Growing up, Lunchables meant one thing: Field Trips. All of the cool kids got Lunchables, myself included– I had a cool mom. Being a stay at home mom with a stay at home kid now, I have a LOT of lunches to plan, and between blogging full time, spending time playing with the kiddo, and trying to keep it all organized, of course I turned to Lunchables to try to save a few minutes of time. After all, they’re convenient and they come in these handy little packages with little clean-up and are quick to grab from the fridge.
But then I started realizing how much I was spending buying Lunchables, and further, I started realizing that they weren’t that great and balanced, either. So, I started deciding to set aside a little extra time each week to pre-plan my son and I’s meals and snacks, Lunchables style, with all of the convenience and fun, but less of the price tag. And the best part? I could work hard to make them a little more balanced, too.
Today, I’m sharing 9 great Lunchables swaps that will save money, as well as some ideas on how to improve your Lunchable swaps to make them a healthier, more balanced choice for your kiddos! For the original swap, I kept it as close to the original Lunchable as possible and listed the brand I used so you can see how those savings add up!
My son’s personal favorite Lunchable variety is the Snack Duos. They come in a two-pack for around $2.00 and have 3 little container areas with bite-sized snacks. With a little planning these simple snacks can also be elevated to a full-fledged balanced meal. Check it out!
As you can see, the first Snack Duo option contains some crackers, some cheese, and some cookies. The original Snack Duos contain mini Ritz crackers, but after looking everywhere, I simply couldn’t find them. So I swapped in these yummy bite-sized Saltines, which are also great for sprinkling on top of chili! This saved a full $0.70 on two (or $0.35 per serving!) If you replaced one Snack Duo purchase a week for a year with this homemade swap, you’d save $36.40, or about enough for a movie date with your kiddo. In addition to the saltines, my version features Crystal Farms cheese and Oreo Mini cookies from a Go Cup.
Snack Duo- Cookie and Cheese
Good: Mini crackers with mozzarella and mini cookies, as pictured above.
Better: Swap out a lower fat mozzarella cheese for a slightly healthier meal, and add some fresh fruit, like a mixture of berries.
Best: Serve mini crackers with low-fat mozzarella, fresh berries, and some diced up veggies. Even better? Toss the cookies (no, literally– nix the cookies from the meal) and offer a healthier snack option later, like a homemade popsicle poolside.
The second common variety of Snack Duos is a meat-cheese-cracker variety. It’s essentially the same as the one pictured above, featuring Crystal Farms cheese and the Saltine Minis, except instead of cookies, it features diced ham, which is a little bit of a better choice anyway, since it’s adding some protein.
This version is slightly more expensive to copycat because of the meat, but it’s still much cheaper to make it yourself. I personally used Farmland pre-diced ham, so dicing it yourself would help you save more, too. If you swapped out one of these copycats for the real version every week for a year, you’d save $22.88, which is about enough to purchase a popular book trilogy (since apparently the only way to sell a book these days is if you can market three of them at once, like Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Selection, but I digress). That’s a pretty decent amount of cash!
Snack Duo- Meat and Cheese
Good: Mini crackers with diced ham and mozzarella, as pictured.
Better: Mini crackers with diced lean turkey, which typically has less sodium and slightly lower fat, and reduced fat mozzarella, plus add some fresh fruit like a plum.
Best: Mini crackers with diced lean turkey, reduced fat mozzarella, a plum, and “veggie fries”– cucumbers, carrots, and celery chopped into fry-shaped sticks.
One of the Snack Duo options my son likes isn’t exactly a lunch option, but it’s delicious nonetheless– a S’more flavored treat. What says summer better than S’more flavors? The Lunchable version uses some honey graham cracker sticks. At a loss for finding the type they used, I finally stumbled upon these Scooby Doo honey graham cracker snacks that are equally adorable and alarming. Every time I serve them to my son, I could swear he’s gotten into the dog treats again, but alas, I’ve eaten these bone-shaped treats, and they’re pretty tasty, just like your standard graham cracker. Don’t let the appearance fool you! Otherwise, this uses Best Choice mini chocolate chips and Great Value Marshmallow Fluff– which is actually only $1 per container!
This one is arguably one of the bigger savers of the bunch– saving over $1.00 every time you use the copycat versus the store-bought option. If you swapped this copycat for the store-bought variety every week for a year, you’d save $55.12 in a year– that’s enough to buy a new Wii game to get you up and moving on a rainy day!
S’more Snack Duo
Good: Graham cracker sticks with marshmallow fluff and mini milk chocolate chips, as pictured.
