Making lunch for your kids every day can add up to spending a lot of money. While many schools do offer free lunch, many don’t. If you are responsible for putting together school lunch for your children every day, there is a way to do that on a budget and have some variety. Here are some ideas to get you started:
The Sandwich – The classic brown paper bag school lunch started for a very good reason – it was cheap and easy. Many schools restrict anything with nuts, so instead of going for your typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich, think out of the box a little bit. Sunbutter and honey on white, marshmallow fluff and Hershey’s Spread on toast, cream cheese and jelly on an English Muffin or try to make your own Uncrustables – the options are endless. Meat and/or cheese sandwiches are always an option (with a cooler pack inside the lunch box) or something a little more upscale like a BLT, tuna salad or egg salad. None of them will break the budget! Want to make your sandwich that much more fun? Use a different sandwich shape cutter each day!
Fruits and Vegetables – While fresh produce can be expensive, there are excellent ways to save. Shop the loss leader products on the front page of your grocery store ad each and every week. If raspberries are on sale for $.99 per pint during a three day sale, buy four. If grapes are $.99/lb this week, buy a few pounds. Look around and pay attention to the sales. There is always some fruit and some vegetable that you can find at a good price. And if it’s celery for the ad week, it’s celery for the school week! Throw in a little ranch dressing or peanut butter and you’re on your way to a complete lunch.
Pretzels and Rice Cakes – I’m not big on sending chips to school with my kids, so pretzels tend to be the thriftiest option. You can often get standard bags of pretzels at smaller chain stores (like Butera or Piggly Wiggly) for only $.99 each regular price, so once you find a price like that in your area, that’s your go-to store. You can also get lots of variety in rice cakes these days, so buy a few bags of larger rice cakes and send one each day. Get ranch, barbecue and caramel and you’ve got some great variety that will last you weeks.
Dips – I know what you’re thinking – send dip to school? Yes! Send a homemade cream cheese or sour cream dip, salsa, yogurt, hummus, peanut butter, ketchup or anything else along with your child for their fruits, veggies or pretzels. If you send a similar lunch each day, changing up the dip can be an easy way to keep their school lunch fresh and new.
Leftovers – Last night’s dinner can easily be tomorrow’s lunch! Think soups, chili or stews in a thermos, or pizza, pasta, hot dogs or other meals that they don’t mind eating at room temperature or cold. Some schools will allow children to use a microwave, so explore that option as well.
Treats – Every once in awhile we all like a little treat with our lunch. If you want to give your child something sweet on a budget, go to your local Dollar Store and spend a dollar on a box of Bulls-Eyes Caramel Creams, Lemonheads or any other nut free treat. Put one or two in your child’s lunch and you’ll have plenty for another five or six occasions. If it’s around Halloween, make that candy stretch the same way!
Bento Boxes – Bento style lunch containers are INVALUABLE when you are trying to save money and pack lunches every day. There are many varieties available, so choose the best one for you and your family. Most come with compartments for each item on your lunch list and make it extremely easy for your child to grab and go. Even better, they keep food items from getting smushed in the backpack.
There are all kinds of ways to put together inexpensive school lunches, you just have to be a little creative. Be sure to shop the loss leaders at your grocery store every week, use coupons for additional savings, and put those leftovers to good use. Do you have any other ideas? Let me know in the comments!