6 School Lunch Meals That Are Cheap and Packed With Veggies

Halfpoint / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Halfpoint / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Across the nation, parents are struggling with back-to-school costs. According to a survey by LendingTree, 33% of parents will go into debt over the expense. Sadly, this isn't surprising when considering that back-to-school spending is expected to soar to $34.4 billion, according to research by Deloitte.

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The costs don't stop once the back-to-school hullabaloo is over either. Any parent knows that kids can drain your finances in every season. During the school year, expenses can pile up in the form of lunch money, which is partly why so many parents make their kids lunch at home. But that too can get expensive, especially now with the cost of food becoming untenable amid inflation.

So how can parents save on school lunches without skimping on nutrition? Consider these cheap, veggie-packed meals.

nata_vkusidey / iStock.com
nata_vkusidey / iStock.com

Lentils With Butternut Squash and Kale

Cost: Under $10 per 2 servings

Ingredients Needed:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped

  • 3⁄4 cup tomatoes, diced

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

  • 1-inch knob ginger, finely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder

  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder

  • 1 teaspoon garam masala

  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

  • 3/4 cup dry red lentils, rinsed well and drained

  • 1/2 cup carrot, roughly chopped

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional for garnish)

Prep Instructions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery. Cook until the onion is translucent -- about 4-5 minutes.

  2. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.

  3. Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and garam masala. Stir for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

  4. Add the tomatoes, carrots, lentils and broth.

  5. Lower heat to a simmer and partially cover the pan. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.

  6. Stir in the lemon juice. Add salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste.

  7. Top with cilantro to serve.

Submitted By: Joanna Wen, founder of Spices & Greens

What Makes It Great:

"This savory red lentil soup is a simple one-dish soup to bring in a thermos," Wen said. "Not only is it chock full of healthy protein, carbs, and fiber to keep your little ones feeling energized and satisfied throughout the afternoon, but the flavorful spices and herbs also boost their immune system.

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Professor25 / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Professor25 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The World's Best Green Bean Entrée

Cost: $12 for 4 servings

Ingredients Needed:

  • 2 12-ounce bags of frozen green beans

  • 1 large yellow or sweet onion sliced thin

  • 1 cup of grape tomatoes quartered

  • 1 pound Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, smoked sausage, chicken or a meaty vegan alternative (none of this is required but is key to balancing the dish and adding more protein)

  • 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce (or more to taste)

  • Salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder

Prep Instructions:

  1. In a wok or large skillet, add a little olive oil and sauté your meat of choice along with your onions, season with salt and pepper to taste.

  2. After meat is fully cooked and onions are translucent add in your grape tomatoes and sauté for another 5 minutes.

  3. After 5 minutes add in your frozen green beans (you can defrost them in the microwave to cut down on the cooking time) cook until green beans are heated through.

  4. Season green beans with garlic and onion powder to taste and stir in your hoisin sauce and a few tablespoons of water until hoisin thoroughly coats the entire dish.

  5. As an option you can finish this with some chopped walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds which adds a really great texture contrast and flavor but I usually don't do this when cooking this dish for other people.

Submitted By: Dolores Renee, a lifestyle influencer

What Makes It Great:

"I love this dish because it's easy," said Renee. "It uses common ingredients you already have in the house and it's cheap. It's full of vegetables and vitamins and also low in calories and carbs."

Rimma_Bondarenko / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Rimma_Bondarenko / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Veggie Tortilla Wrap

Cost: $5

Ingredients Needed:

  • 2 lettuce leaves

  • 1 roma tomato

  • 1 Persian cucumber sliced lengthwise

  • 2 slices of cheese (muenster is suggested)

  • Spread of choice (hummus, ranch dressing, mayo, mustard, cream cheese, etc.)

  • Optional sprouts, shredded carrots, garbanzo beans

Prep Instructions:

  1. Place the tortilla on a flat surface and spread your sauce choice across the tortilla.

  2. Place the lettuce in the middle of the tortilla, place tomatoes in a singular row on top, add the rest of the vegetables, and top with cheese.

  3. Roll the tortilla and wrap tightly in plastic wrap to preserve.

Submitted By: Sarah Appleman MS, OTR/L, a pediatric occupational therapist and the author of Play With Your Food

What Makes It Great:

"This meal is colorful and delicious," Appleman said. "It provides your children with the proper nutritional needs they require to maintain focus in and out of the classroom."


Hot Pink Hummus Bowl

Cost: Under $4

Ingredients Needed:

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas

  • 2 teaspoons water

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 boiled and chopped beet

  • 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) lemon juice

  • 1 large garlic clove, minced

  • 1 boiled and chopped beet

  • 1/4 cup tahini

  • 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

  • 1/4 teaspoons cumin (optional)

  • Veggie sticks, crackers, baby carrots, or whatever you wish to dip in the hummus

Prep Instructions:

  1. Boil one beet until tender all the way through, peel, and set aside.

  2. In a food processor add your chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, beet, tahini, cumin, sea salt and two teaspoons of water.

  3. Pulse for 30 seconds, stir and scrape down the sides, and pulse again for another 30 seconds.

  4. With the food processor running, drizzle in olive oil until well incorporated and hummus turns creamy, no longer than 30 seconds.

Submitted By: Heather Kasvinsky, food blogger at This Noshtalgic Life

What Makes It Great:

"Kids love color and dips," said Kasvinsky. "It's really exciting to open up a lunch box and see a hot pink dip contrasted with an array of beautiful veggie sticks and dark olives. It is super healthy, has protein and fat from chickpeas, olive oil and tahini, and is a fun interactive lunch due to the dipping."

Moyo Studio / Getty Images
Moyo Studio / Getty Images

Easy Green Smoothie

Cost: Under $5

Ingredients Needed:

  • 1 ripe banana

  • Pineapple chunks

  • Raw spinach

  • Frozen mango

  • Oat milk (or other non-dairy milk)

Prep Instructions:

  1. Pulse in blender for 30 seconds.

  2. Stir and scrape down the sides of blender.

  3. Pulse again for another 30 seconds.

Submitted By: Krissy Allori, a recipe content creator, author and mom

What Makes It Great:

"It's packed with raw spinach but the kids can't taste it because of the combination of fruits," Allori said.

Sangthong N. / Yelp
Sangthong N. / Yelp

Tofu and Rice

Cost: Under $5

Ingredients Needed:

  • 3.5 oz tofu

  • 1 egg

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1/3 to ½ cup cooked rice

  • 1/4 cup frozen peas, defrosted

  • 1/4 mango, sliced

  • 1 finely chopped carrot

  • Soy sauce

  • Sesame oil

  • Green onion (optional)

Prep Instructions:

  1. Cook rice as instructed by the package, omitting salt and fat.

  2. While the rice is cooking, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.

  3. Add tofu and cook for 4 minutes until it turns brown.

  4. Remove from the pan and add egg. Cook for 1 minute until done, breaking the egg into small pieces.

  5. When the vegetable mixture cooks, combine soy sauce and sesame oil.

  6. Add the cooked rice to your pan and stir constantly for 2 minutes.

  7. Add peas, tofu, egg, carrots and soy sauce mixture and cook for 30 seconds.

  8. Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.

Submitted By: Megan Ayala, a nutrition, fitness and health expert at Patricia and Carolyn

What Makes It Great:

"Tofu contains several anti-inflammatory, antioxidant phyto-chemicals, which makes it a great addition to rice," Ayala said. "Tofu is also a commendable source of complete protein."

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 6 School Lunch Meals That Are Cheap and Packed With Veggies