If you pack your child's lunch for school, or plan on doing so, do you save money over the school lunch program? I know there are other reasons for packing school lunches over using the programs - nutrition or special nutritional needs, for instance, but for the purpose of this blog we're talking money. Actually, how to save it.
What to send
First, think about how your child eats. If he never eats more than half a sandwich, only pack half a sandwich. If he won't eat it, don't send it. Ask him to bring home the portions of uneaten lunch from school instead of throwing them out. That way you can see what he is really eating. Don't waste money in providing things he won't eat.
Making sandwich spread is far cheaper than buying it. A food processor or a blender can be used to chop leftover meat finely, then add cut up pickles, onion, cheese, and mayonnaise or whatever you prefer, and continue to blend/chop until the mixture is very fine. Chicken, ham and beef all make very good sandwich spreads. One leftover chicken drumstick can yield enough meat for two sandwiches this way.
If there's a particular kind of sandwich spread you buy because you like it, look at the ingredients and try to duplicate them. (Some things, like preservatives or hard to find ingredients, can be skipped!)
Don't get stuck on sandwiches. Send crackers and cheese or crackers and peanut butter, boiled eggs, cold fried chicken, slices of ham or roast, olives, peanuts, raw vegetables, muffins or cornbread with baked in hotdog chunks. Keep a notebook or computer list with ideas as they strike you. Combine foods differently. Carrot sticks and crackers combined with a slice of beef roast makes a good and frugal school lunch!
Don't fall for the prepackaged "meals" you find in the store. They're a very poor buy and they are not nutritious. It doesn't take much time to put your own together and you can add real food to them and spend far less.
How to send it
Send soup or leftover main course in a wide-necked thermos to vary the menu. If the meal starts very hot, it will be just right by lunch time. Don't forget the plastic utensils to eat with!
Keep cold lunches cold by using an insulated lunch pack and/or sending drinks frozen. Frozen drinks keep the rest of the lunch cool, but will be thawed (or mostly thawed) by lunchtime. Find or buy a drink container with a snug top - a soft drink or water bottle can be recycled this way. Buy juice or fruit drinks in large containers and refill the bottle each evening and freeze for the next day's lunch. (Leave enough headroom for the liquid to expand!)
It's easier to pack school lunches, or at least the basics, the night before. If leftovers from the evening meal can be used, you won't have to put them away, then get them out again. If you need to change the form (pick the meat from a piece of chicken; add to a salad, etc.), you'll have time to do that.