5 Ways to Save Money on School Lunches

By Raechel Conover, Cheapism.com

Now that the school year has finally started, you're no doubt facing the school lunch dilemma. You know, the one that goes something like this: the easy but costly and possibly unhealthy option of letting the kids buy lunch at school or the more complicated but cheaper and healthier option of packing school lunches every day yourself.

Making school lunches at home is both economical and healthy.

With our five tips on how to save money by packing school lunches in your very own kitchen, you'll no longer have to trade nutritious for quick and easy. You'll have healthy school lunches and change in your pocket.

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1. Go green. That's right, save money and the environment in one stroke by buying a reusable school lunch box, reusable thermos, and reusable containers. While you may have to shell out some cash for these items at the beginning of the school year, you'll no longer have to add sandwich bags, snack bags, foil, wax paper, or brown paper bags to your weekly shopping list. Over the course of the year, savings on school lunches will pile up.

2. Avoid single-serving items. As Frugal Upstate points out, cute little individual pudding cups and their ilk can cost up to three times more than a homemade batch of instant pudding divided into single servings; ditto for Jell-O. When it comes to yogurt, applesauce, and canned fruit, pick up the family size and split that up into individual portions, as well. And forget about juice boxes - buy regular size bottles/containers of juice (or milk) and fill up that reusable thermos. Chips and cookies from the large-size bags can be portioned out into small reusable containers. A good rule of thumb: the larger the size package, the lower the per ounce cost.

3. Leverage leftovers. One of the best sources for healthy school lunches is dinner the night before. Using leftovers is easy, cheap, and most likely healthy. Even if you're not big on leftovers, make extra just for school lunch. Adding another piece or two of chicken to the dinner-time pot is no hassle, and you can stave off boredom by dressing up the remains as chicken salad or mixing it in with leftover pasta and a hit of salad dressing.

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4. Salvage those condiments. I don't know about you, but in our house we always save unused ketchup, mustard, and salt and pepper packets that are freely dispensed at many restaurants and thrown into take-out orders. The same goes for napkins and utensils. These items are perfect to send along in school lunches and don't add a dime to your cost or more than a second of prep time.

School lunches don't have to be a strain on your wallet.

5. Buy in bulk. A Sam's Club or Costo membership is always a money-saving strategy, but especially if you're charged with packing multiple school lunches on a daily basis. Buy foods in bulk that your kids like. Good ideas include string cheese, yogurt, snack bars, cookies, chips, sandwich bread, cheese, even fruits and vegetables. Some of these items also further the goal of providing kids with a healthy school lunch.

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If time is limited during the week, plan ahead. Make large batches of things like Jell-O and pudding on the weekends and divide it up right away to save time when packing school lunches on week days. Do the same with chips and snacks. When things get hectic during the week, grab the prepackaged servings and move on to the remaining components. And then savor the cheap healthy school lunch you've just packed and sent out the door.

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