Simple Ways to Save on School Lunches

School hot lunches are no bargain. Use these tips to pack a healthy school lunch quickly and affordably.

Avoid Pre-Packaged Foods

Bento Box. Photo © Flickr user Melissa

Those individual servings of chips, cookies, fruit and cheese are expensive, and they don't really save you much time, either. Buy big packages of all your kids' favorites, and divide them up yourself. Spend just a few minutes doing this on the weekend, and you'll be set for the week.

Make It Yourself

Chicken Nuggets
Chicken Nuggets. KidStock/Blend Images/Getty Images

Build cheaper, healthier lunches for your kids by making more of the food yourself. Here are a few kid-friendly recipes to try:

Work to Eliminate Food Waste

Partially Eaten Lunch
Partially Eaten Lunch. Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

A horrifying amount of food ends up in cafeteria trash cans each week. Make sure your kids lunches aren't going to waste by packing foods that they like and by working to right-size portions. To keep an eye on their school eating habits, ask them to bring their leftovers home, instead of throwing them away. This will help you to flag foods that aren't going over well and, in some cases, you'll be able to repack foods that didn't get eaten. It'll also ensure that your reusable lunch containers don't end up in the cafeteria trash can by mistake.

Pack Leftovers

Thermos Food Jars
Thermos Food Jars. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Save time and money by packing some of last night's dinner for tomorrow's lunch. Use thermal containers and ice packs to keep foods at the proper temperature until ​lunch time. Thermos food jars are great for keeping soups and other hot foods hot, and they have lids that are easy for kids to get on and off themselves.

Pack Water

Klean Kanteen
Klean Kanteen. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Skip all those sugary juices and fruit drinks. Invest in some good quality water bottles and fill them from the tap each morning. Your kids will get fewer calories, and you'll have fewer groceries to lug home from the store.

Klean Kanteen sells 12-oz stainless steel water bottles that fit well in lunchboxes. They're really well made (I've been putting them in my kids' lunchboxes for over a decade), and you can even buy replacement lids, if your kids are prone to chewing on them.

Go with Reusables

Lunchskins. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Forgo paper lunch sacks and plastic sandwich bags in favor of reusable lunch containers. You'll spend more up front, but you won't have anything else to buy after that. A couple brands that are worth checking out: Lunchskins reusable sandwich bags and Kid Konserve stainless steel containers.

Be sure to stick dishwasher-safe labels with your child's name on all of your reusable containers. If they get left at school, you'll have a chance of getting them back.