When I was registering Bee for school, I was shocked to learn that a school lunch for grades K-5 now costs $1.95 in my area. In addition, we must pay 40 cents a day for afternoon milk.
That’s $2.35 a day for 180 days, or $423 a year.
This is a lot of money, especially for Bee, who is Little Miss Picky. Even when I serve something she actually likes, she still eats like a bird. My husband and I often marvel that she manages to stay alive.
I discussed the school lunch issue with my husband, and we agreed that when we were in school, nobody brought lunch from home. However, we also agreed that on most days, Bee would probably dump the majority of her ridiculously expensive school lunch in the trash, and that kind of waste really bothers us. On the other hand, we naturally don’t want our baby to get picked on for being different. As an experiment, we decided to fork over enough money for a month’s worth of school lunches, to see if Bee would actually eat them.
Each month, the school sends home a lunch menu. Pizza and chicken nuggets were served on the first two days of school, so Bee was content. However, today’s lunch was Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, neither of which she likes. With this in mind, I sat down with Bee on Saturday and went over the lunch menu through the end of August. We found that there are only 5 days when something she likes will be served, so we decided to compromise.
We purchased a lunch bag, a small thermos, and two adorable miniature ice packs, for a total of $16.81. (For those interested in the little Princess ice packs, I got them at Wal-Mart for .97 each).
We decided that each night, I will read off the next day’s school lunch menu, and Bee can decide whether to eat it, or to bring her lunch. Today, she definitely wanted to bring lunch, so I packed half a turkey sandwich on my homemade honey-wheat bread, a small bag of Sun Chips, a half cup of unsweetened applesauce, a piece of oatmeal cake, and a thermos of skim milk.
Not only is this lunch much healthier than the salt and fat-laden fare that the school serves, but I estimate that it cost about 92 cents. If Bee brings her lunch from home half the time, I will save $1.03 a day, or $92.70 a year. I pinned the lunch menu to the bulletin board on my pantry door, and I’ve been keeping track of when Bee eats at school, so I know when to send more money for her lunch account.
If you’re interested in saving money by packing lunches for your kids, here are some ideas for lunches that can be made for a dollar or less. All items are either made from scratch, or purchased as cheaply as possible.
Sandwiches such as turkey, ham, tuna, and peanut butter and jelly cost between 12 and 25 cents.
A cup of Campbell’s chicken noodle or tomato soup in a thermos costs about 15 cents.
Homemade “lunchables,” with Ritz crackers and peanut butter, or sliced deli meat and cheese, cost 35 to 50 cents.
Any of these items can be included for about 15 to 35 cents each:
Veggie sticks or fruit slices
Canned, juice-packed fruit or unsweetened applesauce
Homemade cake, cookies or bars
Homemade chocolate, vanilla, or butterscotch pudding, made with skim milk
Homemade jello with fruit
Single serving bags of chips. (I bought a 6-pack of single serving Sun Chips for $1.66, or 27 cents each. A reader suggested buying a large bag of chips and portioning them out, which would be a cheaper option. I don’t do this because we rarely eat chips, and we wouldn’t finish a whole bag before they went stale).
When packing your child’s lunch, remember to pack heavy items, like the thermos, on the very bottom, so it doesn’t crush the other items. Also, wrap sandwiches tightly with plastic wrap to keep them from getting soggy, or falling apart. (I tried to use a reusable sandwich container, but I couldn’t fit everything in).
Bee was very excited to take her lunch to school today. When I dropped her off this morning, I was very relieved to see that another little girl in her class brought lunch from home as well, so she will have a lunch box buddy.
One less thing for me to worry about today.[print-me/]