Try these school lunch money saver tips! Reusable plastic divided containers cut lunch prep time in half and you don’t need flimsy sandwich baggies. This method also takes the guesswork out of lunch portion sizes. I seriously feel like an Iron Chef with 20 seconds on the clock when I’m slinging food into these babies. An Iron Chef has NO time for sandwich baggies. “For the LOVE! Why won’t this baggie close!” You know you’ve been there.
This is obviously not a new idea, but I love this so much, I must share. Our son is in 1st grade and we save money by packing his lunch EVERY day. Our daughter is in preschool part-time and also takes her lunch in these. We have 2 kids, so we have 2 containers ($5.14 at Walmart.com for a set of 2). There’s no need to buy more than you will use on a single day if you wash them daily.
What Reusable Lunch Containers are Best?
There are lots of more expensive items you can purchase, but we use the Ziploc brand divided containers that come in a set of 2 for less than $5.50. They are SO cheap. Some question the durability of this cheaper option, but I can honestly tell you that we have used these 2 containers all school year (August-May), have washed daily in the dishwasher (top rack), and they still work perfectly. They do not leak and the lids have not warped. I have been surprised by this too, considering how much we wash them in the dishwasher. I can honestly say our experience has been perfect with these and we’ll continue to use this set until they obliterate. You will want a rectangular lunch box (as pictured above) for these containers. They are wide, but thin enough to fit an ice pack underneath inside the lunchbox.
Lunch Menu on the Cheap
We vary the lunch menu a bit, but stick to basics to save money:
- meat item: deli meat roll ups, meat/cheese/crackers, deli meat & cheese sandwich, PB&J)
- fruit/veggie: our kids like strawberries, bananas, Craisins, carrot sticks (buy raw carrots, skin/cut yourself), applesauce (off-brand applesauce cups fit perfect in these containers), and apples (pre-cut, held together with a rubber band)
- small dessert
- Water (our kids take reusable water bottles). Tink got a special drink surprise in this pic, which she told me later was gross. Fail! Good thing we don’t buy those on a regular basis anyway. I imagine worm guts floating in there since you can’t see what’s in these mystery drink pouches. Yum!
We grocery shop on Monday and use the week’s ingredients until they are gone. We plan EVERY SINGLE MEAL (ugh!) and don’t buy a million lunch menu options each week. We keep it simple and cheap, which means our kids usually get almost the same lunch every day of that week…and they don’t seem to mind! If you alternate one little thing, they think it’s a whole new lunch. Kids, aren’t they cute and totally clueless. When I first became a full-time mom a year ago, I tried putting extra effort into lunches and doing special things to make them super special. That lasted about 1 month. My promise to myself…I will not make cheese look like an owl face. It’s cheese. My kids have 20 minutes or less to scarf down food at school, so they don’t care if their food resembles cartoon characters. This saved me from wasting a year of my life making cartoon sandwiches.
- This works for adult work lunches too! Whether it’s your lunch or your kid’s, prepare the night before and store in the fridge. Throw in an ice pack before you leave the house.
- Use the container lid to prepare your sandwich. I put the base in the lunchbox and fill with chips, etc… Then I lay the lid upside down on the counter to prep sandwiches. It’s wide enough to lay 2 sandwich slices down side by side and layer them with goods. I seriously cut the sandwich using the lid as a cheapskate cutting board (I’m extra careful not to cut through the plastic though). As I said, they still work perfectly despite this abuse. This saves you from dirtying/washing another plate to actually prep the sandwiches.
- After school or work, empty out the used containers immediately and wash/throw in the dishwasher. This ensures they’re clean later when you’re ready to make tomorrow’s lunch! Make this your new 7 second daily habit.
If you’re the parent that sends lunchables to school or loads up the cafeteria lunch credits …I totally get it. Making lunches is so annoying. Try this with some simple lunch foods and give your wallet a vacation!