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Saving Money on Packed Lunches

A child eating a brown bag lunch.
Packing your own lunch can save a lot of money over buying lunch. However, if you aren't careful even a packed lunch can be expensive. This is a guide about saving money on packed lunches.
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March 24, 2010

I make $600 a year profit making a packed lunch for my boss!

When we moved to Slovenia from the UK we were delighted and relieved to find that a lunch allowance of about $4 is payable to every employed person by law. (this was great as we had very little money)

After about 6 months my boss asked me if I would make his lunch too as he was trying to eat a more healthy diet. By this time I had my veg plot up and running and this was providing all my salad and green beans. I have calculated that I can make a great lunch for my boss, my husband and I for $4 for the three, even in the winter.

My boss pays in cash and this usually pays the grocery bill one week per month. Other colleagues have also asked me if I will do the same and I will, once my garden is producing again.

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Even if you only make your packed lunch for your own family there are great savings to be made and in my case having to make lunch for the other people stops me thinking 'oh well I can just grab a sandwich'. $4 for one person just seems like a fortune now.

By Mrs Christmas from Slovenia, EU

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Anonymous
March 25, 20100 found this helpful

This is such a good thing for you for extra income! Thanks so much for the tips because it helps us all think outside the box :-)

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August 9, 20080 found this helpful

With kids going back to school soon, it's a good time to start looking for ways to save money on packed lunches. Here are some tips shared by the ThriftyFun community.
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Hot Lunches

My school has microwaves in every classroom that the children use to warm up school lunches. Many kids take leftovers in plastic containers and eat that for lunch. Another favorite item is pizza pops, which some of the frugal moms make at home. Kids often eat this sort of thing better than sandwiches. No matter what you send, if the kids don't eat it, it is not a savings.

By Louel53

Frozen Applesauce Does Double Duty

I like to freeze applesauce in zip baggies so that they serve as chillers (keeps the other food cold) until lunchtime.

By Kimhis

Frozen Capri Sun And Homemade Pudding Cups

If you want to keep something in the lunch box cool I suggest using Capri Sun or some other juice in the foil container. I put one in the freezer the night before. Then I put it into my son's lunch in the morning. It keeps everything cool and is thawed by the time he eats his lunch. Also, I don't have to worry about anything being forgotten at school.

Another thing I did last year and will do again this year is make pudding cups. I bought some of those small Gladware containers (you can get about eight for around $2.00). Then I made pudding and spooned it into the cups, popped them into the frig and let them set. It's cheaper than buying the prepackaged stuff. Works with Jello too.

By Melissa

Make Muffins For The Week

I make and freeze muffins. My 3 kids all like different muffins, so I make a double batch of basic mixture and then divide it into 3. I add whatever each child likes, eg: fruit, banana, chocolate chips, etc. I have 2 large muffin trays and 2 small tray. The mixture make enough to fill all 4 trays and they all cook in the oven at once. Once they have cooled, I put then individually into zip log bags and freeze. Each morning the kids just take whatever muffin they like and the end of the week, I heat up all the left over ones, cut in half and serve with butter for Sunday breakfast. Also, handy if anyone wants a snack, just need to microwave for 30 seconds.
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By Rae

Repackage Snack Foods Into Smaller Packages

I used to always do this when I packed lunches. On a trip to the store, I'd buy some big packages of cookies (usually on sale with coupons) or store brand, chips, crackers, cheese popcorn, etc. I'd go home and separate into smaller packages with those small snack bags. I had a large plastic container that I'd put all the packages in. When I packed lunches in the morning, I'd grab one per lunch. No one ever knew what they were getting, but always seemed pleased with the surprise. I remember getting really great at spotting bargains, and I often was able to fix these for pennies per bag, much cheaper than baking homemade cookies. Once I had the container established, whenever I found a bargain, I just added to the mix. Everyone knew to bring the bags home to get re-used too. It was so convenient.

By susanmajp

All four of my kids take packed lunches to school. To save money on the snacks that go in, I buy big bags of chips, cheeses, whatever, and bargain sandwich bags, then pack the snacks in them. Saves a lot over buying the individual snack packs that are made to fit into the lunches. I make my own peanut butter crackers too, with saltines or Ritz-type. It takes a few minutes extra in the morning, but it does save money.

By Marjorie

I too mostly buy the bigger bags of snacks, cookies and such and then pack myself in the little snack bags or sandwich size zipper bags. I get my bags at Wal-Mart, Dollar General or some place like that so they are pretty cheap. Of course, buying up the individual bags of snacks is very convenient but seems expensive to do a lot. We buy them for trips some times, though.

