Save Time & Money on School Lunches!

Pack a balanced lunch for kids
Lunch assembly line! Pack lunches the night before to save time in the morning.

Last year our kids attended a city school where lunch was free. This was a HUGE help and relief on food costs! Unfortunately, not all schools in our area do this.

In May we moved to a new school and they charge $2.50 for lunch and $1 for breakfast. Our kids love to buy lunch. The school offers a healthy and fun variety for both main dishes and sides. However, we’re talking $3.50 a kid, per day. That’s a whooping $52.50 a week/$210 a month for all three kids to eat at school. Sorry, but that’s not feasible for us.

With the new school year and higher lunch prices, I set out to find lunch options beyond the peanut butter sandwich. Don’t get me wrong, our kids LOVE peanut butter sandwiches, and they are part of regular lunch rotation. I wanted variety though, since that’s what the kids liked about buying lunch.

First, the menu! I set out to find 7-10 different meals to keep a variety. Below are the lunches we narrowed it down to.

  1. Cereal – served with apple slices, string cheese and yogurt
  2. Mac n Cheese – served with carrot sticks, apple slices and a Rice Krispy treat
  3. Chicken Nuggets – served with ketchup, fruit snacks, and gold fish crackers
  4. Make your own taco – lettuce, cheese, sour cream, meat and (2) 6” tortillas
  5. Oatmeal – served with string cheese, carrot sticks and apple slices
  6. Pizza Rolls – served with a side salad and ranch, yogurt and fruit snacks
  7. Walking Tacos – Doritos, lettuce, cheese, meat and sour cream
  8. Cutout Sandwiches – cookie cutout with gold fish crackers, apple slices, yogurt and Rice Krispy treat
  9. Build your own pizza – Homemade 6” dough, cheese, sauce, peperoni
  10. Homemade Lunchables – crackers, cheese, peperoni, fruit snacks and a small chocolate snack.

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I created a menu and laminated it for the refrigerator. This helps cut down on the “What’s for lunch tomorrow” or the “I want cereal, not a sandwich”. Lunch is on a two-week rotation, so they know their favorites are coming soon.

Second, the supplies! I needed a way to keep all of the hot meals warm by lunchtime. I bought three wide opening thermoses. They were inexpensive – around $10 on a back to school special. The kids tell me they stay warm and lunch is just the right temperature. I also purchased small 1 oz. containers (used for Jello shots) – purchased on Amazon for $8.99. They are plastic and can be thrown away; they have a lid, and fit just the right amount of dip or sauce. I also bought each kid a new lunch box that could fit the thermos, sides, and a drink – also purchased on Amazon for $10 each.

Right after dinner I pack lunches to help cut down on having to run around in the morning. The only thing I need to do before school is warm up the thermos foods. Usually these are reheated in the microwave. Hint: to keep pizza rolls and chicken nuggets from getting soggy, place a paper towel at the bottom of the thermos. It sucks the moisture right up and the food isn’t soggy at all!

Since our kids didn’t know anyone at the new school, I helped a little by adding a joke in their lunch. It was a fun way to start a dialogue with the other kids at school. Our daughter, Audrey loved having the jokes!

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Penguin Shaped Sandwich + Goldfish, Because That’s What Penguins Eat!

What’s on your child’s lunch menu? Have you found a way to keep costs low for lunches? Share your tips in the comments below.

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