Ways to Save on School Lunches

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I wrote this article 2 years ago and decided to republish it since my kids head back to school next week.

An important task for me once the school year begins is making lunches for the kids (and hubby).  Packing lunch is a great way to save money! In my area, it costs $2.60 for lunch and milk.  Hubby can easily spend $5 a day at work.  That’s about $10 per day on lunches if I don’t pack at home!

The expense is not the only thing that keeps me packing lunches day after day.  I don’t know what Monkeyboy is eating when he buys lunch at school.  I have noticed fairly healthy options, but I know what I send is better.  He does get to buy lunch once per week now –  “My friends buy lunch, Mom!”

1.  Pick a lunch box:  Pick a lunch box that your child will use and be mindful of how the lunches will fit into the box or bag.  Consider purchasing containers to send sandwiches, snacks and drinks to avoid buying baggies and juice boxes; plus it’s more eco-friendly.

2.  Prepare the night before:  I always find it beneficial to pack lunches the night before.  It saves me time and hassle in the morning.  It also helps me to make sure the ice packs are in the freezer and ready to add to the lunch box the next day.  On Sunday night I like to get snack containers together for the week.  Use what you have in your stockpile to put together a snack container of goodies.  You can try gold-fish, cheez-its, raisins, pretzels, dry cereal, anything.

3.  Think variety:  I tend to pack lunches with 4 categories: main dish, fruit or vegetable, snack, and a drink.  I want my kids to always have a healthy option, but they want a treat too. Most days they’re beverage is water, but I do throw in a little surprise 1 or 2 times a week and add juice to they’re drink bottle.  Remember to be mindful of what your child will eat.  There is no sense in sending food that will just be thrown away!

4. Consider convenience items:  I like to keep juice boxes, uncrustables and individual snacks on hand for crazy days.  I’ll even pick up lunchables when I can score them at a great price.  The kids get excited when I pack these items, and they can be a real timesaver for me.  I just try to make it more of an exception than a rule.

School Lunch Ideas

Main Dish:
Sandwiches and wraps: meat, cheese, PB&J, tuna, or egg salad
Cheese and crackers
Thermos of soup
Cereal-I put dry cereal in a small container and give milk money
Boiled egg and muffin

Favorite fruit whole or cut up
Favorite veggie-carrot sticks, celery, cherry tomatoes (sometimes I put ranch or peanut butter in a tiny container for dipping)
Fruit cup

Snack containers
Homemade granola bars or store bought
Homemade Rice Krispy treats
Baked Chips
Fruit Snacks-kiddos told me this was their favorite, of course

What are your ideas for packing school lunches?



  1. Stace says

    Great post! We always pack lunch. My girls can go a whole schoolyear or two without ever buying. 'Cause have you really looked at that school menu of ours? Considering I have a vegetarian lactose intolerant kids, whew it wouldn't work for us anyway. Some of our favs: my girls don't mind leftovers from the previous night's dinner. a thermos of alfredo penne from the night before or tortellini for example. they love breakfast for lunch. french toast sticks with a side of syrup in a tiny, tight rubbermaid for example. just remember to pack a wet paper towel in a ziploc for clean up. we put their yogurt (me and my yogurt 😉 in the freezer the night before that way it's still cold the next day at lunch whether we use ice packs or not. I always pack the night before, too, btw. I dont' function well in the morning. my one daughter (the vegetarian) loves her refried bean burritos so I'll do a small wrap, fold it in half and cut it into wedges for easier lunch packing. we also do the snack thing–example-those free tortilla chips. I would open the bag, put it in a huge rubbermaid and then all week just put handfuls in a sandwich bag. so much cheaper than buying he individually wrapped packages. We also do baby carrots in a ziploc with the tiny rubbermaid container of chilled ranch dressing for dipping. slices of fruit in a ziploc bag or container, too like oranges or a peaches or cantaloupe or grapes. And I will say-when our oldest daughter first went veg a few years back-I guess when she was in fourth grade or so-she was coming home saying her friends were jealous of her creative brought from home lunches. they couldn't wait to see what she brought each day. so get creative, it's not all about pb&j (even for the vegetarian kids ;p so unless your kids loves pb&j, switch it up…btw, i do have one of those kids though so I have to get creative on the fruit/veggies and snack part with her). This is not my blog link I am including here, btw, but a brilliant vegan mom who refused to feed her veg child the same old, same old. might get some good ideas even if you're not a vegetarian. She uses this great "laptop lunchbox" (you can see it on the site) she has a cookbook out too. You'll have to go to archives to see the daily lunchbox pictures because I think she stopped writing on the blog when her cookbook hit shelves but you can still go to previous years to see it all: http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/

  2. Dana @ The Coupon Challenge says

    My kids don't do leftovers but it's a great idea for kids! I have a house full of complainers :) It's amazing how much cheaper it is to get the larger bag and split it up. Well, unless I can snag it for free. Thanks for the tip on the site. I'll be checking her out!

  3. Julie says

    Thanks for the great ideas. My oldest is in pre-k this year and has to take a lunch so I'm just now beginning my journey into the world of packing a lunch. He is picky so I'm doing my best to get him to eat a variety of foods but I have a feeling he will be eating a lot of PB&J.

  4. Dana @ The Coupon Challenge says

    My kids do prefer the PB&J but they will allow me to change it up. After a couple months of PB&J, Monekyboy started to get over it :)
    LuLu's pre-k is peanut free so she can't even take PB&J.

    Good luck in pre-k! He should have a blast!

  5. maureen says

    I also like to get extra pizza for our pizza nights and then put a slice or two in there lunch the next day-they love it cold or hot!!!! or just string cheese and summer sausage…

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