I too make my own peanut butter and crackers which my son seems to really be eating well at school.

Susan, I really like your idea a lot! Why didn't I think of that. I generally make up any non-perishable items for my son's lunch the night before and then I just add anything from the frig in the am....but to be able to just go to the big container of already made up baggies of stuff. Wow, I would like that, a time saver and just a convenience. I could also use those for just days out with the kids or garage sale day.

By Debbie52

Helpful Lunch Tips

Here are several suggestions:

Have a one day baking day with the kids, do the cookies from cake batter, mini muffins, mini cupcakes or mini banana bread (I found the mini molds at Dollar Tree, they are silicone and reusable.) When all the items have cooled, slice the bread for serving, mix and match for variety and bag in the sandwich bags and freeze for easy grab and fix.

On the same day, have the kids put together sandwiches on hard rolls or hoagies, meat and cheese. Wrap in plastic wrap, placing the tails on bottom. I heat my waffle iron and rub the bottom of sandwich on iron to seal. Freeze, they will be thawed by lunch if put together with the snack the night before. You can put a dab of sauces in small container or go to Sam's or a restaurant supply and get packages of mayo, ketchup and mustard for small amount or you can always get extra at drive through. This can be done with tacos, burritos, mini pizzas on muffins; just freeze before bagging.

Put any veggies in separate baggie the night before and drop in. Drinks can be the little jugs, they now have half size sipper jugs for milk or juice. Sam's has the mini juices and I have found them in the $1.00 section of my store.

Also you can do leftovers but try to skip the next day or two so you don't burn them out eating what they ate the night before.

I have all grown kids but have taken over for my daughter with the grandkids (4) so she can be ready for work and school and daycare within 30 minutes in the AM.

Like every parent I am looking forward to school. :) Happy days and good luck!

By Dpool from Memphis

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By guest (Guest Post)
August 3, 20070 found this helpful

When all my 8 kids were in private school, they took cold lunch everyday as hot lunch would run any where from $20-24 a day....so it was cold lunch. I bought some reusable lunch bags from a thrift store, bought some reusable small containers and alternate jello and pudding. Got bread from the bakery outlet to make PB&J or Ham& cheese, made homemade cookies, often had hot air popcorn or pretzel sticks (as they were $1 a bag), some carrot/celery sticks, did the muffin thing and even bought reusable drink containers and filled them up with Kool-aid and froze the night before.Normally i would spend about 20 a week for 8 lunches....By the time they opened their lunch they would have: a sandwich, pretzels/popcorn, veggie sticks, pudding cup, couple of cookies/muffin and a drink. and a and my kids sometimes would be envied by other kids becuase theyre lunches lookd better than theirs.

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August 4, 20070 found this helpful

i have worked at an elementary school now for 2 years. i am AMAZED at all the food that is thrown away during lunch time. unopened packs of real fruit, full containers of spaghetti, bread, many veggies. full juice boxes. i am not a mom but seeing all the food that goes to waste i would really check my kids to make sure they are going to eat what you think they will. many moms have said that kids eat this kind of stuff all the time at home but THEY ARE THROWING AWAY GOOD FOOD. i shop at a food bank. and it hurts me to see all that food wasted.

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August 4, 20070 found this helpful

mom of 8... I like your ideas. thanks

my children are grown but my hubby and I take our lunches so new ideas are always welcome

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August 8, 20070 found this helpful

In the same way that Melissa did pudding in the little plastic containers, I do fruit and applesauce. I buy the generic brands of canned peachers, pears mandarin oranges, and applesauce. (we don't like fruit cocktail). Using the really small gladware or similar brand plastic containers for individual servings, they store on a shelf in the refrigerator for the week of lunchmaking and after-school snacks.

Phyllis

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August 11, 20070 found this helpful

Making five lunches a day can be expensive and we all love fruit & nut mix so I make up a big batch and divide into little plastic containers.

The healthfood stores usually have good offers on large packs of mixed fruit and brazil nuts, then I buy salted nuts and one pack of chocolate raisins in the supermarket, so it doesn't work out too expensive. I mix it all in a big bowl and fill the ten little containers from that then refill them from the big bowl during the week.

I leave the big bowl on the worktop so it's there when anyone wants a quick healthy snack, there's never any waste.

