School lunches can easily spiral out of control cost-wise.
That’s why we have come up with 10 ways to save money on school lunches, without compromising on quality or health.
We all know that packing a school lunch for our kids is cheaper and healthier than having tuckshop – but where can you really make some significant savings?
We show you!
Table of Contents:
- Choose a waste-free school lunch box
- Meal Plan your school Lunches
- Cheap School Lunch Recipes
- Shop Around for School Lunch Deals
- Go Beyond the Sandwich
- Cut Up Your Own Meats and Cheeses
- Leftovers are Great for School Lunches
- Pre-make Treats and Freeze
- Buy School Snacks in Bulk
- Create a Tasting Menu
- Let Your Kids Help You Plan
1. Choose a Waste Free Lunch Box
Waste free lunch boxes are widely available now – and although you might pay a bit more upfront, you will certainly save the cost over the course of the year – and it’s good for the environment! And if your child looks after their lunch boxes, they can last for years. Expect to pay around $40 for a good quality waste free lunch box.
When choosing a school lunch box, take into account whether your child will store it outside in their bag in the heat (then you will need additional cooling blocks or an ice brick) – or in the fridge in the classroom.
Some of the best brands of waste-free lunch boxes include:
- Bento Boxes are bright, colourful, lots of fun and waste-free! We love the Yumbox Original (pictured below)!
- Green Essentials are a stainless steel (ie hard to break) eco-friendly lunchboxes.
- Go Green 4-Compartment Lunch Box
More Reading: 10 Best Kids Lunch Boxes for School in 2021
2. Meal Plan Your School Lunches
Just like you can save money on weekly dinners by meal planning, you can do exactly the same thing for school lunches – and make substantial savings.
First make a list of all the foods that your child likes to eat. A school lunch is more likely to be eaten if they actually like it. Next, plan your shopping around this menu and prep when you get home. What you’re looking for is ultimate effective shopping. You don’t want to buy anything spare that could become waste, but you also need to balance the food intake requirements of your children.
The typical lunch box consists of:
- One main (sandwich, roll, salad etc)
- 1 x Serve of Fruit
- 2 x Serves of Vegetables
- 1 x Serve Dairy
- 1 x Drink
But generally, you want proteins, carbs, fruit, vegetables and a treat!
Sandwiches or Rolls:
With sandwiches, did you know that you can FREEZE them? We have a full guide on how to freeze sandwiches for school lunches and to avoid them getting soggy. I always make my boys lunches fresh on Sunday night, then freeze them so that I can just pop them into their lunch box on school mornings. Not only does it save a whole lot of time, but there is no wastage!!!
More Reading: Guide to Freezing Sandwiches
Want Cheap Non-Sandwich Ideas?
Not every kid likes sandwiches – even with the huge range of bread. But there are delicious alternatives – here are some examples:
- Pikelets (pictured)
- Rice Cakes
- Savoury Biscuits or Crackers
Fruit & Vegetable Serves:
Any fruit purchased on the weekend will last you all week. But you can go a step further and freeze certain fruits (especially if you live in Queensland where it is hot). I quite often freeze grapes for my boys and they love them. But frozen watermelon or pineapple is really yummy too and freezes well.
Another great way to get your childs daily intake of fruit and veggies is to use them in muffins or slices. Things like zucchini slice or vegetable fritters are great fodder for school lunches even if they are cold.
I like to purchase large quantities of yogurt, then dish out single servings into the kid’s lunch boxes. This is a very cost-effective way of getting their dairy intake at a budget price. Yogurt freezes great. But cheese, not so much. So any cheese you want to include, cut it fresh on the morning from a large portion (buying in bulk is the key).
Low sugar flavoured milk is also a great way to get more dairy into the school lunch box.
There is nothing cheaper and healthier than water, and truly it is all your child needs. Ensure you have a good quality eco-friendly drink bottle that will stay cold all day.
If you do want to give your child additional dairy – choose flavoured milk that is low in sugar.
Low or No Sugar flavoured milk options include:
- Dairy Farmers Classic No Sugar (Available in Chocolate and Strawberry)
- Woolworths Kids Flavoured Milk 250ml has 30% less sugar
Healthy Treats for the School Lunch Box:
- Raw Date Squares
- Banana Oat Bites
- Apricot Balls
- Home Made Muesli Bars
- Pumpkin Scones
- Healthy Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins
- Chia Choc Orange Slice
- Wholemeal Date Muffins
- Wholemeal Pikelets
- Bliss Balls
- Fruit Smoothies (served in a Thermos to keep cold)
3. Cheap School Lunch Recipes
Some recipes are just cheaper than others. And school lunches should be about simplicity. So we have a brief list of the cheapest school lunch recipes to try!
