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Cheap & Easy School Lunch Ideas

Cheap & Easy School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

How much does a school lunch cost? Today the average school lunch is about $2.50, according to the most recent survey by the School Nutrition Association.

Students are in school for 180 days, so over the course of a school year you could end up spending an additional $450 per kid!  Living on a budget means that you need  FUN cheap lunch ideas that even your picky eaters will love.

Cheap Lunch Ideas to Make Packing a Lunch Affordable

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Just because you pack a lunch, doesn’t mean that you will automatically save money. It’s so tempting to pay for the convenience of foods that are all ready to throw in the lunch box, but you will end up spending WAY more money.

Here are 10 tips to help you create affordable brown bag lunches for school:

1. Buy in Bulk

You don’t have to use a membership store to get a good deal on bulk items. You can shop at your regular store and save money on groceries without coupons. You can buy family size boxes, shop sales & buy several boxes of a particular item, and use Ibotta. Items that you can buy in bulk include yogurt, chips, crackers, almonds, trail mix, cheese, pretzels, granola bars, and more!

2. Use Portions Listed on the Label

I don’t know about you, but I could sit down and eat a bag of chips ALL. BY. MYSELF. and strangely so can my tiny little kids! Use the portion sizes on the label to stretch your food further. Sometimes I may even cut the portion in half when it comes to things like bagels, cookies, or treats.

3. Meal Prep on the Weekend

During the week life gets hectic, so make a plan to meal prep your snacks, crackers, chips, pretzels, fruit, cheeses, etc into portion sized baggies. You can have your kids help with this too!

4. Use Leftovers 

Leftovers from dinner the night before can be a delicious lunch for kids. Just remember that your kids won’t have access to a microwave so you may want to invest in a container that keeps things warm or cold until lunch time.

5. Buy Block Cheese

Block cheese has a lower cost per ounce. My family loves extra sharp cheddar cheese, so I buy it in 12 – 24 ounces. I slice the cheese for sandwiches, cut into cubes for snacks, and shred it for tacos. Block cheese is cheaper than paying for the convenience of packaged sliced or shredded cheese. (AND my husband says the block cheese tastes fresher!)

6. Make a Few Things from Scratch

There is NEVER enough time in the day, and I when I say make a few things from scratch…I really mean a box or things that only have a few ingredients ????A few things I like to make to save a few bucks…

  • mini muffins
  • Lunchables
  • Crustables (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the edges cut off)
  • hummus
  • pancakes
  • cookies
  • energy bites
  • applesauce (spinach, sweet potato, butternut squash)

7. Have 2 – 3 meatless frugal lunches per week

Meat (whether deli meat, chicken, or beef) is expensive and can increase the cost of your lunch box. Some alternatives to meat would be peanut butter, cheeses, beans, and hummus.

8. Send food that you know your picky eater will actually eat

It’s so frustrating to send your kid food or pay for a school lunch that they refuse to eat and end up throwing away! For my picky eater, we send the healthiest things that we KNOW he will eat. So it’s usually a bunch of snack type food, and for dinner we enforce good eating behaviors with healthy food options.

9. Use Reusable Pouches for Applesauce Snacks

My kids ALL love the baby food applesauce pouches. I love them because those pouches are an easy way to serve veggies to my picky eaters. We make our own applesauce pouches at home because pre-packaged applesauces cost between $0.59 – $1.45 per pouch!

You can buy these reusable pouches to serve up your own homemade applesauce.

10. Offer FUN treats 

Buying a school lunch is a BIG deal for my elementary schooler. I guess all the cool kids are doing it?! We let him buy his lunch or he can choose to buy an ice cream 1 time a week. You can give your kid an option to buy something to make their week special or celebrate a job well done. Most school cafeterias have chocolate milk, ice cream, or other dessert. These a la carte items are cheaper than the school lunch, so you may only end up spending $0.50 to $1.00. Let your kids learn how to spend their money!

Kid Friendly Lunch Ideas on a Budget

These are some of my favorite school lunch ideas for picky eaters. Simple school lunches that are fun and easy to make on busy days.

1. DIY PB&J Uncrustables

2. DIY Lunchables

3. PB & J Pinwheels

4. Turkey & Cheese Kebabs

5. Brunch Lunch Box Idea

6. Fruits & Veggies with Dip

7. Quesadillas

We usually make extra at dinner for lunch the next day!

8. Quick & Easy Bagel Pizzas

9. Corn Dog Nuggets

10. Mac & Cheese Bites

What are your kids favorite school lunch ideas?

My Favorite Ways to Save & Earn Extra Cash:

Ibotta: Ibotta is an easy way to save money on grocery shopping and at over 300 retailers in the US. It’s easy to earn cashback without using any coupons. Simply scan your receipt and Ibotta will give you cashback for items on your receipt! You can sign up with my link & earn a signup bonus!

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Branded Surveys: Branded Surveys is easily one of my favorite survey sites to make extra cash. I usually earn between $20 – $40 a month just by taking a few surveys when I have extra time! Sign up here and start earning!

SmartCents Mom