I started out making homemade lunches for my first-born child for financial reasons. It just seemed cheaper that way than to buy lunch from the cafeteria. Years later, all of my kids still pack their lunch bags every day. They actually prefer it because they don’t have to spend time waiting in a cafeteria line or trying to decide on food they might not like.
A friend of mine agrees with the preference but not with the cost. She says she winds up spending more money when her kids pack a lunch compared to when they buy it at school. I wondered at this. With the recent increase in food prices, she may actually be right, in some cases.
First you have to consider the cost of buying lunch. It varies according to the school district and sometimes even the school. My middle school child would pay more for a standard lunch than would my elementary school children. And, my state actually subsidizes some of the cost for all students, regardless of income. (For those who qualify for free or reduced price lunches, stop right there. Buying lunch at school is going to be the most cost-effective way to feed your kids.)
Still, after doing some calculations, I still find that packing a healthy lunch costs less for my family than having the kids purchase school lunches. I believe it has to do with the following factors:
I stay away from convenience packaging. In fact, I try to eliminate as much packaging as possible. Ever take apart a lunch kit? There isn’t much to it for the price. (Get some school lunch ideas here.)
I buy in bulk and then potion out snacks. It isn’t that hard to add a bunch of grapes or a couple of handfuls of pretzels to a reusable container.
I look for sales and discounts. My “fish-shaped” crackers come from a bakery outlet store, I shop the weekly grocery sales, and I use coupons for lunch ingredients.
I bake at home. Making batches of muffins, scones, rolls, pizza dough, cookies and other selections is easy to do on a weekend morning, and these items freeze well.
I try to stay organized. (Learn how to create a kid-friendly lunch shelf.) Having a plan means I’m more likely to spend less.