Thursday, August 31, 2023

School lunches

Let's talk school lunches.  While sometimes purchasing hot lunches are more convenient they can add up. We've done both hot and cold lunches over the years.  I am not against hot lunches, if you are able to do them go for it.  Or if you qualify for free/reduced lunch then that is more affordable.  However, if you are the in-between and are paying for hot lunches at full price, but want to try and save a little this post is for you. 

     This post includes affiliate links, which means if you click on the link I get a portion of any sales at NO COST to you.  See my disclosure page for more details. 

Recently, we've tried to budget our lunches more and therefore have limited our girls' hot lunches.  So of course, that means that I needed to start thinking about cold lunch ideas.  With subbing, I wanted ones that are quick and easy to make, preferably the night before and with one kiddo gluten free, I needed to make sure that was considered as well.  

Now, I will say, as I stated in the beginning, getting hot lunch is a convenience you pay for, so the times I am subbing long term, we may let there be more hot lunch options.  But otherwise, we will do cold as much as possible. Here are a list of some of our favorite cold meal options that do save money. 

There are a lot of different options when it comes to fruit and veggies.  I do try and use the fruits and veggies that are in season because they are more affordable. 

Fruits: apple slices, applesauce, grapes or mandarin oranges 

Veggies: carrots, celery, frozen peas, green beans (from the garden) or cucumbers 

*Also, for the cheese sticks we don't buy prepackaged cheese sticks, but instead we buy a large block of cheese and cut it up into smaller cheese sticks.  You can check out that post her: Homemade Cheese Sticks. 

  1. boiled eggs  + cheese stick* + veggie + fruit 
  2. tuna salad on crackers + veggie + fruit 
  3. peanut butter cracker sandwiches+ cheese stick* + fruit + veggie 
  4. peanut butter on celery + cheese stick* + fruit 
  5. peanut butter + jelly sandwich + veggies + cheese stick 
How do I know these are not as expensive as a hot lunch.  Well let's break it down. Bare with me we are going to do some math.  Our current school lunches are around $2.50 so let's see what each cold lunch I've planned adds up to.  Now, I will say prices can vary, especially with the fruits and veggies, but if you shop the sales + what's in season that makes a big difference. The following are Walmart prices because that's what we have close at the moment.  Another way to save, would be if you have a Sams Club or Costco nearby, because some of the things you can get in bulk and then it's cheaper. 

Option 1: boiled eggs + cheese stick + veggie & fruit 
    1. eggs = $7.47/60 eggs = .12cents/egg 
    2. cheese stick = $7.32/32oz = .25cents/cheese stick 
    3. carrots $1.24/1lb bag = .25cents/serving 
    4. applesauce $3.52/48oz = .32cents/serving 

SO, if you were to take the first lunch meal your total would be .94 cents.  IF you were to double your egg and cheese stick, it would still only be $1.31. This is also with regular prices of carrots and applesauce, just think if you were to stock up on applesauce when it was on sale. With that, we don't buy the individual applesauce cups/pouches.  Those cost more.  We buy the big applesauce container and pour out in a small cup for the lunch boxes.  You can do this ahead of time the night before, or if you have enough containers and fridge space, you can make ahead what you would need for the week.  Then it's just grab and go in the morning.  Here are some more prices for the rest.  I would encourage you to mix and match your options, but add up the individual prices to make sure.  

  1. crackers = $3.88/120 = .03cents/cracker = .26cents/4 sandwiches or .32cents/5 sandwiches 
  2. tuna salad = $3.52/4 pack = .44cents/serving (1 day's lunch) 
  3. peanut butter = $5.92/40oz = .17cents/serving (1 day's lunch) 
  4. bread = $1.78/20 slices = .09cents/slice = .18 cents/sandwich 
  5. jelly = $2.92/17oz = .12cents/serving 
  6. apple slices = $5.28/3lbs = .66cents/apple = .33cents/serving 
  7. grapes = $3.78/bag = .38cents/serving 
  8. mandarin oranges 
  9. celery = $1.34/stalk (about 8 slices/stalk) = .17cents/slice (2 slices for each serving) 
  10. frozen peas $2.28/2lb bag = .21cents/serving 
  11. cucumbers $1.97/bag = .28cents/serving 
  12. green beans + free from garden 

