School Lunches on a Budget

Preparing school lunches for children can be stressful. As a parent, you probably would love to send a healthy lunch, but you also may have to follow a strict budget. While it may seem cheaper to buy processed foods to throw into the lunch bag, you might be surprised to learn that you can pack a healthy and fulfilling lunch for your children on a very small budget. There are many different lunch ideas, and you can alternate what you provide your children, giving them a great deal of variety.

Fresh fruit

Fruit is a healthy addition to any lunch, and it is relatively cheap. However, purchasing the fruit cups in syrup is expensive and contains many added sugars that may not be the best choice for your child. Instead, consider cutting up a piece of fresh fruit and placing it in a plastic container.

You can even make your own little fruit salad. This is especially effective if you would like to send apples, since apples brown quite quickly. Add a citrus fruit such as grapefruit or orange to the fruit salad to help prevent this browning.

Fruit sauces

Many children love applesauce and will welcome its presence in their lunch boxes once in a while. Again, these can be expensive when purchased, but it’s rather simple to make your own. Cut up the fruits you’d like to use, such as apples, strawberries, and peaches, rinse them thoroughly, and throw them all in the blender. Get creative and discover what flavors your children enjoy.

Pasta salad

You certainly don’t need to go out and buy a pasta salad full of fat and unwanted additives. Instead, you can make a healthy and tasty pasta salad in your own home. Start with whole wheat pasta. While your children may prefer standard pasta, once the salad has been put together, they really won’t notice the difference. After the pasta has been cooked and drained, coat it very lightly with olive oil. Add some basil and two or three fresh vegetables and you have your salad.

The best thing about pasta is that it’s very filling. Pasta salad can be accompanied by a roll and maybe a single cookie for dessert, and your children should find themselves full after lunch. When preparing the pasta salad, make enough to serve for two lunches, but don’t serve the same lunch two days in a row.

Snack mix

Children love snack mixes. But the ones you buy are very expensive. Save some money and make your own, but make something a little different than what your children are used to. Start with a base of oats and nuts, and whatever else your children might like. Sunflower seeds tend to be quite popular with children, but make sure they’re hulled first.

Don’t add pretzels or cheese puffs or anything else that’s really unhealthy (and expensive). Instead, consider adding a fresh fruit such as a strawberry or peach. If you do want to add a fruit, cut it into bite-sized pieces and make sure it’s a sweeter fruit. Oranges or pineapples probably won’t go well with nuts, seeds, and grains.

Vegetable salads

Even if your children don’t like the traditional iceberg lettuce and other assorted vegetables, you might be able to come up with a salad they will enjoy. Take a moment to think about what vegetables your children do eat on a regular basis. Do they love tomatoes? Maybe they prefer squash or spinach. Make a list of the vegetables that they will actually eat, and purchase only those vegetables.

Chop or shred the chosen vegetables, mix them gently, and place them in a plastic container. If your children like dressing, make your own with olive oil and some seasonings. If you want to add some protein, chop up some cold chicken to throw on top.


Most children love wraps. And they’re so easy to include in a lunch. You can put anything you like in these wraps. Try chicken salad, sliced turkey, bacon, cheese, vegetables, or any combination you think your children will enjoy. One popular wrap includes cubed chicken, cheese, honey dill sauce, and assorted vegetables.


Did you have a dinner the night before that the children just loved? Is there any left? If so, consider sending it to school as a lunch. If the school provides a microwave, this is even easier, as the children can have a hot lunch. Alternatively, invest in a couple of high-quality thermoses. The best ones will keep the food warm until lunch.

If they don’t have access to a microwave, get creative and find ways to serve dinner cold. Slice up yesterday’s roast beef for sandwich meat. Chop up chicken to add to a pasta or vegetable salad.

Bagged lunches don’t have to be boring, and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. Use leftovers, look for healthy ingredients on sale, and try pack something different every day. Get the children involved in making their own lunches and they’ll be more likely to want what they find in their lunch bag.