My oldest boy is starting Kindergarten and he wants to bring lunch from home.
I’m already starting to realize that there are many pitfalls to packing an affordable, healthy lunch for kids. All those single-serve snacks and drinks come with a spendy price tag. And don’t even get me started about sandwich baggies.
So I’m working on ways to trim the cost of school lunches. Here are a few ideas I have:
- Watch the sales and match those sales with store and manufacturer coupons. (That’s just smart no matter who or what you’re shopping for!)
- Buy in bulk and package individual servings in zip-top bags (which I’ll reuse if they make it home from school) or use reusable containers.
- Use reusable water bottles for beverages.
- Send homemade treats with lunch instead of store-bought cookies.
- Send fruit and vegetables to munch on that are in season.
- If I don’t have coupons for something, buy the store brand.
- Check out the warehouse store prices to see if there are any deals there.
Now I’d like your help! To all of you who are seasoned lunch packers: What are some things you do to save on school lunches? Have you found that hot lunch is a better deal? Please share your tips and experiences!
Ditch the plastic baggies/foil/plastic wrap and invest in a reuseable container. You’d be surprised how much money you’ll save eliminating the stuff kids throw away. I blog about packing lunch everyday with zero waste. You might get inspiration by checking it out. :)
Christine – here is a blog I stumbled on about making lunch fun, also (and with limited waste). Enjoy! Kindergarten is so fun!!
My kids won’t/don’t want the reusable lunch bags and containers, I tried to fight it, but now am picking other battles. Apparently putting a lunch box back in their locker keeps them getting out the recess as soon as possible!
I am stocking up on baggies now with the sales on ziploc and higher value coupon available. The fold over baggies are much cheaper if you use new baggies each day.
My biggest savings is “trying” to make sure they are eating what I put in the lunch bag. So much food gets thrown out at school.
I only put the veggies and fruits they like and will eat at lunch in the lunch bag. The other meals at home I have them eat the fruits / veggies I want them to try or they don’t like as much.
Lea Ann says
My best find if you must have those Organic Horizon Milk Singles: at Sam’s Club they are $13.75 for the 18-pack. Even Amazon with their subscribe and save can’t beat that price.
Our other lunch sack favorites: String Cheese sticks, a plain old hotdog straight from the fridge in a ziploc baggie (cuz Luka won’t eat sandwiches), freeze a Dannonino yogurt and it will thaw by lunch and keep everything else fresh, use those 100 calorie Kraft Cheese bits packs as a little kid lunch item, little ziploc snack bag of peanuts will pack well too (if your school doesn’t prohibit them), little ziploc of craisins. If your kiddo doesn’t mind things touching, make a mix of baby goldfish, craisins, and peanuts in one bag to save bags.
Invest in reusable containers. Pottery Barn Kids has great containers in perfect sizes for lunches and the lunch boxes to match. They are dishwasher safe and have lasted for at least 2 school years. Hot lunch is not an option at Jared’s school and this will be my 7th year of packing lunches. The only thing I buy prepackaged is kids Cliff bars or Trader Joes fruit/cereal bars for his morning recess snack. Jared is a vegetarian, lactose intolerant, allergies to food dyes and has horrible behavior with too much sugar, so I shop with those issues in mind. It has taken some time to fine tune lunch options and get him to eat healthy lunches. I offer him a few choices of sandwiches (pb&j or cold grilled cheese), or left overs (cold pasta with pesto or with veggies or veggie burrito with black bean salsa) for the main dish. Choice of fruit, chips or crackers and a treat such as banana bread or pumpkin bread. He will eat more of his lunch when given a few simple choices.
Kids also love to dip things such as baby carrots in ranch or hummus. Sliced apples in peanut butter mixed with a little honey. Or pack crackers with sliced cheese to make cracker sandwiches with a little honey mustard (homemade version of lunchables).
Horizon makes a great yogurt in a tube, keep them in the freezer and it will be defrosted by lunch time. Or put some vanilla yogurt in a container with extra room and pack a smaller container of homemade granola to mix in. Don’t forget trail mix of nuts,seeds, dried fruit and chocolate chips for a treat. Dill pickles and hard boiled eggs have also made the lunch list. I do cut up fruit and bake on Sunday’s to prepare for the week of lunches. Don’t forget some love notes! I have heart shaped sticky notes next to his lunch bag and try to write at least one short note per week.
Enjoy Kindergarten…..it goes by so fast.
Christina @ Northern Cheapskate says
I’m loving all of these great ideas! Thanks for the input!
I do wonder how much he actually eats and how much gets tossed. Wish I could have a lunchbox cam or something. :-)
There are really great ideas being posted! We love packing hard boiled eggs- its a good break from sandwiches. We also invested in small canisters that will keep food hot for up to 5 hours. They are a nice way to pack a hotdish or soup for a warm meal once in awhile and they fit inside the lunchbox. We also freeze yogurt tubes (gogurt-type) and use reusable containers vs sandwich bags.
I love these tips. The only thing I’d add is that these lunches can be used your whole life even after you’ve finished kindergarten. I’m working in the city and almost all my coworkers go out every day, but I still follow almost all of these rules here. It’s probably 50% about saving money and 50% about how much healthier it is to bring your own lunch and to know what goes into it.
We’re using EasyLunchboxes this year; so far, I love them! No more baggies, and we’re using Thermos Funtainers (stainless steel water bottles) for apple juice and water, so I’m not spending so much on juiceboxes. My son likes having more to drink, and even when I found good sales/coupon deals, they cost a lot. I always buy larger sizes of applesauce, pineapple, pretzels, etc. and pack those up myself instead of buying the smaller sizes.
Donna Freedman says
Even if hot lunch does cost less, the benefit of a lunch from home is that you know what’s in it. School lunch menus I’ve seen are heavy on sodium and carbs. Yes, some schools try to make it healthier. But their budgets are often limited.
Making sure your healthy-and-packed-with-love lunches are actually eaten? Well, you’ve got a point. But at least you’ve got a fighting chance of them ingesting some good stuff.
My favorite kid-lunch idea: Spread peanut butter in a hot-dog bun and include a banana to be peeled on-site and inserted in the bun. We ate a lot of peanut butter and banana sandwiches when I was a kid, but nobody ever told us about this variation!
Crystal Hayduk says
We invested in re-usable containers and they are so much better than the baggies – whether zip top or fold over. Besides the cost savings of having multiple kids taking their lunches each day, the containers also keep the food better – imagine crushed sandwiches and crushed crackers, etc. But no crushing with the containers! One person said that using them does slow them down from getting to recess – true. But oh well. One teacher last year prohibited the re-usable containers at snack time b/c she wanted everything to get thrown out and the kids’ lockers were on the other side of the school. But other than that one snack per day, we went re-usable all the way.