5 Ways to Make School Lunches for Less
If your child is thumbs-down on the school cafeteria, you have approximately 180 lunches to pack this school year. And that’s with one child. Multiplied by the 2.5 most families have, you’re looking at 450, sister. Yikes! Without a little planning and strategy, filling all those boxes can wreak havoc on your grocery budget. But there are ways to trim the cost while filling those tummies with a healthy school lunch:
1. Skip the prepackaged single portions. Buying snacks like crackers, trail mix or cookies in single-serving portions is far more expensive than buying a bulk bag of the same food and making your own serving-sized baggies with some dollar store bags or reusable plastic containers. If the morning-rush convenience they provide is a temptation for you beat the system by having the kids prepare a week’s worth of snack bags over the weekend.
2. Invest in a few good containers. It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending a few dollars on sturdy, reusable containers can save money over buying throw-away plastic and paper bags all year long. We find that even the plastic containers sold as “take and toss” can hold up to months of top-rack dishwashing and use. The same goes for water bottles: one quality stainless steel bottle can be refilled endlessly (with filtered tap water—more savings!), and is more environmentally friendly, too. Here are some innovative tools to make the job easier.
3. Include school lunches in your meal and grocery plan for the week. Use the same sale and coupon-savvy skills you apply to your mealtime grocery buying for school lunch purchases. If apples and grapes are on sale this week, then make them your fruit side for the week. When non-perishables like pretzels and crackers are on sale, buy in bulk and store.
4. Do bulk prep on Sunday night. Take just a few minutes on Sunday night to think through the school lunch “game plan” for the upcoming week, and prep those budget-friendly lunch purchases. Slice and dice fresh fruits and veggies and store in serving-sized containers for quick and easy packing in the morning. You can quickly do the same with a big batch of pudding or Jell-O®.
5. Cook a little extra when favorites are on the menu. If your child loves spaghetti and meatballs or mac and cheese, make a little extra at mealtime and save the left-overs. Reheated and popped into a thermos, they make a great lunch the next day, and stretch your dollars a little further. An extra grilled chicken breast is great on a lunch salad or diced in a tortilla roll-up with favorite sandwich toppings, too!