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By guest (Guest Post)
August 11, 20070 found this helpful

I also am a teacher and am astonished at what parents think their kids will eat. Five-year-olds have pretty small stomachs, and parents often pack 4 or 5 adult-size items for that one child to eat at lunch time. Most kids this age (little experience with older kids) only ever eat half their sandwich, half their apple/orange, etc. My suggestion, based on my observations, would be half a sandwich (or small container of leftovers), half a fruit (or handful of grapes/berries), a kid-size container of yogurt, and a 6oz juice. Be kind to the teacher (and your child - he'll concentrate better) by avoiding adding sweets or energy drinks/bars to their lunch.

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By guest (Guest Post)
August 26, 20070 found this helpful

As for wasted food, I instruct my kids to bring everything home. If they don't eat everything I send (I pack as much as I know they'd eat at home), I know they will be starving when I pick them up so they can snack on it in the car.

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February 10, 20080 found this helpful

I bowl up our own fruit cups of canned fruits, allowing enough space for expansion & freeze them. When making my hubby's lunch every a.m., I just grab out a frozen fruit cup, along with his frozen sandwich, etc. By his lunch time, they're thawed and ready to eat. We save alot of money this way by making our own sandwiches, fruit cups, bottled juices, bags of cookies, chips, nuts or cut celery sticks, etc. as he's not having to stop by a convenience store on the way to work or stop at a lunch wagon, on the side of the roadway.

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By guest (Guest Post)
August 9, 20080 found this helpful

happy-sacks.com! No more wasteful plastic sandwhich bags, these little double-layered cotton/nylon pouches keep your food in its place, then can be easily wiped clean or washed in the washer!

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August 10, 20080 found this helpful

I have started stocking up on snacks now. I have a top shelf in my pantry for all of the back to school lunch Items. When Items have been on sale we and have coupons we go and purchase them.

Recently we went to Walgreen and bought 10 Kellogg products that were on sale all with coupon and received $5 back in register rewards for our next trip.

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By guest (Guest Post)
August 11, 20080 found this helpful

I limit my children to purchasing their lunch to one day a week (I have a DD who would purchase EVERY DAY! If we allowed it...go figure!) My children, ages 10 and 16 make their own lunches after dinner. Dad or I approve the contents to make sure there is something healthy in there :-) Chips and salsa are a favorite snack too.

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August 11, 20080 found this helpful

I make my own dunkaroos for my daughters by purchasing imitation teddy grahams at the dollar store and adding them to their lunch along with a small container of icing for dipping.

My girls take everything from hotdogs to spaghetti in thermos' for their lunches as well.

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By 3 found this helpful
August 6, 2010

Save fast food bags that aren't grease soaked to take your lunch in on another day.

By fossil1955 from Cortez, CO

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By 1 found this helpful
December 22, 2009

The grocery store only sells individual chocolate milk and I didn't like the sugar content. So I take a small, empty water bottle and fill it with white milk. I put it in their lunch box with an ice pack. It saves them time at lunch and saves us money, too!

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By 5 found this helpful
February 29, 2012

I often take veggies and dip in my lunches for work. Tonight I was looking for a small container to hold a serving of hummus for my carrots/celery. I came across a small 1 oz. spice container.

Spice Containers for Condiments

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December 3, 2012

My kids are always begging for those packaged dessert snacks like Oreos and such for their school lunches. For a long time I usually said no because a box of 6-10 packages would run up to $6.00 and they were so high calorie.

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By 0 found this helpful
November 6, 2008

I finally found a reusable plastic bottle that you can pack in a lunch that won't leak. I washed our used Gatorade bottles by hand and filled them with water. (My son adds powdered drink mix.) You can tip them any which way and they don't leak.

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July 14, 20050 found this helpful

You can save money by bringing coffee to work in a thermos rather than buying it there. Before filling your thermos with coffee, fill it up with hot tap water and let it sit for a few minutes.

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March 1, 20170 found this helpful

There is no need to buy those expensive prepackaged lunch kits for your kids or yourself. Choose your own meats, cheeses, crackers, and other components for a better and less expensive lunch. This is a guide about homemade cheese and cracker lunch kits.

Cheese and Crackers

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July 21, 20140 found this helpful

This is a guide about packing salad for lunch. Many delicious combinations of vegetables, fruits, cheeses and/or meats can create a fresh healthy lunch.