- Veggie Filled Bolognaise Sauce
- Mince Scrolls
- Chicken and Vegetable Sausage Rolls
- Chicken and Apple Croquettes
- Delicious Pizza Muffins
- Banana Oat Bites
- Reduced Sugar Apple and Oat Muffins
- Pumpkin Scones
4. Shop Around For School Lunch Deals
It’s always good to have a plan about what you’re going to be making for lunch in a certain week, fortnight or month. However, it’s just as important, and potential budget-friendly, to leave flexibility in that schedule to take advantage of deals.
For example, if certain deli meat is particularly cheap, buy a large amount and freeze it. Alternatively, if a pre-packed snack is on special, stock up now so you don’t need to spend on it later. Other great items to buy in bulk when they are on sale include:
- Poppa’s and Flavoured Milk (just watch the sugar content!)
- Any pre-packaged items that your child will eat
- Individual serve yogurts can be frozen and just popped into the lunch box in the morning.
Great places to shop for discount school snacks include:
- Catch always has great grocery deals that include items for school lunches like muesli bars.
5. Go Beyond The Sandwich
Nobody said that lunch needs to be a sandwich every day, and once you get out of this mindset it’s a lot easier to see how you can save money on lunches. While sandwiches are a great idea, they get boring fast and with the cost of deli meats and cheeses, they aren’t always the cheapest option. Start to think outside the box with ideas like rice and bean burritos, finger foods, or even leftovers from the previous night’s dinners.
In fact, investing in a good kids style Thermos is a great idea as you can even send soup during the colder months!
Great soups to save money on school lunches (and are delicious) include:
Other great alternatives to sandwiches include:
Also check out our School Lunch Recipe section for hundreds of more ideas!
6. Cut Up Your Own Meats And Cheese
Even the smallest saving can make a difference in the long-term when you’re trying to stick to a budget, so make cuts where you can. And by this we mean, buy meat and cheese in larger servings, and then cut it yourself at home. A block of cheddar will end up being much cheaper than sliced cheese, and the same goes for many deli meats like ham and chicken. It only takes a few extra minutes, and it’s definitely worth trying.
A good example is that you can buy the Cowbelle brand of 1kg cheese from Aldi for about $6 – just slice it or grate it and pop it in the freezer for use.
7. Leftover are Great for School Lunches
Leftovers are a great idea to serve in your child’s school lunch box. Especially if your child enjoyed the main meal when they ate it the first time. Spaghetti on sandwiches, pasta or even cold sausages can be a delicious and alternative food for the lunch box.
Kids love variety – and using leftovers is frugal!
8. Pre-Make Treats and Freeze
Having a large cook up at the end of the week and freezing items to pop into school lunches is a great way to save money and also use up ingredients in the fridge that need to be used up! I’m a particular fan of muffins as you can hide loads of grated carrot and zucchini in there without them ever knowing!
Check out our article on 20 Freezable Muffins That Are Perfect for the School Lunch Box for some delicious recipes that freeze well!
We also have 50+ Freezer Friendly School Lunch Ideas.
9. Buy School Snacks In Bulk
If you happen to live near a bulk-buy outlet that provides discounts for buying in large quantities, and you have space at home to store these items, it’s much cheaper to buy in bulk. This is especially true when you’re buying raw materials to go into lunches, like dried fruit, nuts, jerky and more. It’s also worth investigating what options are available on the internet for bulk buy and delivery, but keep an eye out for eye-watering shipping costs.
Think of outlets such as Aldi or Costco.
10. Create A Tasting Menu
On weeks when it feels like there’s no food to spare, and no money to stock up on more ingredients, have a look at the very back of your fridge, pantry and freezer to see what’s to be found. Using what you find, whether it’s savoury biscuits, frozen meats, vegetables or tinned fruit, create a tasting menu with just a small amount of each thing. In some ways, this suits children better as it’s more in line with how they eat and suited to shorter attention spans for eating.
Think of it as a Finger Food Tasting Platter of Leftovers!
11. Let Your Kids Help You Plan
One of the worst ways that money is wasted when it comes to lunch is from children throwing away food they aren’t interested in. It’s such a waste, especially considering how much work you do to make sure they have lunch every day. So instead of letting them dump the food, get them involved in the planning and preparation process as soon as they’re old enough.
Get their opinions on meals, and listen to what they want (providing it’s healthy and not outside your budget). If you can do this, they’ll be less likely to throw the food away.
Get your hands on these practical and logical ways to save money on school lunch without breaking the bank!