Packing Lunches On A Budget

Because of the economy, some people are finding themselves on a tighter budget than they’ve ever been on.  Some of us have been on a tight budget for a while and might just need some fresh ideas.  So let’s share ideas for packing lunches on a budget.

I have decided that we don’t have much room in our budget to pay for convenience.  That means, if the food is already divided into individual portions, it’s probably not in my budget.

Little prepackaged bags of chips or crackers, gogurts or tiny bowls of yogurt, pudding cups, cups of fruit or applesauce — all of these have become rare treats around here.  They cost more and they are less environmentally-friendly.

Instead, I buy a big bag of chips or a box of snack crackers and the kids can put them in a baggie or small plastic container when they pack their lunches.  I buy boxes of pudding and make it myself, then I put it into those little round Gladware containers.  I buy a big container of low-fat yogurt and divide it up in those little containers too.  The kids can choose pudding or yogurt for dessert from the Lunch List and grab one from the fridge.  The perfect little serving size.

The inventor of Gladware containers should get some sort of award.

gladware I do the same thing with applesauce and fruit salad.  We buy the big jars or cans and then divide it up into individual portions in the Gladware bowls.

Last year, one of my sons would forget these little containers (and the residual applesauce all on the inside) in the bottom of his locker.  He had his own little science experiment growing in his locker.  This year, if they don’t bring their containers home one day, they don’t get to take anything in a container the next day.  Because my little apples didn’t fall far from the tree, they love pudding and they don’t want to miss a day of dessert.  They bring home their containers for me to wash and re-use.

Juice boxes are another convenience that doesn’t often fit into our budget.  Instead, I bought insulated water bottles or thermoses for my children.  They can fill these with water or juice or lemonade each morning.  It’s much cheaper and also makes less trash.

My kids got boring solid-color aluminum bottles, but some stores sell water bottles with fun designs, like these —


I also save money by making my own granola bars.  Most granola bars you can buy are expensive when you consider the price per bar.  They also have a lot of preservatives and artificial colors and other stuff that I’ve decided to cut back on for my kids.  (Unless they are organic granola bars, and then they are even more expensive!)  So I make my own, cut them into squares, wrap them in plastic wrap, and keep them in the fridge.  You can find a lot of tasty granola bar recipes online — or maybe some of you want to share a recipe you have in this comment section.


So that’s how I’m packing lunches on a budget — I don’t pay for convenience.

How about you?  Do you have any tips for packing lunches for less?  Please share them with us.


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8 responses to “Packing Lunches On A Budget

  1. G-mama

    I am so glad that God chose you for our family. You are so clever. This post helps to remind me of how I can stretch our dollars. Since all the kids left, we tend to buy for convenience. Thanks.

  2. I actually have started doing the same things for snacks at our house (although I’m really liking the idea of the gladware containers with yogurt, applesauce, pudding, etc.–I think that will start getting implemented for the boys’ food section of our fridge so they can have more food options!). Unfortunately, the boxed kinds of puddings still have those words I cannot pronounce in them, and sometimes the artificial colors and/or flavors, so David likes to help me make chocolate or vanilla blancmange for a substitute.

    Homemade granola bars are the BEST (in my opinion, of course). 🙂 Here is the recipe I use for those–I got it from Shannon who got it from the Miserly Meals cookbook.

    2 c. old fashioned rolled oats
    1 c. whole wheat flour
    1 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
    1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. salt
    1/2 tsp. vanilla
    1/2 tsp. almond extract**(my addition, you can use all vanilla)
    1/2 c. honey
    **1-2 Tbsp. cold water (another addition I do when the mixture seems too dry–we like our granola bars chewy around here!)
    1/2 c. peanut butter chips
    1/2 c. chocolate chips (or all chocolate chips, if you prefer)

    Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix. Add vanilla and honey. Mix well. You may need to use your hands to get the honey completely mixed in. Line a 9×13′ pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Press mixture evenly into pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. After cooling 30 minutes, remove bars from pan by lifting out with foil. Cool completely before cutting.

    Blancmange (from my Fannie Farmer cookbook)

    3 Tbsp. cornstarch
    4 Tbsp. sugar
    1/8 tsp. salt
    2 c. milk
    1 tsp. vanilla

    Mix cornstarch, sugar and salt with 1/4 c. milk. Heat the remaining milk, then slowly add it to the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly, in a heavy-bottomed pan over moderately low heat or in a double boiler over simmering water. Continue to cook for about 15 minutes so that the raw taste of the cornstarch disappears. Let cool, then add the vanilla. Cover and chill.

    **Chocolate version – When you heat the milk, add 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate and stir until smooth.

  3. Crystal, thanks.

    Good point about the boxed pudding. There are a lot of things in there that are un-pronounce-able. And I hadn’t even noticed the red dye on the label of the chocolate pudding until you mentioned that. Red dye and my Silas’ Tourette Syndrome do not mix well, so we’re trying to avoid that for him.

    I’ve been looking online & I’ve found a couple diabetic pudding recipes that I can make for my husband or that I can make with regular sugar for my kids.

    Moving away from stuff with “fake ingredients” is a process. 🙂

  4. Shannon

    Talk about cheap…I have asked my kids this year not to throw away the snack size ziplocs I pack in the lunches. They rolled their eyes about that.

    I also buy blocks of cheese and cut it into strips for their lunches. They love cheese sticks, but the cost is outrageous.

    My big splurge are fruit strips. Neither of my kids consistently eats the fruit I send to school, but they will always eat fruit strips – the only kind they like are the Archer Farms brand you get at Target (Raspberry only, please). They are organic and 100% fruit. I stock up when they go on sale for $2 to $2.50 for a box of 10 (so not too expensive as fruit strips go).

    Miss you, Jenn.

  5. Shannon

    Oh, and I do make granola bars using the recipe Crystal gave you. I like to add finely grated unsweetened coconut and finely ground almonds. I also add mini chocolate chips and sometimes either peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips. Bryan says they are better than what you can buy at the store (but he could just be trying to score…).

  6. Shannon, I remember saving baggies and brown paper bags when I was in school and my mom wanted to save money. Nowadays, we’d be very green and cool. Then, I just felt embarrassed and poor. 🙂

    Cutting blocks of cheese into sticks is a great idea. We do that at home, but I do often splurge on string cheese for the kids because Silas will actually eat that. I bet he’d eat chunks I cut, though, so I’ll do that next time.

  7. Lucinda

    Would you believe that my kids are wanting to save their baggies to bring home. They say that they want to show me they finished their lunch. You have given me some great ideas for lunches. Another thing that I struggle with is snack time. Two of my kids have snacks at school and I am already short on ideas. Any more thoughts?

  8. Snack ideas —

    granola bars
    cheese stick or cubes
    mini bagel
    baggie of snack mix or gorp
    dried fruit
    peanut butter graham crackers
    baggie of frosted mini-wheats (my kids love the strawberry kind dry) or other dry cereal
    baked oatmeal bar

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