Woman Having Salad for Lunch

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April 15, 20020 found this helpful

When you make dinner, make enough so that you will have enough for leftovers for lunch the next day. It saves on cooking time and saves money because you are not tempted to go out and buy lunch.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 0 found this helpful
October 15, 2008

My husband and I pack lunches and snacks every day (sometimes dinner too) using plastic containers and 4-5 baggies per day. I want to cut down on the amount of baggies, yet don't want to use numerous additional plastic containers. We do not have a dishwasher and already have to wash a LOT of plastic every evening. Does anyone have ideas for what might be workable substitutes for the baggies?

Madeline from Oklahoma City, OK

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By guest (Guest Post)
October 15, 20080 found this helpful

I use unbleached waxed paper bags (sold in health food stores or online). They are a little more environmentally friendly than plastic baggies.

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By guest (Guest Post)
October 15, 20080 found this helpful

I save glass jars (mustards, salsa, olives) and reuse them. Doesn't work well on sandwiches, they get smushed up (that was a joke). Of course they will have to be washed. Do you have somewhere at work to keep snacks. I keeps nuts, dried fruits rice snacks and crackers in jars in my desk drawer. Also, I sometimes bring in my lunch on a small dinner plate if I am out of tupperware. I am anxious to see what other people have to say about this one.

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October 15, 20080 found this helpful

Lots of people save the empty bags from cereal, crackers, bread bags...you could use those. I like the name brand "Baggies." They have 150 on a roll You could just reuse some of the bags, especially if all they had in them was dry goods.

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October 15, 20080 found this helpful

http://www.env.  ach/060403-5.pdf

Use furoshiki style folding to wrap your sandwich in a cloth napkin or flour sack towel or something.

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October 16, 20080 found this helpful

I have seen a lot of different plastic food storage (like Tupperware) that is one unit but has built in dividers to separate the food in sections. I have seen ones with 2, 3, 4, 5 different sections. So all you would have to wash is one bottom and one lid.

If you ate eating more like sandwiches and such then there are wipeable Wrap n Mats:

http://www.wrap-n-mat.com/

Or make your own...

http://crazy-mu  ndwich-wrap.html

http://www.ehow  ndwich-wrap.html

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October 16, 20080 found this helpful

When packing lunch for my daughter I used the unbleached natural waxed paper bags also (as Meredith posted). The brand is "Natural Value". I get them at Whole Foods. They actually worked for almost everything except liquids or liquidy stuff. I put sandwiches, wraps, cut up veggies, most fruit, nuts, etc in them.

They were great because I didn't feel guilty when she threw them out, they didn't get left in her locker for ages (as did the containers) and I didn't have to wash plastic containers everyday. What was neat was that when she got older and environmentally conscious she chose to take her lunch in reusable containers. Even got her self a "cool" retro style lunchbox.

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By guest (Guest Post)
October 17, 20080 found this helpful

You can get a big roll of butcher paper-ask your local meat market where they get theirs. It is like waxed paper-can be used for anything except very wet or liquid.

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October 17, 20080 found this helpful

I buy a huge roll of plastic wrap from Sam's Wholesale Club. It is called Food Service Wrap and comes in a box. It is 12 inches wide and 300 feet long and the price is about $10.00. It sticks to itself and to plates and bowls much better than the brands that you find at the grocery store...like Handiwrap, Gladwrap, etc. I bought the box I am now using in mid July of 2007. And I use it for lots of other things as well. For example....I belong to PaperBackSwap, and I always wrap my books in this plastic wrap before I wrap it in paper to ship. I wrap a lot of meats indiviually, like hamburger patties before I put them n the freezer. Then I put them in Zip Lock bags, but the plastic wrap helps avoid freezer burn, and I can take any number I need for a meal from the package. I use a lot less plastic bags than I used to. I used to pieces of onion in sandwich size bags, but now I wrap them in the plastic wrap.

Harlean from Arkansas

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October 18, 20080 found this helpful

I was looking for ways to reduce my plastic bag consumption and I became bento obsessed in the process. www.ichibankanusa.com is a Japanese dollar store and they sell tiered bento boxes for an incredibly low price. They are held together with this elastic band and you can get insulated carriers for them. Very green, very easy...the only downside is you just can't throw them in the dishwasher. You can also pick up bento sets on ebay or if you are lucky enough to have a Asian market nearby, you could go to one of those.

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By 0 found this helpful
July 10, 2009

Food containers to brown bag my lunch? I currently use GladWare containers, but don't have enough (we seem to keep losing them). Any suggestions on what I could use/re-use instead of buying more GladWare? Thanks so much.

