, I suppose $180 for lunch boxes might be a bit extreme.  I haven’t bought them the canteens yet, (I can see Jason cringing as he reads this), but those will follow, I’m sure. 
Off to the groccery store I went.  The first week of school, I went simple.  things I knew they would like, and then we’d build from there.  School lunches cost us $2 a day per kid.  So, could I beat that?  
Before you glance through my effort, note that my kids have a serious PB&J addiction, so we’re gradually weaning them off…  sigh.  No laughing, I seriously spread-sheeted the cost of everything I’m about to detail, just to see if I could beat out the schools.  Oh, and a added bonus?  At the same time I packed the three school-goers, I packed my little Brody one too so he didn’t feel so left out when the boys get on the bus.  Now he gets exactly what they do too.  😉  
Last thing to remember is that even though we live in the middle of nowhere, I shop organic when I can, which raises the price on the produce a wee bit.  

PB&J (Grape) on Wheat:  $0.28
Horizon organic milk: $1 (got it on sale, and thought they’d think it was fun since they can’t have chocolate at home.
Strawberries: $0.56
Celery: $0.37
Frosted animal crackers (Come on, it was the 1st day of school): $0.13
Blueberry yogurt: $0.13
Total Cost per lunch? :  $2.47….  Slight Fail, but they certainly had a healthier lunch!  It was the milk that got me.  😉

 Day 2:
We had left-over tortillas from dinner the night before.  SCORE!
Turkey Cheese Roll-ups: $0.49
Grapes: $0.23
Carrots: $0.14
Peach Greek Yogurt:$0.30
Apple Juice:$0.34
Total per lunch:$1.50   WIN!!!!  

Day 3: PB&J strikes again, but it was a friday and they agreed to try strawberry, so I gave in.  😉
PB&J (Strawberry): $0.33
Strawberries (I had to use them again so they didn’t spoil):$0.56
Star-shaped cucumbers: $0.25
Blueberry Yogurt: $0.13
Apple Juice: $.34
Total Per lunch:  $1.61  WIN!

Day 4:  We had Kielbasi the night before (yeah, the hubs is Polish), so it was super convenient.  
Kielbasi cheese skewers: $ 0.53
Whole Wheat crackers:  $ 0.25
Cauliflower (Meister’s favorite): $0.27
Black Cherry Greek Yogurt:  $ 0.30
Watermelon:  $.20
Fruitables (because I’m mean): $ 0.35
Total Per Lunch:   $1.90    WIN!!!!
Day 5: PB&J strikes again… sigh.  We’re doing better next week!  Oh, and Chase managed to misplace his boxes (found them on the bus the next day), so he had to take the spares.
PB&J on 12 grain: $0.36
Flower-shaped Kiwi wedges: $0.38
Cheese Cubes: $.24
Organic chocolate milk: $1
Total per lunch:  $2.37 (The organic milk gets me every time… shucks).

So here’s how I fared for the week:  It would have cost us $30 to have the kids buy lunch at school, but by sending them lunch it cost us:  $29.55

Seriously?  I don’t hunt for deals, or use coupons, mostly because I’m too lazy.  Granted, we’re still weaning them off their summer time favorite of PB&J, but 9/10 times, we’re using 12 grain or wheat bread, and only fresh fruits and veggies.  We saved $0.45 that week, which might not be a lot, but did I mention they’re eating a LOT healthier?  No more fried foods at lunch, or sour tummies.

I don’t understand how it could be so easy for a mom with no bargain-hunting skills to feed my kids healthier than the schools could do it if they’re getting bulk prices.  I just don’t understand it.  But there it is, black and white (literally, look at the blog colors, LOL!).

I’m not saying you have to do this, or you even should do this.  Every mom does what’s best for her family, her schedule and her budget.  I’m saying that in this house, with sensitive bellies and sensitive weights, this is what is working for us.  Yes, it takes about an hour a day to plan and pack their lunches, but that’s because I’m new to this.  And let’s face it, it doesn’t take that much effort to cut their fruits and veggies into shapes with cookie cutters to make them feel special, and their veggies a bit cooler.

This week, they’re going down to PB&J twice a week (it’s a step-down program for this addiction), but you get the point.

Schools of America, for lack of a better term….WTF?  Please take a look at what you’re feeding our kids.  If I can give them better food for less, so can you.  The weight issues in this country begin in childhood, and you can have such a positive effect!  Oh… and don’t think I’ve gone too crunchy, they still get to buy pizza every Wednesday at school… because I’m weak, and they’re little. 😉  That means they’ll only be getting awesome fruit shapes 4 days a week, but it’s still better than the majority of the crapola rolling off the lines at school.


3 Comments on “The Lunch Box Project: Volume 1”

  1. drea

    Good job, lady! Even if you aren't saving much, it's so much better for them – plus, it gives them extra time to eat without standing in line (this is a big reason why I pack Gav's lunch… he's the slowest eater ever!). I wouldn't stress too much about the beloved PB sandwiches. Gavin lives on them, and I'm okay with that – we use organic wheat bread and all natural peanut butter. Better than that crap from the cafeteria!

    1. Anonymous

      I'll feel a lot better once I start making their bread! It's small changes here, if I go all gung-ho to start with there's a rebellion, but little bitty changes mean not so much protesting. Fun stuff ahead!

    2. drea

      Ooo, let me know if you find a great bread recipe! I can't seem to make bread to save my life. I blame the altitude, but it might just be the baker. :X

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