Monday, December 6, 2010

$2 Lunch Challenge: Day One

Ms. Q from Fed Up With School Lunch and Liz Snyder started a challenge: to make a healthy, nutritious lunch for less than $2. The challenge was for this entire week, so I told my kids they weren't having hot lunch at school.

My son is a very picky eater, so you will see that his lunch is a little less well rounded than my daughter's, but it is food that is healthy and that he will eat.

I purchased all of the food you see at Whole Foods or got it from my Urban Acres share. It is all organic. The Urban Acres produce costs $50 for 30 pounds. I got a digital scale, weighed each item of food and multiplied it by the per ounce cost of the share to come up with the total.

The crackers (Wheat Thins) were purchased at CVS Sunday night (I was there getting the digital scale) when I realized that I didn't have bread and my son won't eat a tortilla. I could have gotten a better cracker at a better price at Whole Foods, but I was in a hurry.

My son's lunch, total $1.97:

  • Crackers $0.51
  • Peanut Butter (from the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods) $0.12
  • Half of an organic granny smith apple $.30
  • Half of an organic banana $0.27
  • Sliced organic baby carrots $0.09
  • Organic Popcorn (2 cups) $0.25
  • The dark chocolate and strawberry yogurt covered pretzels from the bulk bin at Whole Foods $0.43

My daughter's lunch, total $1.91:

  • Raw veggies (carrots, radishes, broccoli and grape tomatoes) $0.30
  • Turkey and cheese rollups (tomato tortilla) $0.68
  • Organic golden delicious apple $0.63
  • Organic popcorn $0.25
  • Ranch dressing $0.05

If I was able to send them to school with something hot, that would stay hot, that would expand the possibilities immensely. At this point, I don't think this will be that difficult.

Had they eaten lunch at school, they would have been eating this, which actually isn't that bad, but it would have cost $4.25:

Grilled Chicken Sandwich, 300 calories
Baked Beans, 176 calories
Carrot & Celery Sticks w/ Ranch, 189 calories
Fresh Sliced Apples, 36 calories
Dessert, 124 calories
TOTAL, 824 calories

Our school's food provider just recently started posting nutrition information with the menu items. In addition to posting what I pack for them, I'll post what they would have eaten at school. As far as their school goes, they are trying to make foods healthier, which is a very, very good thing.


  1. Wow that's a high calorie count for the school lunch! I'm a lunch from home mom, always. My youngest goes to a charter school so there is no cafeteria. My high school boy realized a while ago that the food he brings from home tastes better and he doesn't have to wait in a long line so he has more time to eat. I still need to find a good thermos for him, but in the meantime he's happy eating left over cold spaghetti.

  2. I recommend looking for the stackable multi-tiered thermal lunchboxes from H-mart or similar Asian food stores in the US. The one I'm dreaming of getting to my fiancé (husband in three months from now!) is a little expensive, but it's a thermal cylindrical container with 2-3 internal containers, which keeps food such as soups that R. loves warm until lunchtime, if a microwave isn't available (however it is, so it's an unnecessary purchase and not budgeted any time soon...)

    Look up's bento supplies for ideas and then look up similar products near you (ordering from overseas with the cheapest option takes 6-8 weeks, plus some delays around Christmas holidays, but the prices are cheaper than similar things in the US.

    Here's an example of what might work: A thermal box set with a thermal cup and two plastic containers, all in a thermal bag with a fork. The picture motif is the little black cat friend of Kiki in Hayao Miyazaki's nauseatingly cute film, "Kiki's Delivery Service".

    I do have access to a microwave at work, but I tend to package lunches that won't require reheating, or then I have a sachet of instant soup with the "okazu" - whatever you eat with your carbs - since I have an unlimited access to hot water at work.

    Maybe your children can get hot water at school, so something like instant noodles or soups, or even couscous they let swell at lunch (add hot water, wait 5-ish minutes) could work.

    Or just get a basic, simple thermos bottle that can be used to heat up or prepare an element of the meal at lunch in school.

    I hope you'll come up with something.

    Start by hunting down thermal cups at Target or a similar chain's store. If it keeps the food warm for 4-6 hours, you're usually good. :)

  3. Oh, I found a link to a blog post by a lady who actually uses the same stackable set I've been drooling over:

  4. Awesome! Thanks for participating!!