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5 Tips for Packing Cheap (and Healthy) School Lunches

5 Tips for Packing Cheap (and Healthy) School Lunches


An elementary school lunch costs an average $2.18 per day or about $43 per month, according to the School Nutrition Association. Although it doesn’t seem costly for just one student, it quickly adds up if you have a larger family.

Fortunately, you can majorly cut costs by packing lunch. But to really save big you must shop and pack smart. Read on for a few simple tips that will help you save.

Preserve Like a Pro
When groceries go to waste it’s like flushing dollars down the toilet. Fruits and vegetables can be expensive and spoil fairly quickly, so healthy-school-lunchyou shouldn’t buy more than you need.

If you find a bargain in bulk make sure you have a game plan to preserve the food with methods like canning or freezing. Otherwise, stick with a portion your family can eat within just a few weeks.

Also try to stick to fruits and veggies that stay fresh for a long time to get your money’s worth. For instance, apples, oranges, celery and carrots are economical. If you keep them in the fridge they can last several weeks. On the other hand, grapes, peaches, pears and plums don’t stay fresh as long.

Other lunch staples, such as bread and granola, can be bought in bulk and stored in the freezer. Just don’t keep them frozen for too long, or they’ll get freezer burn.

Ditch Prepackaged Snacks

Prepackaged snacks and pre-made lunch products can be budget busters. In fact, buying prepackaged foods for lunches may cost more money than buying lunch from the school each month. Many packaged foods also contain mystery preservatives that aren’t so healthy.

Buying prepackaged meals for school lunch is too costly. Put on your own chef hat to save big! Click To Tweet

Pass on the store snacks and get crafty. Experiment with homemade granola bars and other baked goods. There are tons of unique and healthy DIY recipes on Pinterest that you can make in bulk. Or check out these snack ideas from U.S. News Health.

If you’re low on time, you can also go the simple route and make easy snacks like apples with peanut butter or carrots with dip. Of course, your children may enjoy a special treat like pretzels or chips once in a while, and that’s OK, too. Just buy the entire bag instead of the snack size, and portion it yourself to make the snack last longer.

Invest in Quality Carriers

Look for a sturdy lunch carrier with snack compartments to avoid spending cash on bags or disposable Tupperware. If you can’t find an affordable bag with compartments you can also buy durable plastic containers to fit inside.

Versatile bags that can hold both hot and cold items are the best bang for your buck and will add more variety to your menu. Not every child is a fan of cold sandwiches, and the same lunch every day can get boring. An insulated container can carry hot meals like hot dogs and macaroni to switch it up.

Lastly, skip plastic water bottles and expensive juice boxes. Get a thermos or bottle for drinks that you can refill each day. You may have to spend a little extra money upfront on quality lunch carriers, but they’ll last you a long time.

Plan for Your Leftovers

A container for hot food is also perfect for packing leftovers, which is easy and affordable. Choose dinner recipes during the week that can double as a lunch for the next day. You may even be able to repurpose meals into entirely new dishes. Most meats can easily transition into a sandwich with some bread, spread and added veggies. Get creative and the options are endless.

Make It a Habit child-packing-school-lunch

Sure, you may want to save money packing lunch, but sometimes finding the motivation is half the battle. This is especially true if you’re accustomed to falling back on school lunches.

We all know weekday mornings are hectic, and sending your kids off with cash is convenient. Still, cutting costs with homemade lunches can be easy if you prepare in advance.

Plan and prep meals for the entire week during the weekend. Ask your kids for input on the menu, and devote a few hours on Sunday to preparing it. Then each weekday morning (or even the night before) portion out what you’ve already made to toss in a lunch bag. Do it consistently, and packing will become habitual in no time.

Most kids will agree there’s nothing better than a meal from home to look forward to when they’re hungry in the afternoon. So a packed lunch is a win for your wallet and a win for your budding scholar this school year.

This post by Tiffany "The Budgetnista", originally appeared on U.S. News.

School girl and apple photo from, stockimages and rakratchada torsap

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Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche is quickly becoming America's favorite, personal financial educator. The Budgetnista is also an Amazon #1 best selling author (The One Week Budget and Live Richer Challenge), sought-after speaker and teacher of financial empowerment.
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