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Easy ways to save money on school lunches

Stop splurging big bucks on school lunches with these helpful tips
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Robin and Ed Hicken, September 18, 2013 1:43:01 PM

September is here and schooldays are back. Schooldays mean school lunches. A combination of thanklessness and cost make these of the least favourite things for virtually every parent. This week we’re talking ideas to make them less expensive and more enjoyable (for you and your kids).

Invest in good equipment. Like every job out there, having the right tools makes it easier (and usually faster and cheaper). Up front investments like a good sized insulated lunch box, disposable forks and spoons (so your good silverware doesn’t go missing), an assortment of plastic containers with good seals and an insulated thermos (to open up options like soup, pasta and stew) will pay dividends for years to come.

Write out your menu ideas. When there’s a time crunch, good ideas fall out of the brain – ensure you have ideas ready to choose from – even when you would rather go back to bed. Try making a list with your kids – a list of their favourite healthy choices can help them eat what you send. Put the list on the fridge or whatever reference point is an easy glance from your prep area.

Pack your own small portions of snacks. Sure it’s convenient to buy pre-packaged snacks of a couple of cookies, or a little bag of crackers – but you pay for it! It doesn’t take long to put a pair of cookies in a small container – at a fraction of the cost. Some parents make a week’s worth at a time and save the daily hassle.

Make your own Lunchables and save! Many children (ours included) ask for those prepackaged lunches. They can be nutritious, but usually aren’t. And they are always very expensive. For lots of our ideas about homemade Lunchables, check them out.

We wanted to know how much you could save by making your own version of the same thing – so we priced it out for you! Here’s what we found by taking inspiration from the premade version and putting a similar one together ourselves:

A “Lunch Mate Pizza” cost $3.79. Our version costs $1.44, a savings of $2.35. That works out to a savings of $11.75 each week. A “Lunch Mate Stackers” cost $2.67.Our version costs $0.98, a savings of $1.69.  That works out to a savings of $8.45 each week.

“Planned overs”. Make extras of popular dinners and package up the leftovers for lunches to serve in the next day or two. Are you a baking fiend? Go nuts, and freeze individually wrapped muffins or slices of banana bread for quick lunch additions that also help keep other foods cool while they thaw in time for nutrition break.

Plan your choices around sales. Most popular kids’ lunch choices (Snack Packs anyone?) go on sale periodically. Stock up and give your kids a treat periodically. It will be way more exciting (and healthy) to get that stuff once in a while instead of every day. Let “once in a while” coincide with sales. You can find your weekly sales flyers right here at The Loop!

Pack your own juice. Making your own juice boxes is not only less expensive, it allows you to control how much juice goes in. For smaller children, watered down juice is healthier (and cheaper!).

Pack with the seasons. Choose foods when they are in season locally. Apples are cheapest in fall. Strawberries cheapest in June. Peaches and pears in the late summer.

Make a value choice: Buy at school or send from home? Do the math – is the food offered for sale at school worth it to you? We determined that sending a plastic drink bottle of milk was a cheaper option than buying milk at school. Buying the pizza on Fridays felt like a better value, the kids think it’s awesome, rather than milk every day, which our kids couldn’t care less about. Find a similar trade off that works for your family.

Got some ideas to share about saving money on kids lunches? Share them with other Loop readers on Facebook or Twitter.

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Robin and Ed Hicken

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