9 Genius Ways to Save Money on School Lunches

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I found out last year that packing four lunches five days a week had a big negative impact on my grocery budget! Packing that first month’s worth of lunches when my previously home-schooled kiddos went off to school was really expensive! After a lot of thought and careful planning, I have found ways to cut the expense of the twenty brown bag lunches we pack each week. 

9 Genius Ways to Save Money on School Lunches 

It’s important to me to send quality and filling lunches to school with my kids. They don’t really like what’s served in the cafeteria and I’m not thrilled with the offerings either. But I did not anticipate the financial drain that packing lunches would have on my budget! For some reason, it was a lot more expensive to send lunches with them initially than it was to feed them at home. Have you noticed that too? Luckily, over the year last year, we found seveal techniques that really work to help save money on school lunches. Here they are!

1. Ask your kids for their input

There’s no quicker way to have an entire lunch thrown out than to pack a bunch of food your kids won’t eat. While I don’t always heed every piece of input I get from my kids, I do try to have a few things I know they will enjoy in their lunch. It just helps the rest of the goodies to be eaten. 😀

prep lunch bins once a week

2. Prep ingredients one night a week for a week’s worth of lunches

I’ve found prepping lunch supplies once a week (Sunday nights for instance) is a huge time saver. Having food prepped in portion sized containers also helps reduce food waste and control portion sizes. And that saves me money!

Some things we prep ahead of time include:

  • Wash and slice fruits and veggies for quick addition to the bento lunch boxes {be sure to store the fresh food in a way to reduce spoilage!}
  • Portion out dressing, hummus, and salsa to be eating with fresh veggies and chips
  • Portion out  bulk tortilla chips and other snacky items
  • Slice cheese and cut meat and portion into appropriately sized containers
  • Re-fill our lunch packing station for the week ahead
Set up a lunch packing station to save money on school lunches

3. Set up a lunch packing station

I set up a lunch packing station last year and it simplified the lunch packing routine significantly. My lovely IKEA cart is filled with lunch boxes and supplies, as well as non-refrigerator food choices. We keep the bins of washed and prepped fruit and veggies and prepped cheese and meat for homemade lunchables in the fridge and yogurt tubes in the freezer.

lunch cart for easy lunch packing

In the morning, we pull out the bins and the cart, and the kids run through the kitchen to pack their own lunches in only a few minutes! Let me tell you how nice it was to have all of my kids (even the first grader) responsible for packing their own lunches last year! The lunch packing station is a genius idea that I hope you can institute at your own house. It is certainly here to stay at my  house because it saves me lots of time and money!

Annie's organic yogurt tubes

4. Forget ice packs

I have found there’s really no need to buy or use ice packs. Instead, we freeze yogurt tubes and add them to the lunch box! By the time lunch rolls around the yogurt has thawed enough to eat and even if it hasn’t, my kids enjoy eating frozen yogurt too. You could also freeze water bottles, if you want! No ice packs just makes lunches that much easier.

5. Send cloth napkins or have kids grab a paper napkin at school

Instead of buying paper napkins to send to school, send reusable cloth napkins. Or, better yet, have your kids grab paper napkins from the school cafeteria. I’ve been pretty successful at eliminating most disposable paper products from my grocery budget and it does make a bigger impact than you might think! And the same goes for flat ware. I also have a few old forks and spoons that I add to lunch boxes, need be. I don’t send my good set because I don’t want to lose anything, but I also don’t buy plastic forks and spoons either.

6. Consider leftovers

One of the best things I did last year to simplify school lunches was to invest in a good quality thermos for each child. Having a thermos means my kids can take leftovers to school and enjoy a hot lunch like their friends! Eating up the leftovers is a great way to save money on school lunches! Waste not, want not, right?

7. Skip packaged drinks and bottled water

Instead, use refillable water bottles – they’re a lot cheaper and water is also healthier than sugar-laden drinks! We save a lot of money by not buying drinks for my kids to take to school.

school lunch my kids will eat

8. Don’t use disposable baggies

As I said, I’ve eliminated a lot disposable products at my house. Instead, we use reusable baggies and bento style lunch boxes. We’ve used a lot of different bento style boxes and really like that we don’t have to use as many baggies as we would with a different type of lunch box.

Ask kids for their lunch preferences for sc

9. Buy in bulk, in season, and utilize sales

It’s a lot cheaper to buy food in bulk if you can portion it out properly {which can be challenging}. We try not to buy too many single portion items, but we do get some from time to time. I’ve seen single size servings of hummus and dressings for sale, but we prefer to portion them out on our own. It just saves us money and food waste so we do it ourselves!

It also saves money to buy food that’s currently in season. Have you noticed that strawberries are a lot cheaper in early summer than in the winter, for example?! Buying what’s in season is another genius way to save money on school lunches! You can find a long list of food items to include in your school lunches here.

Save money on school lunches with these 9 genius tips! They're all great tips, but number 7 and 9 are my favorite.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of General Mills. The opinions and text are all mine.

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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