By twilightgift from Forks, WA

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Archives

ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

December 23, 20090 found this helpful

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

Tips for saving money on food that you pack in a lunch box as suggested from the ThriftyFun community.

Make Your Own Snack Sizes

To save money on snack items for lunches, I buy large bags of favorite chips or boxes of Ritz and put some in ziploc bags inside the lunch box. Those small bags of chips and packs of crackers can really add up!

By Julie

Pack In Reusable Plastic Containers

Buying large bags of chips and splitting them up into single servings is a great way to cut costs for packing lunches, but you can save even more (and help the environment) by using reusable plastic containers instead of disposable ziploc bags. I know some people wash their ziploc bags, but plastic containers are much easier to wash and will last a long time. I have picked most of my containers up at yard sales, so it is possible to use them and still be thrifty.

By Allison

Pack Homemade Treats or Fruit

Chips in large bags are not cheap either. Popcorn is a low price snack. A piece of fruit or homemade cookie makes even more sense.

By Barbaral

Stay Away From Convenience Items

If you're looking to save money on lunches, whatever you do, do not buy convenience foods! By convenience foods, I mean things like Lunchables (a simple sandwich instead), juice boxes (use a thermos to bring a drink from home), Handi-snacks, small packages of chips and cookies. Like the previous poster said, it is so much better on your wallet to pack them into your own baggies at home. Not using convenience foods will not only save money, it will increase the nutrition value and lets you eat more varied lunches every day!

By KellyinNY

A Different Perspective

"and lets you eat more varied lunches every day!"

Actually, the only real advantage to "convenience foods" is that they allow for a wide variety of daily change. Using bulk to "pack your own" only means that little Susie has to eat a lot of whatever you bought in bulk. I remember one particular year when mom got in a rut, I had PBJ and chicken noodle soup every day for about a year. I still won't eat PBJ.

Better idea, don't buy bulk foods but instead make your food from scratch. Prepare enough that there is some left for lunches. When using a block of sharp cheddar in a recipe, slice or cube some for lunch this week. When you bake a cake, slip a tray of muffins in there too. Get creative with leftovers but not "darn mom, what were you thinking?"

It's cool to save money and all, but if you think your kids really think "it's cool" to not have the same thing everyone else has, then you are very mistaken. Their whole world is about fitting in. Is it really worth a few dollars to have her sitting over at the "nerd and geek table"? Or, could that same amount of money be saved somewhere else without the social skills damage...

By John

Great School Lunch Ideas

My daughter loves salads, cut up veggies with ranch dressing for dipping, cheese and crackers (cheese cut from a block), apples cut up with cinnamon sugar to hide the brown. Also noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese are a favorite. I use a combination of plastic containers, thermos and ziplock bags to fit it all in a lunchbox. Check dollar stores for small containers.

By Catherine

Make Your Own Sandwich Spread

I go to the deli department at the grocery store and by the end of lunch meats. I bring home the ends, put them in the food processor. I then add pickle relish and salad dressing. Salt and pepper as needed. This makes a great sandwich spread and less expensive then the Oscar Meyer brand.

By Anonymous

Individual Servings Of Peaches

My husband likes bowls of canned peaches in his lunch every day. So I buy canned peaches and bowl our own, rather than buying those pre-made fruit cups. It's much cheaper by doing it ourselves. We also buy big bags of chips and make up our own little bags of chips. This way we get more than about the average 6 chips the name brand has in their lunch size bags. The possibilities are endless as to what to put in your own lunch, rather than eating out.

By Badwater

Leftovers for Lunch

Brown bag your lunch with the previous dinner's leftovers! It's amazing how much money my husband's co-workers spend on lunch everyday. They are always envious of the yummy homemade things he brings!

By Holly Dawson

Making Your Own Sandwich Meat

I find it much cheaper to buy a joint of meat at the weekend to fill sandwiches through the week instead of buying deli meat, I just slice it quite thinly myself!

By Julie UK

Mr. Thrifty Takes On School Lunches

Why not just plain peanut butter and jelly crackers? Or make up your own lunchables with say, honey, syrup or apple butter. Just place in a small plastic container. Make your own popcorn balls or caramel corn. You can even buy popcorn ready to pop already caramel flavored and even colored and sugared. I forget the brand but I know I bought both several years ago.

Puddings and jello still come in those familiar boxes. You can also make cornstarch Tapioca, homemade sheet cakes of all flavors. Celery, peanut butter and raisins have always been a favorite of mind. Dried apples and Apricots. Make your own trail mix.

