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19 April 2022

Budget Friendly School Packed Lunch Ideas

If you live in England or Wales and have a primary-aged school child, you will have likely considered buying school meals instead of sending your child to school with packed lunches. School lunches are free for children in Reception through to Year 2 as well as families on low incomes, but not everyone is eligible and not all children want to eat the lunches school provides. If you aren't eligible for free school meals you can end up paying from £2 to £5 a day.  That means that school meals cost up to £25 a week per child.  If you’re on a tight budget, a single parent budgeting their weekly costs, or you are simply looking for ways to save money in your everyday life, keep reading. 

a school lunch box with an apple on top illustrating budget friendly school packed lunch ideas. Stock image used from Canva
Suggestions of budget friendly school packed lunch ideas

Taking packed lunches into school can actually cost you more than paying for school lunches if you aren't careful. These budget friendly school packed lunch ideas will save you money, but also ensure your children are getting healthy, balanced lunches whilst at school. Packed lunches allow you to be in control of what your child is eating, and you’re able to see what comes home at the end of the day untouched. Whilst school meals are balanced and healthy, for the most part, it’s difficult as a parent to know how much of the food is being eaten, what foods are avoided, and even whether your children are making the most out of the lunches being provided. 

Remember food that isn't eaten is costly so have a conversation about the foods your child likes and if something keeps coming home uneaten or with lots of leftovers make sure you make adjustments so there is less food waste. Include the packed lunches as part of your weekly meal planning process (read this post to find out how to get started with meal planning).

Examples of budget friendly school packed lunch ideas that are healthy and balanced

1 Ditch the crisps and opt for popcorn instead

The first budget friendly school packed lunch idea centres around the nation’s favourite snack: crisps. Crisps, especially branded packets, can certainly contribute to your weekly shopping bill. Instead of heading to the crisps and snack aisle during your next grocery shop, head to the world foods section and look out for the packets of popcorn kernels. Un-popped kernels can be purchased for around 90p in supermarkets. One pack of popcorn goes a long way and can be prepared any way you like; all you need is a pan with a lid and some small reusable containers to 'pop' into your children’s lunch boxes.

2 Make your own budget friendly smoothies and yoghurts

This is a really cheap way to make sure your children still have one of their favourite lunch items, but without the price tag and plastic wastage. To make your own yoghurts, look out for big value tubs of plain yoghurt and combine with frozen fruit, or over ripe fruit from the fruit bowl. Once it’s been well stirred, you can easily store it in the fridge or freezer in small reusable pots, or consider using reusable yoghurt and smoothie pouches. Not only is this a brilliant budget friendly school packed lunch idea, but it also cuts food waste down by allowing you to use up fruit that you may otherwise throw away.

3 Dip your own rice cakes in chocolate to save money

Have you noticed the price mark up between plain rice cakes and chocolate dipped rice cakes? These snacks are one of my kid’s favourites, and they’re great to keep them going at break time. If your kids are like mine, save yourself a fortune by bulk buying plain rice cakes and dipping them in chocolate yourself. The same can be done with other snacks, such as pretzels and bread sticks. All you need to do is pick up a bar of cheap chocolate from the supermarket, melt it and dip your savoury snack in - you can even add sprinkles! As far as budget friendly school packed lunch ideas go, this is one of our favourites, but make sure your school is happy for you to have chocolate in your lunch boxes.

4 Build your own Lunchables

Lunchables are really popular with children, but there isn't a lot in each packet and they aren't cheap. Their success is due to the ease and convenience of the packaging, but also down to how much children love to assert their independence. Building their own lunch? That’s pretty cool. But you can still give them that sense of independence, for a fraction of the cost, by creating your own “fakeables” - Fake Lunchables. 

Cream crackers are the cheapest supermarket option, coming in at around 50p per packet or less. That being said, there are plenty of exciting flavours available on the market for less than £1, including cheese thins, sea salt crackers, and even rosemary crackers. Once you have your crackers, finish off this budget friendly school packed lunch idea by taking a piece of ham or two and cutting them into quarters. Finally, resist the temptation to purchase cheese slices, and instead pick up a supermarket's own pack of cheddar cheese and cut a few slices off. There you go, one Lunchable for your children to build, but without the big price tag.

5. Breakfast for lunch?

My children love to eat cereal and while many varieties are high in sugar there are plenty that are tasty and nutritious. If your child finds sandwiches boring then why not put in a Tupperware bowl of cereal and a flask of milk? Cereal is fortified and filling making it nutritious and good for keeping hunger at bay. If you buy supermarket own brand dupes of popular cereals they are great value too.

Do you have any other budget friendly school packed lunch ideas?

These are just a few examples of swaps that can be done to make budget friendly school packed lunches. Have you got a clever budget priced packed lunch swap that you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below, you may find you help someone out! 

Remember that many schools have guidelines about what can go in packed lunches and you shouldn't include any nut products because nut allergies are very common in school.

Budget friendly school packed lunch ideas
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