Better: One actual s’more, made using 2 graham crackers, a campfire marshmallow, and half a chocolate bar, encouraging a good portion size, and a great fun snack. Even when made in the oven or microwave, s’mores just feel special!
Best: A banana half dipped in peanut butter and then chocolate chips, to give that fun dipping sensation but a much healthier option including fruit and protein!
Moving on from the Snack Duos, I realized when shopping for what I pray is our last box of diapers before potty training that Lunchables is now offering a Lunchables, Jr. option with toddler-sized snacks in portion-controlled convenient packages… with a very “convenience-priced” price tag of $1.50 per serving! Yikes! I had to try to lower that cost a little bit by working on my own swaps for those Jr.-sized snacks!
Pretty much everyone is familiar with Ants on a Log, where raisins and peanut butter top a celery stalk. Well, Lunchables decided to go for a more shelf-stable version of this standard kid’s treat by using honey graham cracker sticks. At a lack of finding good honey graham sticks like the ones they used, I used the same Scooby Doo snacks as pictured above in the S’mores swap. Just make sure your child knows the difference between these and real dog treats, lest they be fooled and end up with a mouthful of dog biscuit! I ended up swapping in Great Value brand Peanut Butter and Raisins in place of the name brands they used.
The swap here saves $0.93, so swapping out one of these a week over the course of a year, you’d save $48.36, which is about the cost of two grass seat season tickets to the summer theatre series our local outdoor theatre, Starlight, offers… can you imagine saving enough money to go to a summer of theatre productions just by making your own Ants on a Log instead of buying this one?
Ants on a Log
Good: Honey graham sticks with raisins and peanut butter, as pictured above. Contains good protein and fruit with fun flavors kids will like.
Better: Try honey graham sticks with raisins and almond butter. While almond butter contains roughly the same calories, fat, carbs, fiber, and protein per serving, almond butter has twice the magnesium, twice the iron, three times the vitamin E, four times the calcium, and up to six times as much riboflavin, packing a nutritional punch. Almond butter also contains more of the good kinds of fat that reduce blood cholesterol, while traditional PB has more of the Omega-6 fatty acids that cause more inflammation and increased risk of heart disease.
Best: Swap in the traditional Celery version of Ants on a Log, with celery, but keeping almond butter, and raisins to top it, cutting out some of the unnecessary processing that the honey graham sticks have in favor of the less processed celery.
I figured the Blueberry Bonanza snack would be perfect for my berry-loving tot, until I realized that Lunchables uses blueberry-flavored dried apples. Instead of sticking straight to their recipe (who can find blueberry flavored dried apples, anyway?) I decided to sub in Great Value real dried blueberries instead. In addition their version features Cheez Its, and I used the White Cheddar Cheez Its I picked up on sale for $0.99 per box. It seems my store does these sales pretty regularly, making Cheez Its an affordable buy on sale. Finally this features mini Nilla Wafers, which I got from a Go Cup.
With blueberries being an arguably more expensive item than most other items in these swaps, this version only saves $0.59 each. Oh… wait… ONLY? $0.59 is enough for a pack of gum! Or, saved up over a year, that’s $30.60, which is enough for a general admission ticket for a Major League Soccer game. If swapping out one Lunchable a week can save me enough for a ticket to see Sporting KC, sign me up! It’s worth the extra few minutes a week.
Good: Cheez It Crackers with Dried Blueberries and Mini Nilla Wafers. Contains great fruit flavor and a wholesome grain snack.
Better: Cheez It Crackers with Fresh Blueberries and Mini Nilla Wafers. Fresh fruit allows for a richer flavor and opens kids’ eyes about delicious fresh produce. While nutritionally, fresh and dried fruit are similar, the nutrients are slightly diminished in a dried fruit, so a fresh fruit might pack a slightly higher nutritional punch for the same serving size.
Best: Sliced cheese with fresh blueberries and Mini Nilla Wafers. Not only are you getting the fresh fruit benefit, but sliced cheese is a great source of dairy and protein that kids don’t get from a Cheez-y cracker counterpart!
The Teddy Bear Picnic is such a cute Lunchable Jr option, but I knew I could definitely get this one cheaper! Their version features dried apple dices, peanut butter, and Teddy Grahams. My version features an off-brand of Teddy Grahams called Bud’s Best that I find at my grocery store for $1 per box, Great Value Peanut Butter, and Great Value dried apples, which I’ve cut into smaller pieces.
