With the school shopping complete or nearly complete, the kids are headed back to school. But one thing you still need to think about is school lunches for your children. My daughter will be in first grade this year, which means she will be eating lunch at school. However, paying for cafeteria lunches each day can start to cost a lot. With some planning and preparation, you can pack school lunches for your children that are nutritious and yummy, and if done correctly, can actually be cheaper than buying lunch. And packing school lunches doesn’t have to be too much of a hassle. Here are 7 ways to save money on school lunches.
1. Create a Menu
Sit down with your kids and create a menu of weekly lunches they would like to eat. If they are involved, they are more likely to eat it and less likely to complain about it.
2. Shop the Sales
Before you head to the store, look at the weekly grocery ads to see what’s on sale that week. Try to create your lunch menu around these sale items so you save more money at the store. But be sure to purchase food you know your children will eat. If you purchase food that’s on sale but it doesn’t get eaten, then that’s a waste of money and food. You can read more about Buying Groceries on a Budget here.
3. Don’t Purchase Individual Sizes
It’s convenient to purchase snack-size bags of food from the store, but they cost a lot because you end up spending money on the packaging. Instead, purchase food in larger bags or bulk such as chips, crackers, pretzels or vegetables and put them into sandwich bags or small reusable containers. For instance, instead of purchasing individual-size cheese sticks, purchase cheese in blocks, cut them into pieces then put them into small bags or containers.
4. Plan Ahead
When you prepare food items ahead of time such as cooking and shredding chicken for a dinner, then double what you are making and freeze it in smaller servings for a lunch later that week. It also saves time and prep work when using leftovers meals for your children’s lunches. Some of the leftovers could be made into wraps or sandwiches.
Prepare a week’s worth of vegetables and fruits at a time by cleaning, slicing and storing them in airtight containers in the fridge. Make a box of Jell-O or pudding and pour them into individual containers. These will last all week and cut down on the cost of purchasing the snack-size containers. Place snack items such as chips, cookies or crackers into containers or reusable bags. Have the kids help do this over the weekend so the food is ready to go into the lunch box each school morning.
5. Make Homemade Snacks
Make batches of homemade muffins, cookies, breads or granola bars. Place them in sandwich bags and freeze them. This makes it easy to pull out of the freezer and throw into lunches quickly.
6. Invest in Containers
Instead of purchasing brown paper bags and plastic sandwich bags, invest in a quality lunchbox, reusable and washable containers that have dividers, utensils and resealable snack bags. You’ll be able to use these over and over, plus it will save money on bags that would be thrown away every day.
Fill a thermos or plastic drinking bottle half full with water and freeze it the night before. In the morning, take it out of the freezer and fill the rest with water. This will keep the water cold and keep the food cold too.
7. Save Eating Out Items
When you go to eat out, save the napkins, ketchup and mustard packets and use them in the lunches.
By using these tips, packing lunches doesn’t have to be a chore and won’t take a toll on your budget. It’s possible to be frugal and still give your kids delicious and healthy lunch each day. What are ways you save on school lunches?