Saving Money on Packed Lunches

August 9, 2008

Photo of two bananas and a brown paper bags.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

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13 More Solutions

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March 24, 2010

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. I have calculated that I can make a great lunch for my boss, my husband and I for $4 for the three.

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Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 181 Posts
August 6, 2010

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

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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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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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Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 162 Posts
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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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, 2005

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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April 15, 2002

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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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.

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


By Meredith (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 Lori T (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 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

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:

Or make your own...

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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 Bella Swan from Forks, WA

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March 1, 2017

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 page about homemade cheese and cracker lunch kits.

Cheese and Crackers

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July 21, 2014

This is a page 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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