How to Save on School Lunches

Every parent understands the financial burden that new books, trendy clothes, pencils, pens, backpacks, calculators, and other school necessities will have on their bank accounts, but one of the most expensive academic costs is the money spent on daily lunches.

With food prices rising and increased distribution fees, the average price for school meals is continuing to rise, causing many parents to struggle when paying for the ever-increasing costs of school lunches. Fortunately, there are many easy solutions to providing affordable lunches.

Pack a bag lunch

The easiest solution for avoiding the high prices of school lunches is to bring your own food. Although many schools promise cheap meals, they often work on a credit line, allowing students to control how much food they receive (thus increasing expenditures). Even if a school lunch may appear cheap, students can use their lunch account to tack on extra expenses such as desserts, second helpings, snacks, meals for their friends, and other food items that can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars.

Buy in bulk, reuse

Memberships to stores like Costco and Sam’s Club can be beneficial for parents looking to supplement their children with good food at a reduced cost. When shopping at a grocery store, avoid specialty brand-name items and remember that the generic products taste just as good – and are often half the price.

Use reusable items such as plastic lunch containers and bottles. Not only are they safer for the environment, but they can cut costs being spent on paper bags and juice boxes (substitute the juice boxes with pre-mixed Kool-Aid or Crystal Light).

Be your own chef

Although it takes a little extra time and effort, learning to prepare food can save you a fortune in the long run. Experiment with various recipes and create homemade sandwiches, granolas, cookies, soups, Chex mixes, and other snacks. Many parents simply buy prepackaged items from the store, but by making your own meals you’ll be able to save lots of money.

Utilize National, State, and District meal plans

Schools are required by law to provide meals to students. These meals are typically referred to as “free or reduced meals”. Not everyone can qualify for these programs, and families must be below a certain income level in order to receive these benefits.

But some districts offer additional programs that offer financial assistance or discounted meals to families who need to subsidize costs for food regardless of their incomes. Take advantage of any discounts offered.

Communicate your meal plan with your child

Regardless of whether you pack a lunch for your child or use the school’s meal plan, make sure you have communicated your objectives to the student. Without knowing or understanding their parent’s budget restrictions, students can unintentionally overspend on school lunches by overbuying, taking advantage of school credit lines, having the occasional snack, or simply purchasing whatever food (and whenever) they want. Avoid these pitfalls by sharing a mutually accepted goal.     

Cutting costs on school lunches requires dedication, time, and energy, but in the end it will provide you with additional income while also instilling the values of spending wisely and saving prudently.