Packing school lunches five days a week can be a daunting task, from finding foods kids will eat to ensuring a healthy balance that isn’t boring. Those meals can also take a huge bite out of your grocery budget, especially if you have more than one child.
Here are five simple tips to help you create lunches that make the grade without breaking the bank.
1. Ditch Prepackaged Foods
Individually packaged snacks like cookies, chips, and pretzels are handy — and who can argue with their mini-sized cuteness? — but they’re also expensive. You can save money by making your own with zip-top or reusable baggies and containers.
Make large batches of baked goods like brownies, or stir up some granola, pudding, or Jell-O. Enlist the kids to help with packing, and keep the servings handy for lunch-making and snack time. Save even more by sending a reusable water bottle and drink mixes instead of bottled beverages.
2. Buy in Bulk
If you’re already making your own treat packages as mentioned above, it makes sense to buy snack supplies in bulk, because it’s often more cost-effective than buying one at at time. You can also get cheese, meat, and crackers in bulk, and let kids build and pack their own sandwiches. This real, fresh food is healthier and less expensive in the long run than prepackaged items.
3. Get Menu Advice
Although it’s ultimately up to you to provide healthy meals for your kids, you can cut down on uneaten lunches thrown in the trash by asking for your children’s input. Allow them to make suggestions, and include them in the planning and shopping process.
4. Switch to Reusables
Stop the buy-use-throw away-repeat cycle by investing in quality plastic containers and reusable snack bags. Or use lunch boxes that have built-in areas for separate items. You can even swap paper napkins for cloth and plastic utensils for the real thing that kids can bring home to wash and reuse.
5. Get Creative with Leftovers
It’s easy to make last night’s dinner today’s lunch — and that’s one less meal you have to buy. Options abound, from chicken salad, sliced steak with dipping sauce, or a thermos of soup. Plan your meals around how they can be repurposed the next day, and don’t be afraid to get creative. If you have only a small amount of pulled pork, for example, make a tortilla roll-up with cheese. Or turn leftover noodles into a pasta salad.
Like many money-saving solutions, inexpensive lunches require some up-front planning, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Think about weeknight meals in terms of what can be saved for lunches, ask for everyone’s help, and devote some weekend time to prepping.