Fun and Healthy Tips to Packing School Lunches on a Budget

by Channa Hamersley

“As a mom of three kids in elementary, middle and high school, I know the lunch time struggles when it’s that time of year for school to start again. Just thinking about and planning packed lunches is a chore all on its own. Let alone getting it ready in those rushed morning hours before heading out the door. Sure school has hot lunch, but will they eat it?!”

 Planning for school lunches can be tricky. 

Some schools send out a lunch menu a month in advance so parents can choose which days their kids will be buying a hot lunch and can plan accordingly. Though this is helpful, it doesn’t always work, because it requires parents to look ahead and plan for their kid’s lunches weeks in advance. Depending on budget, timing and unpredictable circumstances, it may make more sense to forgo the school lunch. 

Here are some helpful tips to make your school packing pains a thing of the past! 

Make a Plan

It is helpful to come up with a plan before hitting the grocery store for lunch and snack items.

1. Come up with a budget first. Knowing how much you can spend helps with decision making.

2. Write a list of what your kids like. Separate the items by different food groups and see what you can come up with for the week. It is best to have a good variety. Your kids may like to stick to PB&J’s every day, but it is good to throw other options in there too. It helps to have a simple fruit, veggie or cheese stick they like, to keep it a little healthy, alongside the kid favorites like flavored chips and cookies.

3. Make it fun. If you have younger kids, consider getting a sandwich cutter to cut their sandwich into shapes. They will love the fun shapes and are more likely to eat them. Or decorate the containers and Ziploc bags with stickers or something crafty.

4. Give them choices. If you have older children, let them choose between a few options in each lunch item category, making sure they are getting enough food and variety. Set out different options while you are packing bags they can pick from. Since they are picking which items they want, they are more likely to eat what they choose.

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Pre-packaged Convenience

If you are a working parent, you may find the convenience of pre-packed foods a blessing. It is important that what you buy as a convenience does not sacrifice health benefits.

One-third of Americans say sugars are most likely to cause weight gain. You can still find some healthy options in the isles at the stores with no sugar added. It is important to look at the ingredients to make sure you not just feeding your kids foods packed with sugar. Some favorite go-to’s are applesauce pouches, yogurt tubes and fruit juices with the least amount of sugar and additives. Even bread and peanut butter have these options. If you feel your child gets too much sugar you can always send a bottle of water instead of juice to keep them hydrated.

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Budget Conscious?

Packing lunches can add up over time. Here are a few tricks that can help you save money in the process!

1. Use a reusable bottle with your own drinking water from home instead of buying a packaged beverages from the store.

2. Store brand items are just as good as big name brands, on a lot of things, and come with a smaller price tags.

3. Buying in bulk always saves money in the long run. It’s more money up front but if you look at the amount you’re getting for the cost it usually ends up being less.

4. Shop at a discount store. A lot of times you can find the high priced items you are looking for at a discount outlet for a lot less. Just check the expiration dates to make sure you’re not buying something that will go bad quickly after buying it. If you’ll use it fast before it expires, it’s worth the less expensive price tag.

Don’t let school lunch be another stress in your busy day. Plan ahead, stick to a budget, throw in some fun and stick with some healthy options so your kids get a good lunch that helps them through their school day. A little note in their lunch box from you can help them through a stressful day too, and shows them that you care.

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