You’d save a whopping $1.06 each time you did this swap, or $55.12 over the course of the year! That’s about enough for a massage… sounds like a fine excuse for some relaxation!
Teddy Bear Picnic
Good: Peanut Butter, dried apple pieces, and bear-shaped graham crackers, as pictured.
Better: Keep the peanut butter and bear shaped graham crackers, but swap in some fresh diced apple pieces and some chopped grapes for a mini fruit salad! Toss them with lemon juice to keep from browning.
Best: Stick with the apple/grape addition from above, and keep the bear-shaped grahams, but swap the peanut butter for some almond butter to give a healthier kick to this snack!
There are some great Lunchable options that are starting out as complete meals, which is always a great starting point. I have to say, I think the PBJ Flatbread is one of the cooler options that Lunchables have tried to offer… after all, you’re offering something that is standard lunch fare, in a really cool Lunchables way. But honestly, I can’t imagine paying $3.69 for a glorified PBJ for my kiddo, so I knew this was one that needed a copycat.
PBJ aside, this Lunchable comes with a juice pouch, mini Fruit Roll Up, and applesauce cup. I chose Great Value’s off-brand fruit punch pouch, Great Value applesauce, and stuck with the Mini Fruit Roll Up. Instead of the small flat bread that Lunchables offers, I went with a Thomas whole grain sandwich thin. For the Peanut Butter, I went with Great Value again, and I opted for a grape jelly that I found in the $1 section of my local grocery store.
By making this swap, you’ll save $2.59. Swap it every week for a year, and that adds up to $134.68! That’s almost enough to buy family season pass to the local pool in my town, which means that by using off-brands instead of buying the Lunchable version, we could have a full summer of daily aquatic fun.
Good: Peanut butter and jelly on whole grain flatbread with a mini fruit roll up, applesauce cup, and juice pouch, as pictured.
Better: When looking at my jelly, I realized that, while affordable, it contained no actual grapes, but instead grape juice, as the third or fourth ingredient, behind high fructose corn syrup. A better choice would be a higher-quality jelly with real fruit in it, and lower sugar, with no HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). The peanut butter and whole grain flatbread are great options, as is the applesauce cup, and 100% fruit juice. By adding carrots with hummus, you’re getting a full balanced meal!
Best: Swap almond butter for the PB and a homemade fruit jelly on whole grain flatbread with carrots and hummus, add sliced apples in place of applesauce, which is often sweetened, and keep the 100% fruit juice for a really balanced, delicious treat.
Cracker Stacker Lunchables are arguably one of the best-known and most common Lunchable varieties, and for good reason… they’re simple, and one of the first Lunchables on the market. In place of the delicious buttery Ritz crackers that Lunchables offers, I used equally delicious Great Value Crackers, and swapped Crystal Farms cheese for the Kraft. I also took a regular piece of Oscar Meyer turkey and cut it into small cracker-sized circles using a small shot glass-sized measuring cup to make them stack-able for the crackers and cheese. I replaced the Capri Sun with a Great Value fruit punch pouch, and decided that, in place of the Skittles that usually come with it, I’d use the candy I had on hand– 3 Hershey’s Kisses.
Making this swap is a savings of $2.06 per lunch! That’s a $107.12 savings over the year, which is enough to get a SodaStream and entertain your family for hours with a variety of carbonated drinks. I know it’s the next kitchen gadget I want to buy.
Cracker Stacker Lunchable
Good: Buttery crackers with turkey lunch meat, cheese, a juice pouch, and a piece of candy, as pictured.
Better: Swap out buttery crackers for a whole grain cracker variety, and change the lunch meat for a lean turkey option. Swap the cheese for reduced fat cheese, and exchange the juice pouch for a 100% fruit juice option.
Best: Make the exchanges above, for the crackers, meat, cheese, and juice, then exchange the candy for some fresh grapes and veggies for a balanced, whole meal.
Finally, the Chicken Soft Taco Lunchable. Oh yes, yummy. Theirs features some cute itty-bitty tortillas, shredded cheese, diced chunks of chicken, some Cheez Its, 2 Oreos, a mini bottle of water, and a Kool Aid pouch. For mine, I decided to cut three small tortillas from a burrito-sized tortilla with a circle cookie cutter, keeping the cheddar cheese, but swapping their Kraft for the slightly cheaper Crystal Farms cheese, and using Tyson grilled pre-cooked sliced chicken, which I cut into slightly smaller pieces. I used Cheez Its, purchased on sale for $0.99 at my local supermarket, and swapped the Oreos for Great Value sandwich cookies. While I have a water bottle pictured here, I typically use a re-fillable water bottle and took this bottle from our emergency stash, so the cost of refilling my bottle is pretty much nothing– just a tiny portion of the water bill. I also saved a few cents by switching the Kool Aid packet out for a Hawaiian Punch packet, which is only $1 for a box of singles!
