Ok...this is really more for those who have school-age children....let's start with lunches since my children are already begging for all the dyed, sugared, CRAP that they see in the store.
Be smart and read the labels....my children like yogurt, provided it's a "crush cup" or "gogurt"....but not all products are made the same. If your child has a food allergy, please keep that in the forefront as you buy these products. Now, since yogurt is fairly healthy (I say fairly because so many that are marketed towards children have a mess of things that we don't need, but that make it more appealing), I tend to purchase it for my children - but, only if it is on sale or if I have coupons (bonus if I have a coupon AND it's on sale). Don't be afraid of purchasing some if it is near the expiration date. Instead, put it in the freezer! When you pack it in your child's lunchbox, it will stay cold and be edible by the time lunch time comes, and you are actually "extending" the life of the yogurt by freezing it (really just slowing down the decomposition/spoiling, but still, getting more days that it will be good to eat).
When you want to pack fresh fruit (and this will probably draw criticism), opt for the small packages of pre-cut apples. They will stay fresh longer, and you won't have as much getting thrown away because of the apples being "brown" (why children can't get that the apple still tastes the same is beyond me, but if the apple is brown, my children won't touch it). Buying large bags of baby carrots is a better bargain because you can divvy them up into smaller bags for single servings. At some salvage marts, you can even find small containers of peanut butter for rock-bottom prices, and those can also be used as part of the snacks (a place near me was selling them for $0.10 each, and the containers are fairly decent sized - enough to have a small apple with and maybe even have some left over!).
If your children want to purchase lunch from school, like mine do, one thing that might work for you is to have them choose a few days a month, with meals that they REALLY like, with the understanding that they will be packing the rest of the time. When my children bring home the lunch menus, I go through it with each of them (separately works best) and mark which day each child wants to buy (by using their initial). Some days, even if they want to buy, they don't get to - barbecue and corn dogs are days that neither buys because I know the food will just end up getting thrown away, and that's $2 in the trash...not in my house...lol. Set a limit....I've said that $20 per month, per child is the most I will pay for lunches...so that means each child gets no more than 10 school lunches in a month....that's the most...which means half bought and half from home....most often, they choose less because they would rather see what snacks I have packed for them :-)
Be reasonable....don't expect children to want to try new things in their lunch....the old stand-by in our house is PB&J, but of course, if there are allergies, don't use that.... When you send in a thermos, fill it part way with the drink (water, juice, even milk) and put it in the freezer the night before. In the morning, finish filling it and pack it in the lunchbox - it will stay cold until lunch. As with the family dinners, try to make sure you have a variety of foods...proteins, carbs, etc....peanut butter has protein, as does lunchmeat, but sometimes there are additives that our children don't need...be smart, read labels. A typical lunch for my children (from home) will include a sandwich (usually PB&J), either some fresh fruit or veggies, juice, and either cookies or crackers. Before you get indignant, the cookies are most often homemade, which means I control the amount of sugar in them instead of purchasing the processed, additive-filled cookies from the store. On special occasions there might be a small piece of chocolate in their lunch as a surprise (birthdays, most often).
If your children are older, have them help with making purchases for their lunchboxes as well as making their lunches. By the time they are in 3rd grade, they should be able to tell what an acceptable lunch is and pull the items they need to make it. Because I have my children work with me to get their lunches together, they are less likely to ask for junk and more likely to make smarter choices when we are at the store or packing....like meal-planning, it just takes practice and consistency!
.........clothing up next.......