Little Known Ways to Save Money on Cold Lunch

Cold lunch ideas

 

Save money by packing a lunch

I have school lunch on my mind. 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. So I HAD to head home for lunch!)

School lunches are expensive. Currently, our local high school and middle schools charge $2.75 for a lunch, and our private elementary charges $3. When you have four kids buying lunch at school, that adds up quickly!

My answer is generally to pack lunch for my kids.

The problem with packing a school  lunch is that it 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 .  OR, better yet, I can take the time to make these real food finger jellies.
  • My kids always think they want those Lunchable type meals. But then they hget tem and realize that they do not like processed cheese, and they think the meat is slimy, AND I discover they really only wanted them for the cookie or candy bar inside. . . 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. (This citrus juicer and mister is LIFE CHANGING, and keeps our fruit from turning brown) 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 (here is my foolproof method!) 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 chili every day if she could. I may just make a big pot at the beginning of the week and pack her a thermos-full every day!

 

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

 


The Once a Week Lunchbox

Once aweek lunchbox

 

Once  aweek lunchbox

Once upon a time, when I had just one or two children, I was a big fan of Once a Month Cooking. Now that I have six kids, I should be a bigger fan, but to be honest, it is the daily and weekly meal planning that helps keep me sane. I love to cook dinner, so I actually did not enjoy having that task removed.

What I hate making is lunches! I don’t like feeding lunch for my kids during the summer. I’m not a huge fan of coming up with lunch ideas for the babies. I’m glad that the Rev. likes to pack leftovers for his lunch. (That is, when we have leftovers).

So, after the girls were born, I took a vacation from lunches. I had the boys all buy hot lunch from school. Our mornings were happy, the kids were happy. However, hot lunch expenses add up.

When I saw these great lunch ideas on 5Dinners in One Hour. (She also sells a lunch plan). I knew that this would be what would work for our family! I bought two restaurant quality bins to set on a shelf in our refrigerator, and I have one dishpan that I keep in the pantry for dry goods.

I sat the little boys down and asked them what kind of things they would want to pack in their lunches. Then I set out on Sunday night and made the food! (It took a while, probably two hours, but the kids prefer large carrot sticks to baby carrots, so that took time).

I made 18 ham and turkey subs. (I bought 18 Bollilo buns from the Bakery section of Sam’s Club for under $4. . .they are delicious!). I cut up an entire two pound bag of carrots. (I packed them in snack sized bags, one cut up carrot per bag.) I sliced apples and dipped in lemon juice. Half an apple per bag. I also have small portion cups with caramel sauce for dipping. (about a teaspoon). In the pantry bin there are pretzels (with peanut butter for dipping), Cheerios with raisins (one of Ethan’s favorite snacks), granola bars, and dried fruit strips.

In the morning the boys pick out what they want in their lunch and pack it themselves and top it off with a water bottle!

They are happy, I am happy, and we are saving money!

 

Chime in! What are some of your time saving lunch tips? What are your kids’ healthy favorites? You know I’d love to hear from you!