Take it from us, making a lunch they’ll actually be excited to eat need not break the bank.
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If you couldn’t already tell by the quickly passing summer holidays and somewhat ominous backpack-filled ads everywhere, back-to-school season is rapidly approaching. And along with shopping sprees to pick out cool new looks and tackling seemingly endless supply checklists, it’s also time to start thinking about what kind of lunches you’ll be packing this year.

While every lunch would ideally be the trifecta of tasty, nutritional, and cool enough to show off in the lunchroom, making sure those lunches don’t drive your grocery budget sky-high should also be a priority. Use these simple tips to cut costs on the contents of your kids’ lunch bags, while still guaranteeing they’ll be excited to dig into their mid-day meal.

Get In a DIY mindset

Though buying all of your lunchbox snacks pre-made from the store is appealing in terms of trimming down lunch prep time, making your own snacks will save you big bucks in the long run. Rather than spending a huge chunk of your budget on individually packaged snacks and treats, designate one evening per week to prepping big batches of lunch sides to dole out throughout the week.

Homemade Applesauce, and Chocolate Pudding packaged in individual-sized Tupperwares, you’ll save some serious coin and be well prepared to tackle the week ahead. Homemade Cheddar Cheese Snack Crackers and Nuts and Bolts Trail Mix are also great snacks to stock up on for the near future. You can even save by slicing up your own fruits and veggies instead of buying pre-sliced carrots, celery, apples, and the like.

Buy In Bulk

For the more hectic, jam-packed weeks when making your own snacks is totally out of the question, try your best to keep a stock of non-perishable snacks bought in bulk and at the lowest price possible. Rather than purchasing a 10-pack of snacks at a time, buying in bulk will save you big bucks in the end—especially given that many non-perishables will stay good throughout the majority of the school year. Wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, as well as larger-quantity products on Amazon, are your best bets for stocking up while keeping costs low.

When building up your surplus of snacks, be sure to keep an eye out for the best deals so you can strike while the bargains are hot. Check out these awesome coupon apps that can help find the best deal possible when you need it.

Think Recyclable

Rather than paper sacks and Ziploc sandwich bags that end up tossed in the trash each afternoon, opt for 100 percent recyclable and reusable plastic packaging for all aspects of your kids’ lunch. Not only will this be good for the environment, but also great for your budget in the long run.

Rather than shelling out the money for pre-packaged Lunchables, stock up on kid-friendly bento boxes and make your own compartmentalized lunch boxes with crackers, cheese, deli meat, chopped fruit, and more. For some extra “cool parent” brownie points, pack your reusable containers in style with one of these hip lunch boxes (which are so cool you’ll probably want to snag one for yourself).

Be Strategic With Your Food Choices

If your kid is prone to getting distracted at lunchtime and not finishing half of what you’ve packed for them, that can mean plenty of food—and grocery money—down the drain every week. In this case, it will benefit your wallet and your kids’ dietary needs to think strategically about the meals and snacks you pack for them.

Stick to more calorie and nutrient-dense items like hard boiled eggs, full-fat yogurt, cubed cheese, peanut butter, or hummus and pretzels, which will fill your kid up faster with a smaller serving of food. These higher-calorie and fat-rich foods will mean less food waste, and therefore, less money thrown away each day.

In the case that your kid’s school doesn’t allow nut butters due to allergy hazards, a great alternative is sunflower seed butter, which offers a similar taste and nutritional benefit with none of the dangers of a nut-filled spread.

Get Friendly With Leftovers

There’s no reason your leftovers from last night’s dinner or this weekend’s pizza party can’t be repurposed into a delicious and filling lunch for the little ones. Invest in some lunchbox-friendly packaging like mason jars and a thermos, which will be perfect for sending along some of yesterday’s salador a reheated soup or stew, which should stay warm until lunchtime in an insulated package.

Thermoses are also a great way to pack tons of vegetables and fruits into your kids’ lunch routines. Freeze any overripe fruit that is nearing its expiration date overnight the night before and blend up a smoothie in the morning with honey (or another natural sweetener), yogurt, and some greens. Pack this in a thermos and it should stay cool through lunchtime for a creamy, fruity treat that’s way healthier than syrupy-sweet boxed juices.

If you think your kid might be hesitant to take last night’s dinner to school as is, turn repurposing your leftovers into a fun cooking show-style game before bed time, with each family member competing to see who can make the best reinvented lunch out of your dinner leftovers and whatever you have in the fridge. Obviously, the winner gets an additional special treat in their lunch bag the next day.

For more easy lunch ideas your kid will love, check out our complete back-to-school recipe guide to help you get a jump on a new academic year.