Cooking For 8: Frugal School Lunches

Frugal Lunchbox

I’m writing this on the first day of school here. At home, on my lunch break, in the quiet. (What? Not every working mom goes home to experience just a bit of that quiet house feeling? Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, I also spilled coffee on my white blouse, not once, but twice.)

I was planning on my next post in this series to be on making our own mixes, and I still plan on that, but I think school lunches are more timely.

My high school and middle school boys insist on school hot lunches. They will complain about them endlessly, but it is also so not cool to pack your own lunch. . .so.

However, my girls in kindergarten are blessed with an excellent school cook. But, in their minds, it is much cooler to pack a lunchbox. The payoff is that packing a lunch is cheaper. . .much cheaper.

The problem with packing lunch is that is just takes so much more time.  Four years ago, I wrote about how I streamlined lunchtime preparation. I am going to revisit those tips.

Over the years I have picked up even more helpful and frugal ideas:

  • My kids love those little snack size containers of Jello and pudding. I’m not crazy about the price, or the waste, or what exactly they have to do to make jello or pudding shelf stable. So I purchased some of these reusable containers and I make jello or pudding once or twice a week. It is much cheaper and I can do things like add fruit to the jello. Yeah, not exactly health food, but at 3 ounces at a time, I’m not worried .
  • My kids always think they want those Lunchable meals. But then they get them and realize that they do not like processed cheese. So, instead of sandwiches, I will often slice up some real cheese and set it in a container with some deli meat and then tuck in a bag of crackers. A LOT cheaper, and you can control the serving sizes.
  • It is easy to toss fruits and vegetables into a lunch box if they are prepped ahead of time. I try and set aside some time on Sunday afternoon to peel and slice a pound or two of carrots, a bunch of celery and a head of cauliflower. Then package these into zip top bags and they are ready to grab and go.
  • I also take time to portion grapes, clean and slice strawberries and slice apples (dipping them in lemon juice keeps them fresh. Also, tart apples like Granny Smith hold up well over time.
  • I’m going to try making these Homemade “Uncrustables” this weekend. The girls are in a peanut free school (which makes planning a little tougher), but I sprung for a jar of Sunbutter, which I hope passes muster with my PBJ loving girls!
  • I like to keep hard boiled eggs on hand (mostly because they are a favorite to-go breakfast for me.)
  • Most store bought granola bars are out (See Peanut free School above), but I am going to try my hand at these nut-free “Lara Bars”.
  • I will sometimes buy prepackaged string cheese to toss in lunches, but mostly I buy big chunks of cheese and cut it up myself.

It is fun to get your kids involved in the process, get ideas from them about what foods they would like to see in their lunches and see how you can adapt. One of the twins would eat chilli every day if she could. I may just make a big pot at the beginning of the week and pack her a themos-ful every day!


Chime in! I’d love to hear your fast and frugal lunchbox ideas!


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