Packing food for school lunches can be confusing with all the options available. I want to show you how easy it can be to send your kids to school with healthy and nourishing lunches on a budget.
Budget Friendly Tips For Packing School Lunches
With all the options available, from stainless steel to plastic containers, which ones are best and more cost effective?
The answer is simple, whatever works best for your budget right now. You should never feel pressured to spend more than you can afford on school lunch containers. Sure, social media has made is seem like we are a bad mom if we package our child’s food in plastic, but honestly we shouldn’t feel this way. Sure, I can get behind that less plastic packaging is best, but sometimes we get carried away with the shaming, embarrassing comments, and criticism.
Here’s the deal. You are a great mom! Whatever container you decide to pack your child’s lunch in is absolutely okay! For me personally, I LOVE stainless steel and glass containers, but NOT for school lunches. Let me explain.
When I pack food for school lunches, I have a few things to consider. 1) Is there a chance my child could lose their lunch box? 2) Could they throw away their reusable lunch containers? 3) How much do I want to spend on school lunch supplies?
My favorite lunch box style is known by some as the “cold pack.” It’s a more rectangular style, which can be purchased with a shoulder strap. These are so nice for my kiddos and they love throwing them over their shoulder and walking to the cafeteria. I love that I can fit in a rectangular size container with plenty of room for other food items, including something to drink.
For me personally, I purchase my kiddos backpacks and lunch boxes from Pottery Barn every 3 years. So far we have never had a lost lunch box. I do write their name and my phone number inside the lunch box in case that were to ever happen, or another child and mine swap lunch boxes by mistake.
I highly suggest checking out Potty Barn’s website near the end of the school year, or after school has begun to get some pretty good deals on backpacks and lunch boxes. They DO go on sale for very cheap, so keep a look out! The quality though is just so good, and they really do last a very long time! I have never had a zipper break, fabric rip, or anything. They always hold up so well. The cheapest I have seen their lunch boxes go on sale for was $10!!! That’s an incredible price!
Lunch Containers For Kids
Like I said above, stainless steel is my first best option, but not for school lunches. Planet box has great stainless steel containers, but they are pricey! Also, as my children have gotten older they have expressed that they think those lunch boxes look babyish. I wrestled with the idea of purchasing these containers for a very long time, but I’m so happy I saved my money and went with a cheaper option. Though they are nice, they have several compartments, which are not necessary for school lunches.
School Food Lunch Containers
I really like these Rubbermaid TakeAlongs and they fit perfectly in the rectangular lunch boxes. With the little divider I can easily pack a sandwich with a side. I will often times put a dry side like popcorn or a homemade trail mix there. Nothing wet or it might leak onto the sandwich. If you want to add fruit there, just put a small piece of paper towel underneath the fruit and it should catch any liquid.
These containers can also be purchased at Dollar Tree! During my last visit I got a few pictures of these very high quality containers. Dollar Tree carries Rubbermaid and the containers are very nice for school lunches.
Reusable Sandwich and Snack Bags
Lets talk sandwich bags. I love using reusable sandwich bags for a multiple of reasons. On days when I don’t want to use the Rubbermaid containers, I like to grab a sandwich bag for easy storage of sandwiches and a snack. That’s why I turned to Target for these awesome reusable bags.
Why reusable sandwich bags? It’s a personal conviction of mine to waste less plastic. In years past I have reflected on how many plastic sandwich bags I have used (thousands) and I’m ashamed at how they cause unimaginable problems for our environment. For me personally, I decided to make the switch to reusable and I am very confident with my decision. This is a personal choice, and I highly suggest pondering it yourself and drawing your own conclusion.
I am sold on Stasher bags. They are high quality but pricey storage bags and great for kitchen use (I have a nice sized collection of these and love them), but I will not send them to school with my kids. It’s just a thing, but a very expensive one and I don’t want to put added pressure on my kids when I can easily avoid that situation. This is why I have decided to purchase the cheaper option. If they get torn or break, or even thrown away, it will be okay.
Veggies or Fruit and Dip
Snack and dip containers are my kids favorite! We use these weekly to pack fruit or veggies with dip. I highly suggest trying my Peanut Butter and Cinnamon Hummus or my Simple Hummus Recipe for a more savory flavor!
You can purchase these containers on Amazon, but I found a set of 4 at TJ Maxx a few years ago for $2.99 each. It might be a scavenger hunt to find, but well worth looking for.
I can’t move on without talking about these Sistema brand split storage containers. These are a popular container we use for making homemade lunchables. I put crackers on one side, and sliced vegan cheese on the other side. My kids love this lunch and these containers work perfectly! To find them at their cheapest price, head over to Ross, TJ Maxx, or Homegoods.