Using the more expensive fruit and veggie option here are what the totals could be:  

Option 2: tuna on crackers + veggie & fruit 
    tuna crackers .76 cents/5 sandwiches + apple slices .33cents + cucumbers .28cents = $1.37 
    tuna crackers .76 cents/5 sandwiches + grapes .38cents + cucumbers .28cents = $1.42 

Option 3: peanut butter on crackers +cheese stick + veggie and fruit 

    peanut butter sandwiches .49cents/5 sandwiches + cheese stick .25cents + grapes .38cents + cucumbers .28cents = $1.40 

Option 4: peanut butter on celery + cheese stick & fruit 

    peanut butter on celery .52cents + cheese stick .25cents + applesauce .32cents = $1.09 

Option 5: peanut butter and jelly sandwich + veggies & cheese stick 

    peanut butter sandwich .47cents + cucumbers .28cents + cheese stick .25cents = $1.00 

Now let's talk drinks.  If you can find a water bottle that will fit in your child's lunch box, that is the best and most affordable option.  However, if you can't there are options for drinks that still will keep your lunch more affordable.  

1. Orange juice packs $4.46/6pk = .74cents/bottle 
2. Apple juice packs $3.96/6pk = .66cents/bottle 
3. Milk at school .35cents 

So one last adding. Again I'm taking the most expensive of each item so there will be times that it will be less.  I also wouldn't plan orange juice for each one, but would rather make sure water or milk were their first options, with the orange juice and apple juice here and there.  But, I wanted to show you how even with the more expensive drinks, the whole lunch is still cheaper.  Some buy 15 cents others more.  

Option 1: boiled egg(2) + cheese stick + veggie + fruit + orange juice = $1.80 
Option 2: tuna on crackers(5 sandwiches) + grapes + cucumbers + orange juice = $2.16
Option 3: peanut butter on crackers + cheese stick + grapes + cucumbers + orange juice = $2.14 
Option 4: peanut butter on celery + cheese stick + applesauce + orange juice = $1.83
Option 5: peanut butter sandwich + cucumbers + cheese stick + orange juice = $1.74 

With that, if you wanted to toss in a homemade cookie here and there, you'd be able to and still stay in budget.  

That was a lot, I hope it gives you some help if you are trying to save some money this school year.  It's definitely something that takes a lot of time to organize, but if you get most of the items ready ahead of time, it won't take long afterwards.  For example with the cheese sticks, we've made them so much now I'm in a rhythm of cutting up the block within the first day or two of buying it from the store.  Then I freeze most of them and have them ready when needed. Pick a couple things to start and do a couple cold lunches if you can, then add more in as you're able. 

Also, don't forget, even if you do hot lunch here and there, the times you are making cold lunches saves you and that adds up over time.  

One more thing before I finish.  Anything you can do ahead of time to help the morning be more efficient the better.  As I said with the apple sauce, if you can make them ahead for the week, then you or your kiddo can just grab one and go. Check out the amazon link below with great options.  

You can also do this with the cheese sticks, throw in what you'll need for the week in the fridge and then they can grab in the morning.  Make a menu for the cold lunches for the week so everyone knows what they are having.  The veggies, fruit, eggs and cheese sticks can all be ready to go for the week.  A little bit more time in prepping saves those busy mornings. 

Don't forget to check out the links below: 
1. The first link are the cups we have and I really like them. We had bought the lunch box containers that they came with and so  they fit in our lunch box well. 
2. The 2nd option I haven't tried yet, but when I was looking at buying more containers this one stood out. I like how they are stackable.  I also like how I could get three different colors, so each of my girls could have a color and know what one to grab in the morning. AND, I could use them for fruit, veggies, the boiled egg and maybe even the crackers with pb.  
3. This option would be nice to pair with one of the other two above options.  Then you have a space for the large meal (sandwich, crackers, etc) and two smaller containers for the veggies, cheese stick or eggs. 


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