It is back to school time already and that means getting a plan in place to pack lunches and for some, like me, snacks. This can be especially stressful, and worse than that, costly if you do not have a good plan in place! This post takes a look at school lunch savings ideas that can help your family rake in big savings!
School Lunch Savings Ideas
Since you probably already have to pack school lunches anyway, you might as well get some simple and actionable ideas to use to save money on this required expense.
If you also have to provide a snack to send to school as I do, but these ideas will help you save money on packing school snacks too!
Let the planning begin!!!
Buy in Bulk
This goes without saying, but if your kids love a certain cracker or spread, then by all means try to buy larger quantities. Not only will it often save you money (buying in bulk per ounce can often be less expensive even though you are paying more at the time of purchase, this is called Economy of Scale) but it can also save you time/trips to the grocery store.
I personally value my time nearly as much as the money spent, so not having to schlep to the grocery store every week is a wonderful feeling!
Checking out your weekly sales to see what is discounted can make a big difference in what you pay. It also feeds into the previous point of buying in bulk.
When you are looking at the weekly circulars to see what is on sale, make a plan to buy sale items in bulk. For example, if peaches in jars are on sale, I will add it to my like and buy enough to last a few weeks/months depending on the expiration date.
Once I have added all the sales items to my list, I will look to see what I can get coupons for to add to my savings.
As part of a solid savings plan for school lunch savings ideas of buying in bulk and shopping your local sales, adding in the use of money-saving apps is a must. I use several apps to achieve maximum savings.
Some actually give you money back on items you buy – Ibotta, Savings Star, Checkout 51, and Swagbucks Tada.
Others help you save money by applying discounts and in some cases manufacturers’ coupons – Target Cartwheel, Kroger, Meijer, Walmart.
The next group is apps that help you find the best deals – KCL, Favado, Flipp.
Finally, there are apps that you use to take photos with and bank to get cash back. This would include apps like Fetch, Receipt Pal, and Receipt Hog.
Here is the full list of apps I use to make sure I am saving extra or getting cash back, each time I shop. The links below are affiliate links.
- Ibotta is a great app to use to save money
- Savings Star
- Checkout 51
- Cartwheel (Target app)
- Kroger / Meijer / Walmart
- Krazy Coupon Ladies (KCL)
- Receipt Pal
- Receipt Hog
- Swagbucks Tada App
While this may sound counterintuitive when talking about ways to save money on school lunches, I would argue that it is key to making sure you save that hard-earned dough.
When you meal prep, it means you have a plan in place for what you are going to make, whether that is 2 meals on repeat or 5 distinctive meals.
With a plan on what you are going to make, that feeds into the list you will make for what you want to buy as well as what may be looking for in the sales flyers.
One piece of advice is to make sure your plans for meal prep are fluid. By this I mean, be willing to change your plans based on sales and what looks good / in season. By doing this, you can save a bit more!
Meal prep can be extensive or it can be simple, it is up to you and what works for your family! I use a meal calendar for school lunch planning. You can get this awesome free printable to help you plan meals too.
Back To School Lunch Ideas- Calendar
With this simple tool, I review what is on sale, plan what to make for the week, and use that to create my shopping list based on what I already have in hand. If you bought in bulk, this list may be shorter!!
Take School Lunch Savings to the Next level with Meal Planning
BUT, If you are looking to really up your game and make school lunch planning a snap, then you need to check out the School Lunch Game Plan!
Save time and your sanity. Don’t spend hours trying to figure out what to make for your kid’s school lunch and then have nearly all of it come home uneaten!
In the Game Plan you will get everything your family needs to make school lunch meal planning a snap. Get a plan in place for a week or even a month!!
Now that you have what you need in hand, prepping as much as you can in one day is ideal. This is both a money saver AND a time saver!
Use Leftovers from Dinner
This tip really depends on your kids and their likes and dislikes. School Lunch Savings really depend on planning ahead and being prepared to do so. If you are making something they absolutely adore, then make double and freeze servings for the kids and you as well!
This tip also falls under meal prep. When you batch cook and use “leftovers” / extras for lunch you save a lot of time and money.
Freeze Bread, Bagels, Sandwich Thins, PB & J
This is a huge money-saving tip when perishable bread, bagels, etc are on sale and you want to buy in bulk, but do not want it to spoil. I buy a few extra loaves or sleeves of bagels and put them in the chest freezer. I take out what I need in small amounts, microwave it and then place it in the toaster so it dries out and crisps up.
This is the best trick!! I cannot tell you how much I have saved with this trick 🙂
Make your own single serve
This for me personally is the BEST tip of all. This tip gives me the most school lunch savings out of all the other tips. It wraps buying in bulk into the equation. Instead of buying single-serve raisins, veggie straws, pretzels, animal crackers, crackers, pudding, bars, chips, etc., I MAKE THEM.
For example, a box of thirty (30) 1 ounce single serve veggies straws cost about $15.00 (obviously prices vary depending on where you live, I am using numbers that I know from my area as an example) but a single bag from Costco totaling 25 ounces is $5.99, when not on sale (I have gotten a bag as cheap as $3.99 on sale).
Without doing the math, I am sure you can see that it is cheaper to buy the larger bag and break it up into smaller ones.
The same idea can be applied to a ton of different food for school lunch savings. Below is a short list of ideas for items that you can use this single-serve principle. Just make sure that once you open the bag you put it in a container that keeps the food fresh, even better put it in some meal-prepped bags or containers!
These items are sure to bring you a ton of school lunch savings.
- pretzels- regular and crisp
- trail mix
- fruit cups
- granola bars
- animal crackers
- Chex mix
- dried fruit
- apple sauce
Make your own version of popular items
So all the cool kids have Lunchables or other store-bought prepackaged items that your kids want too. Rather than shelling out the money to purchase these items, find a way to copy the item on your budget.
This is a great time to talk to your kids about budgets and sticking to them. You can even ask them to help you recreate the item together. Maybe they do not love every single food item offered in the Lunchablea or other store-bought item they wanted.
This means you can switch that item out and customize it to fit your child’s tastes as well as your budget.
Think about reusable
Now I know some moms (even me!!!) are just trying to survive and do not want to have the added difficulty of tracking extra lunch box items that you have invested a pretty penny in. If that is you, that is OK.
Sometimes we just need one thing to be easier. But, if you even do one of these tips, maybe, just maybe you will be able to implement the others in the future. It can be done in baby steps.
If you are using Ziploc / Glad baggies, that is OK, just ask that they come back home and rinse them out and reuse them. I even take mine with a marker so I know what was in them (CR = Craisins; VS = Veggie Straws, you get the picture). Or upgrade for a bit more money and purchase the reusable ones.
If you can cut this out, in the long run, it will save you a fair bit of money. The fewer disposable items you have for school the better for your wallet and the environment.
Another way to save on money is not to send plastic cutlery, they can use the spoons, forks, and knives from the cafeteria. Do not send a paper napkin either, they can use the schools, or better yet a reusable one.