Saving Money on Packed Lunches

Packed lunches can add up to nearly as much as takeout or school lunches if you are not careful. Luckily, there are many ways to reduce the cost and make the most of your pantry and fridge while you are at it. If you have advice, please post it here.Here are some tips shared by the ThriftyFun community.


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 Kim Churchman

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.


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 susan

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 Debbie Dzurilla

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 Debra Vanderpool

Photo of two bananas and a brown paper bags.

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By iowa mom of 8 (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 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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Bronze Request Medal for All Time! 87 Requests
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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Silver Post Medal for All Time! 277 Posts
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.

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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 ALS (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 Jane (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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Silver Post Medal for All Time! 263 Posts
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 Aeowyn (Guest Post)
August 9, 20080 found this helpful! 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 dIANA (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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Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 115 Feedbacks
August 25, 20150 found this helpful

Having worked as a lunch school aide for k - 4th grade for 14 years I can tell you kids throw out a ton of stuff. Packing a full sandwich, cookies, fruit, maybe some carrots and a drink, chances are your little one is not going to eat all this, even if they do at home. They are busy talking to their friends and letting off steam from being in the classroom all morning. As the one poster suggested tell them not to throw anything out - except things like open juice containers, "squeeze" yogurts and such that will make a mess in the lunch bag because when they come home they will be hungry and can finish their lunch. Try to make containers easy for little ones to open by themselves. Our lunch rooms have people to help but sometimes they are afraid to ask. And of course make sure you are packing something your kids like. We use to get kids throwing out food untouched telling us they didn't like it but since it was thrown out who ever packed their lunch assumed they ate it.

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