Frugal Tips for School Lunches

Picky eaters, peer pressure, little supervision – trying to plan what your children will be eating at school can be a nightmare even if you have an unlimited budget! How can you plan inexpensive meals for school lunches when your children don’t like vegetables as snacks, other children make fun of your kids if they don’t have the latest, pre-packaged “it” food, and you’re not there to make sure they aren’t just throwing their lunch away after all that time and effort?

It is possible to make school lunches on a budget: and as an added bonus, your children will be healthier (assuming they don’t trade anything away, of course.)


If your children ate if for dinner last night, hopefully they will eat it for luch today. With the price of bread rising, that old school lunch staple – the sandwich – is becoming less and less thrifty. Making extra portions of dinner so that there will be leftovers for lunch saves money and time, and when your children are eating homemade lasagna while the other kids have a ham sandwich -again – your children will feel great about their lunch. Hopefully that great feeling will translate into actually eating what you packed them!

Give up the pre-packaged snacks

Not only are these invariably full of sugar and sodium, they are horribly overpriced. Actual cheese and crackers taken to school in a plastic container are a fraction of the price and taste far better than the packaged crackers with processed cheese dip. Homemade muffins are healthy, filling, and less expensive than than the muffins bought in large bulk packages at Walmart or Costco.  Instead of buying juice boxes by the dozens, purchase refillable thermoses or water bottles and use them to transport juice from concentrate you have made at home. The savings will be enormous. Based on calculations by this frugal shopper, juice in juice boxes costs about 5 times as much per serving as juice made at home from frozen concentrate.

Reusable plastic containers

It may be easier to fold some leftovers in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, but the cost adds up. Use a permanent marker to write your family name on some reusable plastic containers with lids (to aid in finding the ones that will end up being forgotten at school on occasion) and use them instead. Purchase a reusable canvas bag to serve as a lunch bag, instead of using paper or plastic. You may have to scour a younger child’s backpack every night to recover and wash the bag and containers, but the savings are more than worth it in the end. Older children should be entrusted to take regular cutlery to school instead of disposable forks and spoons, but younger children may be prone to losing lunch bags and silverware costs more to replace than plastic, so be wary.

With a little planning, it is possible to pack tasty, healthy, frugal lunches for your children to take to school.