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How to Save Money on School Lunches in 10 Steps

preparing school lunches

As a parent, you strive to provide your child with healthy and nutritious meals. However, when it comes to school lunches, it can be difficult to follow through on that promise when you’re in a hurry or on a tight budget. Some children are picky eaters, making it difficult to ensure they receive the carbs and protein they need to excel in school.

Learning how to save money on school lunches is a great way to minimize unnecessary expenses, especially if you’re trying to manage back-to-school spending.

In this guide, we’ll examine everything you need to know about school lunches, including ways you can reduce food-related expenses.

How Much Do School Lunches Cost?

The cost of a typical school lunch varies depending on location, type of school, items selected, and your income level. Prices also vary from state to state.

If you live in Texas, school lunches likely cost between $2.20 and $2.50. States like Hawaii have higher prices, as they charge a median price of $3 for a midday school meal.

However, it is important to consider that there is more involved in the cost of lunch than just the region. Prices can also change depending on labor, poverty rates, and other related costs. The good news is that several states have already enacted universal free school meals, including Colorado, California, and Maine.

While this started as a federal funding solution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, those states listed have decided to make universal free meals permanent.

10 Ways to Save Money on School Lunches

Learning how to save money on school lunches can be completely doable. With a little planning and meal prepping, you can free up your budget and ensure your child has a proper school meal each day.

Here’s how you can get started:

1. Purchase Raw Ingredients

Purchasing raw ingredients, like fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and eggs, typically cost less than buying prepackaged items or ready-made meals. This is especially true when you purchase fruit and vegetables that are in season.

While cooking a meal from scratch might take longer, it’ll be better for your child and wallet. To save time, make lasagna, soups, stews, and chili ahead and freeze them.

2. Buy Frozen Fruit

Frozen produce, particularly fruit, is less expensive than its fresh equivalent. So if a particular fruit is not in season, go with its frozen version. Frozen fruit can last for several months, making it possible for your kids to enjoy a healthy snack every day for weeks at a time.

Frozen fruit is healthy, too. Commercially frozen produce is flash-frozen at low temperatures, so they retain most of their nutrients.

You can pack the frozen fruit into your child’s lunch as is, mix them into a bowl of yogurt, or sprinkle some sugar on top for a cool, sweet dessert.

3. Purchase Food from Discount Stores

Discount stores sell various food items at a lower price than traditional retail outlets. For example, you can often find packaged meals or Lunchables at chains like Dollar Tree or Dollar General for a little over a dollar.

But dollar stores also sell healthy food and other cooking stables as well, such as frozen veggies, canned goods, soups, pasta, and rice.

4. Choose Affordable Proteins

Protein is an important part of a kids’ diet, providing adequate sources of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E.

man grocery shoppingWhile some protein-rich food like beef or chicken can often be expensive, affordable protein options do exist, such as:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Black beans
  • Canned Salmon
  • Ground turkey
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Canned tuna
  • Natural peanut butter

5. Use Reusable Supplies

Cutting down on single-plastic bags can save a surprising amount of money over time.
Parents who switch to reusables save an estimated $2.32 per child per day, resulting from an annual savings of $417.60.

Invest in refillable water bottles and an insulated lunch box.

6. Teach Your Kids to Avoid Food Waste

Teach your kids to save leftovers instead of throwing them away. This can help you manage school lunch expenses while reducing household waste. According to the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the average U.S. household wastes 31.9% of its food.

Ensure your kids get into the habit of bringing home any leftovers in sealed containers, so you can use what they bring you to prepare for the next day’s meals.

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7. Keep Lunch Meals Simple

When minimizing school lunch expenses, don’t assume you have to get creative with your selections. Keep it simple and avoid wasting money on over-costly ingredients or fancy lunch items.

Stick to the basics and:

  • Provide one to two servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Opt for healthy fats such as cheese, avocado, and seeds
  • Add one or two servings of carbohydrates, including crackers, pastas, and bread
  • Include one to two servings of protein from chicken, peanut butter, or turkey

8. Start with Small Portions

If you have a small child, they might get overwhelmed with the portions you give them for school. Start small and work your way up as you learn more about your child’s eating habits.

A simple PB&J sandwich coupled with dried fruit is a great place to start, because although it’s a small amount of food, it will still provide your children with all the nutrition they need, including protein, fiber, and unsaturated fats.

9. Purchase Food and Ingredients in Bulk

Purchasing your items in bulk can save you money and extra trips to the grocery store. Plus, you gain access to better quality options and seasonal food items that are both nutritious and affordable. You can also buy seasonal farm products in bulk when they’re on sale.

One recommendation is to purchase both natural and organic selections in bulk as opposed to buying them as pre-packaged items.

10. Prioritize Meal Planning

Reducing lunch spending is easier when you plan your meals in advance. Examine your pantry and refrigerator ahead of time, and see what you are running low on. You should also keep detailed records of the school meals you intend to make, separating them based on the day.

You should also have a back-to-school budget to examine opportunities for cost savings, including meals. The idea is to develop a concrete strategy that will allow you to cut corners on costs, keep your dishes simple, and leave your kids both satisfied and fulfilled.

Is It Cheaper to Pack Lunch or Buy School Lunch?

Packed lunches are more convenient, but are they a chapter option? The answer varies. As we’ve seen, school lunch prices vary throughout the country, making it difficult to establish a set price. Additionally, some families qualify for reductions in school meals through the National School Lunch Program.

For example, families with incomes between 130 and 180% of the poverty line would qualify for reduced-priced meals. To help you determine whether or not it might be more cost-effective to prepare meals at home, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many children do you have in school?
  • What is your income?
  • Do your children have any dietary restrictions?
  • What are your shopping habits?

With careful planning, you can make a variety of healthy lunches for your children for under a dollar. This lunch budgeting article goes into greater detail, but here are some ideas for lunches that all cost less than $1.

  • Pasta with a side of carrot and apple slices
  • PB&J sandwich with a banana and a side of veggies
  • Pita, hummus, veggies, and grapes
  • Cheese quesadilla with a side of beans, cucumber slices, and a clementine

Get Help with Household Expenses with Power Finance Texas

Learning how to save money on school lunches doesn’t have to be difficult. All it takes is some preparation, smart shopping, and sustainable solutions. If you’re on a tight budget and need emergency cash to cover food or other expenses, Power Finance Texas can help.

We offer installment loans of up to $1,250 so you can cover your most crucial expenses immediately. There are no delays or hidden requirements, and the approval process takes no more than a few minutes.

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