Thermos For Hot Food
Lets talk hot food for school lunches. During the fall and winter months I send a lot of hot foods with my kids. They love a cheezy macaroni, soups, taco pasta, spaghetti, rice and beans, etc. I have never had a child complain about sending hot food in their lunches. Though I have had a child come home telling me their classmates called her lunch dog food… She wasn’t even upset about it, but found it funny. I remember it was taco pasta, and she said it tasted amazing and those kids were missing out. LOL.
Stainless Steel Water Bottles
It’s important in this heat to make sure your child has a cold water bottle for lunch time. I love the ThermoFlask brand. We have bought different brand water bottles in the past, but these are my favorite. Even better, you can purchase this 2 pack at Costco for around $14.99 (prices may very at each store). My kids love these and they fit nicely in their lunch box. In the winter, I will send warm flavored tea in my kids lunches. They love when I send warm or iced tea in their lunches! It gives them a little flavor without adding sugar to their meal.
Let me just add, these lunch water bottles are not the same water bottles used in class. My kids have a separate stainless steel water bottle for class, then they take these 16oz water bottles to lunch. This ensures that my kids have plenty of water throughout their day at school. Remember, most kids are at school for about 6 hours or more, so make sure they have plenty of water.
Budget For School Lunch Supplies
All of us are going to have a different budget when purchasing lunch supplies. I just want to recommend taking it slow and building your supply cabinet. There is no need to pressure yourself into thinking you need to buy everything now. Look at your finances and be modest with your school supplies budget. This is a very costly time of year, so be intentional with their purchases. I think a great starting off budget is $25-$40. I personally have 4 kids, so my budget would definitely be higher. However, see how much you can get for that price range.
What I would NEVER purchase would be food picks to decorate school lunches. This is a total waste of money and totally unnecessary. Unless you purchase stickers from Dollar Tree, I would not purchase expensive stickers on Amazon for lunch boxes. Again, waste of money. And finally, I would not purchase expensive note cards for school lunches. Dollar Tree has great options, or just write a simple message on a napkin or paper towel.
What Should Be Included In A School Lunch
Also, parents tend to over pack food for school, and it’s not necessary. Keep lunch simple. I will often go to the school during lunchtime and help open bags or containers for the younger kids. I always like to see what other kids bring in their school lunches. There is no shaming here, but I can’t believe how much sugar and empty calories some of these kiddos are eating. I ask very directed questions towards my kids about their lunches, and how they feel about what other kids have. It’s something I want to talk freely about without them feeling bad. I also talk a lot about health and nutrient dense foods that help keep them full during the day.
The most popular store bought lunch I see frequently from other kids are:
- Uncrustables or Lunchable
- Snack pack of Oreos or Chips Ahoy
- Capri Sun
This style of lunch is definitely convenient, but high in sugar and zero nutrients. We want to fuel our kids during school, so they don’t crash and get sleepy during the last few hours of learning.
Here’s what to pack in school lunches:
- The main event: sandwich, deconstructed nachos, homemade lunchable, pasta, wraps or burritos
- Something crunchy: popcorn, pretzels, crackers, blue corn chips
- Fruit or veggies
- Treat (not everyday, but for sure on Fridays)
- Water or Tea
A few weeks before school starts I will practice with my kids on eating a fast school style lunch. Kids only get about 20 minutes to eat their lunch, so do your best to not over pack their lunches and encourage your child to bring any leftovers home so you can see what they are not eating. For more ideas, check out this post below.
School Lunch Ideas
Lastly, lets talk about snack time. 2 of my 4 kids like to take a snack to school. Often I will send all 4 of them with a snack, but they are not required to eat it. This is the one time I let go of my grip on using reusable containers. Think about your child taking a snack onto the playground and you sending it in a reusable bag or container. Now your child is stuck holding it all throughout recess or they might set it down and forget about it.
For snack time, I will often make my kids a granola bar or put together a simple trail mix of nuts, popcorn, and raisins. I will package these snacks in a paper bag and let them throw it away so they can continue playing without carrying something around with them. Another great solution is taking a piece of parchment paper and folding the snack up and sealing it with a piece of tape. Write a small message on the front or just say SNACK. This is a much better solution than using a plastic bag.
School Snack Ideas:
- Granola Bar
- Snack Bars
- Trail Mix (grain, nuts, dried fruit)
- Nourishing cookies
- half an apple with a piece of cheese
- graham cracker sandwich filled with chocolate hummus
After they year we’ve all had, it’s nice to be able to pack our child’s lunches and send them off to a normal-ish school year. My kids are very excited to reconnect with friends and to be able to see their teachers in person. Oh what a wonderful time I pray this school year will be.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy:
- Oatmeal Muffins Recipe Collection
- Simple Boiled Apples
- Freezer Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches For Kids
- 4-Ingredient Breakfast Bars
I love that you have created a space with so much information about packing school lunches along with different items to use!! Oldest starts K this year, and this is so helpful! Thank you!