Make your own cookies, muffins or pies. If you still have a oven in your house, all these things are possible and not that time consuming or difficult. The art of candy making still exists outside of Hershey and Mars foods. How about Pickled eggs? Not difficult at all.

As far as bags, look at your cereal boxes. Inside each size box, there are very strong bags that you could use in place of baggies for everything from your children's lunch to storing your homemade treats in them in volume. As far as fresh fruit, pack some extra peanut butter with that banana or apple. If your school doesn't allow peanut products in their cafeteria then substitute it with apple butter or molasses.

Homemade drinks? If they still make thermos' then hot chocolate is possible also homemade lemonade, orange juice, apple cider and iced tea.

Think how proud you children will be having you make stuff that tastes better than what the stores sell. They will remember you for that and pass it on to their children. Me, I am 58. This kind of food was always in our Lone Ranger lunch boxes.

I wish you the best!

By Mr. Thrifty

Feel free to post your ideas below!

Answers:

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

i am a substitute teacher. i often have lunch duty in the elementary school. i would love to be able to write to the 100s of mothers who make those lunches so they could know what happens at lunch time. many many of these lunches are lovingly made with crusts cut off, napkins folded, and a love note for the child to have a good day. there is enough food from those wonderful lunches in the TRASH CAN TO FEED A WHOLE OTHER SCHOOL. yogurt, fruit, sandwiches, crackers, cheese, lunchmeat and plain bread fill the trash cans. i dont know the solution but ask your kid what he/she is eating at lunch. (03/21/2008)

By sandy63

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

I used to buy the peanut butter filled pretzels 5.99 for a container. Now i buy 2 bags of pretzels and put them in tupperware with a smaller container of peanut butter to dip the pretzels in. Saves about 1/2 the price. (03/22/2008)

By jm

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

Sandy63 is SO right, getting on the same page with your child as far as his or her lunches go is the ticket! My son isn't the throwing food away type, he's the put it back in his pack back and let it sit there until it grows it's own civilization type. He can't bring himself to throw it away, because he knows that's wasting, but he doesn't really want to eat it either, lol. I asked my son, why didn't you eat

that, "I dunno", is usually the answer. Which tells me I was packing food he didn't want to eat.

So now I ask him "If I put raisins in your lunch, will you eat them?" Which usually gets a big yes! So I buy a box of raisins and split them up into individual containers.
My son has also brought home other kids' food that they won't eat, which drives me crazy, "Honey, please don't..." I swear I could almost stop grocery shopping with the amount of food he could bring home if I'd let him. Milks, fruit, sandwiches, snack bars, you name it, he's brought it home.

Don't worry so much about what other kids are eating, teach your child to be an individual and you won't have to worry about that. Worry about what your kid is throwing away or trading away (or growing in his backpack, lol), because you're not really saving money if he or she isn't eating it. They're not eating nutritiously if they're trading away all the wonderful food you're slaving over. Get your kids input on lunch, because once again as Sandy63 said, you'd be SHOCKED how much of it is ending up in the garbage. (03/22/2008)

By DiamonGirl

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

I save money on lunches in several ways.

First, I refuse to buy plastic bags and throw away containers. I invested about $6 at the dollar store and bought sandwhich containers, and other small containers. These are washed out and reused. If they should happen to get lost, the are very inexpensive to replace.

I also save the small 8-12 oz bottles from water or pop. I wash these and 1/2 fill with their lunch drink, and then freeze it. In the morning, I top off the bottle with their remaining drink (usually juice or koolaid). This keeps their lunch box cool without the added expense of an icepack. By lunch time their lunch is cool, and their drink is still cool, but mostly thawed. During very hot weather, I freeze it more than half full (but careful not to overfill and split the container).

I also don't use paper napkins in the lunch. I do sometimes pack a moist washcloth in a sandwhich box for the younger ones if their lunch is a messy one, or for a trip where they may not be eating by a place to clean up at. For the older ones I pack a washable cloth dinner napkin.

I do not buy prepared foods for lunches. A good part of our lunch consists of leftovers. You can make your own "lunchables" with crackers, lunch meat etc for a fraction of the cost.

Also, consider where the lunch will be eaten at. If the 'eater' has access to a microwave or toaster, you can get very creative with your lunches. My kids used to like poptarts in their lunch and pancakes to warm up, with fruit , sauage and juice. But, if you did not have a microwave, that would not be a good choice.

