5 Easy Meal Prep Tips to Save Money on School Lunches

Skip the hassle with school lunches and use these meal prep ideas to save you time and money on school lunches.

It's back-to-school season, which means you have to start thinking about what to pack for your kid's lunch again. While yes, it's yet another thing on the seemingly endless to-do list, pre-packing your child's lunch at home can be a win-win: "School lunch meal prep is a great way to save money, and also a way for parents to encourage healthy eating outside the home," says Lorie Anderson, owner of the parenting blog Mom Informed. There are many easy lunch recipes that you can try at home without going over budget—or spending a ton of time on it.

Set aside a day to prep meals in advance so you don't have to think about it every day. Plus, not only is lunch-packing a money-saver, it can be something you do as a family. Let your kids help assemble the lunches or pack their snack—they'll be more inclined to eat it, says registered dietitian Nadia Charif. Here are tips to meal prep in a way that saves you time (and money) on school lunches.

person preparing healthy foods for meal prep lunch
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Buy ingredients you use often in bulk.

Bulk-buying the ingredients you use often can help you save money and make meal prepping easier. "Buy ingredients that are on sale, or stock up at the end of the week when items are generally sold at lower prices," says Megha Gaedke, mom and founder of keto diet platform, Keto Connect. Getting multiples of items when they're on sale—whether that's pasta, rice, beans, or other ingredients that you use often—can save you money by decreasing your trips to the grocery store. Look for grocery store coupons to help maximize your savings even more.

Cook large portions of meals, and freeze them for later.

Finding time to cook lunches every day can be difficult. Charif suggests cooking large portions of your meals and freezing small portions to pack for lunch. "This will eliminate the need to cook every day, and you can let your children pick their food the night before, giving you time to defrost for the next day," says Charif.

Ali Van Straten, owner of motherhood and lifestyle blog Champagne and Coffee Stains, says she likes to make her own uncrustable sandwiches once a month and freezes them to use for her kid's meals. "I like to DIY popular kids' meals to save money," says Van Straten. She adds that the hack saves her time too, because the sandwiches are ready to go when she needs them.

Try to use the same ingredients each week.

Sticking to the same ingredients is a good way to save money on your groceries so you don't have to shell out for a bunch of different ingredients when prepping for lunch. "That might look like the same type of sandwich for all kids' lunches on week one, the same pasta for all kids week two, etc.," says Kelsey Riley, registered nurse and founder of plant-based food blog, Planted in the Kitchen. This simplifies your grocery list and makes meal prepping easier, too. Switch the menu up every week and choose foods you know your kids will love so they will actually eat their lunch, says Riley.

Save on groceries by buying multipurpose food items that can be used at home and for school. "I purchase and use food for school lunches that I would use at home—such as pancakes, fruit, oatmeal," suggests Sara Lundberg, mom of five under five and owner of budget and lifestyle blog Budget Savvy Diva.

Repurpose leftovers from dinner.

Speaking of food you can use at home—tonight's dinner can always be tomorrow's lunch. Leftovers save you money and time in the kitchen. "Many times I make a little extra of a casserole at dinner knowing it will make an easy-peasy lunch for the next day," says Lundberg.

However, kids can be picky, and may not want to eat the same thing again. If that's the case, try repurposing your leftovers into a different meal for lunch the next day. "When it comes to saving money on school lunches, one of the best ways to stretch your dollar further is to repurpose leftovers," says Siobhan Alvarez-Borland, mom of two and founder of family finance blog, Budget Baby Budget. If you're at a restaurant, bring a reusable container with you to take any leftovers home for tomorrow's lunch, suggests Gaedke. Add a snack from home, and their lunch is ready to go for the next day.

Pack smaller portions to reduce food waste.

Yes, you want your kid to be full after lunch, but don't go overboard stuffing their lunch boxes,—especially if there is a chance they might not eat it all, says Lundberg. Wasted food is wasted money, so try to buy foods that are more likely to lead to an empty lunch box—and pack smaller portions.

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