It’s that time of year again: Summer is ending and school is back in session!
The start of the school year can be an exciting time filled with new opportunities, but it’s also filled with unexpected costs. From back-to-school supplies to new outfits to club memberships and fees, you might feel your usual budget being stretched thin. These expenses can really add up, especially at a time when inflation is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Fortunately, there are also many ways to save money during the school year – and one of the most effective ways is through a packed lunch for school!
School Lunch Ideas That Kids LOVE for Less Than A Dollar!
The average cost of a school lunch is $3.81. If your child opts to get milk or chocolate milk, they’ll likely pay anywhere from $0.25 to $0.50 more.
While this might not seem like a lot, when you consider that there are 180 school days each year, this means that the average family is going to shell out $685.80 just for school lunches.
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And let’s be honest: school lunches aren’t the best – and they’re not always the most nutritional either. Does anyone else remember those square pizza slices served with a scoop of corn?
There are plenty of packed lunches that your kids will love that cost less than $1 day. In other words, you’ll have better control over your child’s nutritional intake while saving nearly 75% in school lunch costs. Doesn’t that sound like a win-win scenario?
Here are ten school lunches to consider:
1. Spaghetti with sides – $0.25 per serving.
Browsing on Amazon, I was able to find boxed spaghetti for just $2 a box. You might even be able to find pasta cheaper at your local grocery store! When you consider that these pasta boxes come with approximately 8 servings per container, that means that you’re only going to pay $0.25 per serving!
Simply top it with your child’s favorite pasta sauce. You can be creative with sides, adding carrots, sliced apples, or cherry tomatoes.
2. Toothpick Kebabs – $0.50 per serving.
Kids love being creative with their food, so why not send them to school with something that they’ll have fun eating? Try creating a kebab using toothpicks. Stack the toothpicks with cheese and ham, alternating between both options. You don’t need to get fancy meat or cheese; you can use the same ingredients that you would use for a cookie-cutter sandwich.
Include a packet of mustard or mayo for dipping. A perfect side to go along with this would be cherry tomatoes, celery, or crackers!
3. Protein and rice – $0.50 per serving.
Rice is a superstar of packed lunches. Rice is both filling and cost-efficient! A cup of cooked rice, for instance, can cost as little as $0.12. Simply top the rice with protein such as tofu, chicken, or beef. For vegetables, I recommend something simple like frozen peas or edamame.
Fruits that pair well with rice include sliced mango, melon, and papaya!
4. Homemade lunchable (cracker stackable) – $0.90 per serving.
Similar to toothpick kebabs, Lunchables are popular among kids because they give kids an opportunity to “make” their meals. While store-bought Lunchables cost $2.99 per box, you can make your own for less than $1.
Fill a lunchbox with 12-16 crackers. You can use saltines, Ritz, or wheat thins, depending on your kid’s tastes. For filler, you can use deli meat and cheese. Sliced red pepper goes incredibly well with this lunch, though you can also use cherry tomatoes or celery.
The important part is to avoid making the stackables for your kids. Instead, leave the ingredients packed separately so your kid can put everything together at school. Fun and tasty!
5. Breakfast for lunch kabobs – $0.60 per serving.
We all know that breakfast is great for dinner, so why not lunch as well? You can get a dozen eggs for approximately $2 a carton, meaning that each egg you include will cost less than $0.17.
You can pack a traditional breakfast such as scrambled eggs and sausage (or bacon) with a side of veggies (avocado or cherry tomatoes).
But if you want to make breakfast for lunch a little more fun, feel free to cut the egg and meat into pieces to make breakfast kabobs. Again, simply use toothpicks and alternate between the egg and breakfast meat. Top it off with the veggie for a tasty treat!
6. Quesadilla and side – $0.90 per serving.
Take a large tortilla, fill it with cheese, and cook it on the stovetop! Slice it into pieces for easy eating. I recommend waiting until the quesadilla cools before packing it. This way, it won’t get soggy from all the condensation.
Sides that pair well with this include rice and beans. If you want to add veggies, good pairings include avocado, red bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Your call!
7. Egg salad/egg salad sandwich – $0.50 per serving.
Again, when you consider that eggs cost approximately $0.17 each, any lunch including egg is a great deal! After boiling eggs, make egg salad using your favorite recipe. This can be served as is (with a side of crackers for dipping) or as the filling of a sandwich.
This packed lunch is not only tasty, but filled with protein, which is great for growing kids! Include a fresh fruit such as an apple or bag of strawberries for dessert.
8. Homemade mini pizzas – $0.90 per serving.
The most expensive part of this meal is going to be the English muffin, though you can also use a bagel, pita, or whatever bread you have at home! Whatever you choose as the base, top it with red sauce, cheese, and any topping of your choice. Put it in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden.
Kids tend to love the English muffin pizza, though, because they get 2 pizzas in 1 serving! For something healthy, include a side of vegetable or a fruit for dessert.
9. PB & J sandwich – $0.44 per serving.
Yes, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is cliche – but it’s a classic for a reason! It’s easy to make, a good source of protein, and is extremely cost-effective. In fact, it’s considered one of the most economical sandwiches ever. Pairs well with apple, carrots, and celery.
10. Leftovers – “FREE.”
The next time you go out to eat, make sure to save leftovers and to bring them home! They make for great lunches. You’ll also know that your kid will love it, since it’s what they ordered at the restaurant.
Of course, leftovers don’t just apply to eating out. If you make a big pot of chili for dinner, why not use that for the next day’s packed lunch? You can make it seem “different” by changing the crackers or bread (for dipping) or swapping out the cheese you put on top. To avoid “meal fatigue,” try to alternate leftovers every other day so that you’re not serving the exact same thing for lunch every day.
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These are just ten of MANY fun, affordable, and creative ways to pack a kid’s lunch for school.
Do you have any favorite recipes or ideas?
Please leave your tips in the comments below.
Fellow parents will appreciate whatever insights you have to share!