Other favorites of my children: cheese cubed, fruit with dip (our dip was 1/2 plain yogurt blended with 1/2 peanut butter), cut up veggies and ranch dressing, hotdog and bun, potpie (cooked at home, warmed in microwave at school), sandwhiches, corndogs, baked potato and topping (precooked and home, rewarmed in school microwave) with salad, taco salad-eaten cold, with chips on the side, and of course leftovers from their favorite suppers.

Another good tip, is to tell your child to bring home what they don't eat. This gives you an idea of if they are eating it all, or if you need to cut back on what you are sending.

My children are no longer in school, we homeschool now. However, we often take day trips and save money lunches for day trips as well.

In the car, I always keep an Aldi's powered drink mix. McDonalds will give you free cups of water and you can add in the mix to make your own fruit drink. I also have a stash of granola bars and pretzels in the car too--if we run into time delays, that helps resist pulling into a place to eat.

If we do find we have to eat out when not planned, I have found we can go to Aldi and buy fruit, granola bars, a loaf of bread and sandwhich meat for the cost of feeding only 2 members of our family at McDonalds (and we are a family of 7). Just get it and take it to the nearest park and you have a picinic!

My aunt, who had 6 children always kept a small cooler in the back of her station wagon with peanut butter, crackers, plastic plates and silverware and cups for trips. Then, she would get free ice at McDonalds and head to the grocery store. For around $8 she would feed the entire family. Her kids (now adults) remember taking lots of road trips, but never eating out because they couldn't afford it, but they still ate well. (03/22/2008)

By mom-from-missouri

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

Everyone seems to think a kid can't miss a meal in life, have you looked at most of those kids? Geeze I grew up taking no lunches to school. I ate when I got home. My mum made everything from scratch, Had our own raised meat, and a big garden. We sure never starved. We ate better then most folks did. Some days I might of took an apple or an orange to snack on and that's all. You train your stomach to think it's hungry. It's not natural to always be stuffing our face.

Years ago some days they hardly ate at all and were healthier all in all for it. Gives the body a change to rest. Seems we forget food is something to keep us alive. You eat to live, NOT live to eat. Don't wonder why kids have all the health problems they do, you're over stuffing them. Good food or not, I grew up in a family of 9 people, were all up into our 50's or more and none of us has any health issues and are not over weight!

Yet a lot of our school classmates have many health issues. My kids never took anything to school for lunches and they're all healthy, very active and not over weight!
Start them off with a good breakfast, and if they must have a dinner, give em a fruit. Yhey'll live till they get home, and eat a good home cooked meal instead.

Kids eat to many macaroni and cheese with packets of Ingredients that are no good for them. Geeze throw out the macaroni and cheese, use plain old macaroni and tomato soup. Throw out the imitation maple syrup, use good old molasses, It's GOOD FOR YOU! We have become a people that cannot eat anything unless it is seasoned to death. Geeze if you hate your food so bad, like the guy who order an egg and wanted loads of ketchup on it, waitress said "you must really hate EGGS!

Learn to love the real food not the seasoning packet that come along that laced with all kinds of harmful stuff, Have you looked at the sodium content your kids are consuming in these so called foods they love. Useless, pointless to point out, until your health is at risk and the doctor tells you quit or die, I've watched it with my second husband,had to have everything seasoned to death, cook a steak 4 mins. Geeze people your killing yourself with blindness.

My husbands knocking on deaths door now because of his great tasting food! According to the doctors he should have passed away a year ago, Yet he freakin amazes them, I made him eat my way, EAT TO LIVE, NOT live to EAT! And real food, NOT SEASONINGS! (03/22/2008)

By Chicklet

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

Buy yogurt in the individual cups with lids. Reuse those and make individual pudding, jello, or mixed fruit. A fruit smoothie from overripe bananas, frozen strawberries or cherries and a little milk in a thermos is great. Put different granolas and cereals in baggies or plastic containers for yogurt or smoothie toppers. (03/22/2008)

By kibby

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

I always cook enough for two meals. I freeze the leftovers and my dh can always pick what he wants to take for lunch! I`m new and I love this site! Thanks for all the great tips! (03/25/2008)

By jward02

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

My new thing is my Bread Maker that I got for Mother's Day. My husband thought I was crazy for wanting an appliance for Mother's Day, but now that I have made a few loaves of bread, he loves me for it.