This simple swap takes minimal effort and saves a full $2.41 per lunch! Over the course of one swapped lunch a year, that’s a full $125.32. Wow. With that money, you could buy an airline ticket from one of the major carrier’s bigger sales, and go on a cheap getaway!
Chicken Soft Tacos
Good: Packaged grilled chicken pieces and shredded cheddar on small flour tortillas, served with water and a drink mix single, with a side of Cheez Its and a dessert of two sandwich cookies.
Better: Exchange your home-boiled or grilled chicken, diced, for the store-bought chicken, with shredded cheddar and diced tomatoes on small flour tortillas, served with water and a drink mix single, with a side of fresh fruit and a dessert of two sandwich cookies. The home-grilled chicken is less likely to contain preservatives that store-bought chicken often contains, and switching to fresh fruit versus Cheez Its is a great way to get that serving of fruit in! Adding tomatoes is also a great way to pack a nutritional punch without too much extra effort.
Best: Home boiled or grilled chicken, diced, with shredded cheddar and diced tomatoes on a whole wheat tortilla, served with plain or fruit-infused water, a side of fresh fruit, and a dessert of a homemade cookie work well as a best option. Swapping a whole wheat tortilla is a great way to get a little bit more whole grains in your child’s diet, and switching to plain or fruit infused flavor means fewer artificial flavors and typically less sugar, as well. By having a homemade cookie, you know just what’s in it, and it’s made with love!
To answer a few questions…
What containers were used?
To pack my homemade lunchables, I use a few containers. One of them I honestly haven’t been able to find lately, but it’s very similar to this one, available on Amazon: Fit & Fresh Lunch on the Go Container Set with Removable Ice Pack. (This is an affiliate link). The next set I use is a Rubbermaid 3-pack that is awesome! With 3 containers in the set, there’s always one clean. Rubbermaid® TakeAlongs 2.8 Cup Divided Snackers Set (also an affiliate link). Finally, the small square containers are some containers I picked up for $1.00 at my local store and I haven’t been able to figure out a brand or where to buy them. I honestly haven’t even seen anything similar online, so you might check local dollar stores and see!
Yeah, but Lunchables are super processed. By making almost exact duplicates, are you advocating this food for your child?
You’re right, Lunchables are processed! And you know what? As much as I love home cooking, I also recognize that an occasional processed food isn’t going to hurt my child. I don’t advocate serving Lunchables every day, and I make sure my son keeps his processed food consumption as only a small part of a much larger diet. That said, there’s no reason he can’t have one sometimes, and yeah, I’d much rather make him a homemade version than a store purchased version. There are much worse things I could be serving him.
How qualified are you to give the nutrition information above?
While I’d like to think that I’m pretty well-informed when it comes to what I eat, I am not a nutritionist and I don’t pretend to be. Always take my advice with that knowledge in mind and talk to your own doctor or nutritionist about these things. From me, they’re merely suggestions that aren’t necessarily backed up by science. You’re always encouraged to cross-reference my information and research this on your own!
Isn’t you making your own Lunchable kind of killing the convenience factor?
I personally don’t think so. I like to keep a shelf of healthy snacks and lunches in the fridge for grab-and-go times, which means sometimes I’ll prepare 5 or 6 of the listed options at once, or even prepare a couple at a time (one for my son and one for me). By setting aside about 15 minutes at the beginning of the week, I can stock the fridge with the food so when it comes time to grab-and-go, it’s just as convenient. For me personally, the savings are well worth the 15 minutes a week it takes me to prepare these meals and snacks (and other healthy options like them).
For me, it makes sense to make my son his own fun lunch options and pass up the packaged foods on the shelf. With a little planning, I can make him equally enticing options that pack perfectly for the pool, the park, or even a long road trip. I love knowing that if I take a few extra minutes, I can skip the high prices of packaged food at the supermarket or convenience store and serve my son an equally healthy, or sometimes healthier, version of a great lunch option on the market.
Don’t forget to stay tuned for more Summer Lunch Week 2014, filled with more recipes, more printables, and more ideas all week long. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for a coming giveaway, too!
Do you keep your fridge stocked with Lunchables, or make your own? What’s your family’s go-to healthy summer snack or lunch? Let me know in the comments below!