My five year old son loves to help make the bread and eat it. He takes some sort of bread item to lunch almost every day. Not always sandwiches, but toast with apple butter or cheese with bread cubes. It is amazing how many ways you can serve the bread and I know he is eating healthy. For all of you with bread makers, get it out and use it regularly for the health of the kids. (05/25/2008)

By Carrie from NH

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

WOW thanks for all the help! I saved a lot on my daughter's lunches! Also you could use an insulated lunch box instead of brown bags! Which helps the environment! (07/03/2008)

By Danya AbdelHameid

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

This is in response to Chicklet's post. Amen Sister! I couldn't agree with you more. There are too many people that live to eat, not eat to live. My husband and I sold our 3-bedroom home and moved into a 2-bedroom apartment. My husband has asthma, the grass cutting and snow shoveling was taking a tole on his health and we both knew it was time to sell.

Before our house sold, we hired an auction business to pick up all of our antique living room furniture. Sure we sold all the furniture at a loss, but we got rid of it.

We're now living a much healthier lifestyle, we don't own a couch, living room chairs, end tables or fancy lamps etc. I bought two nylon fold up lawn chairs for whenever we have guests. We live in a bottom floor apartment and have converted our living room into a small fitness center. We have a weight bench, dumbbells and a Life Fitness motorized treadmill. We ordered and had the treadmill delivered right after we moved into the apartment. I walk for 30 minutes, 6 days a week, lift weights, do some floor exercises using an exercise mat and I FEEL GREAT! I'm turning 60 years old this month and I don't look my age. My husband walks 60 minutes, 6 days a week, lifts weights, etc. and he's 65.

If the American people would spend their time exercising instead of constantly eating we would not have the obesity problem that we do. And we've seen a lot of children that look like little rolly-pollies. They are fat now and will be fat later on in life.

I've been battling high cholesterol most of my adult life. Unfortunately there's a history of high cholesterol in my family. I kept an appointment with an RN and she told me that eating foods loaded with sugar, fats, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, etc. will raise my cholesterol levels. So I decided to get off of sugar. I love to cook and bake and I've made a lot of desserts for our senior citizen group, but I've learned not to eat them myself.

My clothes are starting to fit better again and I'm trying to lose at least 10 lbs. in a year. There's a dear woman in our senior citizen group that I've known for 35+ years. She has diabetes, was on daily insulin shots and has been overweight for many years. My husband and I were sitting at the same table with her and her husband and we didn't even recognize her. She had lost so much weight that she looked like a totally different person. I asked what her secret was and she told me that she didn't eat any sugar. Since that time her doctor said that she was doing so well that he changed her medication. She no longer has to give herself insulin injections but is now taking a pill. She's older than me and if she can lose the weight so can I.

There are people in the Thriftyfun community who submit numeous dessert recipes. Have the posters actually baked and tested the recipe themselves?

If I baked and ate every thing that is posted on this website, I would be at least 300+ lbs.
(09/06/2008)

By MCW

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

We have fruit trees, and end up with far more fruit than we can eat fresh, despite sharing with friends and neighbors. I go to the restaurant supply store and get a sleeve of 5 1/2 ounce indiv. serving cups (I pay about 5 dollars for 250, and several dollars more for lids) which means about 3 cents for a set.

We peel/cut/core the fruit (apples, peaches, pears) and cook them until they're soft enough to mash with a potato masher. We ladle the fruit sauces into the containers, put the tops on, label, and freeze. (I usually put a small amount of cinnamon sugar on some for my husband--he likes them a little sweeter than the daughters and I; otherwise, we use no sugar.)

When we are packing lunches, we grab a frozen fruit cup and put it in the lunch box. It helps to keep the lunch cool until lunch time, and is usually thawed by lunch. (I like it still partially frozen!)

The disposeable cups are not the most "green" solution; but we have moved to as many reusable containers as possible, as well as using cloth napkins and garage sale cutlery in our lunches, so I like to think we are offsetting our carbon footprint, as well as using the precious fruit. (09/07/2008)

By Jilson

Saving Money on Lunch Box Food Items

My kids are young so that social stigma thing hasn't kicked in yet. I give bagel, hot dog and bread bags a second use before throwing out by packing my kids sandwiches in them with a twist tie. I also have one of those FoodSaver bag machines and have found I can seal the edges of some plastic bags. I also cut up the bags cereal come in and seal the edges for the perfect sandwich/snack size. I use regular scotch tape to close the top. (09/21/2008)

By greenvase

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