Do you want to save money? How about try to get your kids to eat healthier? Many parents have the best intentions, but then don’t have the time to make the best choices. Instead, we grab what is on sale or have our kids buy lunch or opt for takeout when schedules get too crazy between school, homework, sports, music classes, dance lessons, karate, tutoring, not to mention cleaning, laundry, shopping, and the list goes on and on! Making homemade lunches is easier than you think!
In this quick guide to saving time and money making homemade lunches, we’ve put together our A-list of products that can help you save money and time. Before we jump into our recommendations, let’s take a look at the facts behind lunch nutrition and the cost of buying versus making homemade lunches.
The Facts About School Lunch Costs and Nutrition
The average cost of a school lunch can range was $2.34 to $2.60 or roughly $450 per child. This statistic is based on the most recent data from the School Nutrition Association State of School Nutrition Survey.
Due to the recent legislation, there is also a movement to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables. However, most school nutrition programs have not adopted organic offerings because of the cost associated with it. In addition, the USDA, which certifies organic food, does not claim that these products are safer or more nutritious than conventionally grown foods.
Keep in mind that these facts and prices are strictly for school lunches, which abide by nutritional requirements. Now, you can only imagine what costs and nutritional pitfalls may be lurking in your work cafeteria or lunch hour options! Even if you eat at a subsidized corporate cafeteria, you can easily spend triple the average cost of a school lunch….that adds up to $1,350 per year!
Benefits of Packing Lunch
When you pack lunch, you can have more control over the nutrients you and your family are eating. You can choose to eat all organic choices if you wish. You may also save money by bringing lunch from home versus buying lunch at a cafeteria.
Aside from packing healthy lunches for school and work, once you get into the routine of making your own lunches, you can also take them on the road with you when you travel, when you are at those all day sporting events, or if you’re busy running errands and need to eat on the go! The same benefits apply here too! Bringing your meals along save time and can also be much better for your health than grabbing fast food. It may also save time since those drive-thru lines can be pretty long during peak meal times!
If you look at a quick example of making your kids lunch for school, you can see that you will be able to save a little bit of money. If you go entirely organic, it will cost more, but you will still be in control of what you eat and can ensure that you are eating healthy, well-balanced meals that are free of harmful ingredients and additives.
Plus, we are being conservative in using an example of school lunch. If you made this type of lunch to take on a road trip, the amount you’ll save over time will really add up!
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Prep and Package Your Homemade Lunch
The easiest way to save time packing your lunch is to plan out your week in advance and get it done on Sunday night or Monday morning. One big mess and then you don’t have to think about it again for a while. It is also a great way to avoid impulse eating and buying!
One of our favorite money-saving discoveries that we use all the time is food jars. At first, we just bought one for our picky kindergartener that will only eat chicken nuggets and noodles, but we quickly discovered that you can pretty much put everything and anything in these jars from mini tacos to homemade chili! Or you can layer a meal with a protein, grain, and veggies.
Simple Modern Food Jars
We ended up buying a whole set of these Simple Modern Food Jars. The 12-ounce version is great for kids lunch bags and the 16-ounce version is the perfect size for an adult meal or older child with a big appetite!
While there are many different companies that make food jars, we chose this brand for several reasons:
- Food stays hot for at least 4 hours or cold for at least 10 hours.
- Durable double-walled, insulated design that comes in really cute colors!
- Very easy to clean stainless steel container.
- Simple Modern donates 10% of profits to charity and supports corporate volunteerism.
Meal Prep Food Storage
Also, make sure that you buy enough containers so that you can store all of your items easily. For cold items, we recommend this Rubbermaid 60-piece set because it fits nicely for storage, is microwave, freezer, and dishwasher safe, and has over 10,000 positive reviews!
Meal Prep Shortcut
You can multi-task your food processor for quick slicing and chopping! We have a great Cuisinart model, but Amazon has a Hamilton Beach food processor that is practically a steal and will do the trick just as well! While we don’t love how bulky our processor is, we do love that it is dishwasher safe and can slice a whole batch of potatoes in 2 minutes!
Meal Prep Resources
Here are a few resources to help you make the prep and pack process easy:
- Easy lunch ideas that keep it interesting
- Healthy lunch meal prep inspiration
- Veggie packed meals and snacks for day and night
How to Carry Your Homemade Lunch
If you decide to pack lunches, there are a lot of really great options that make it easy to keep it cold! Our favorite line is by PackIt. Here are a few reasons why:
- Designed by a fellow Mom of 3 and is made in the U.S.A.
- Patented cooling system that can keep items cold all day long without ice packs!
- One of the most affordable and durable choices you could make.
- All bags have been tested by independent, third-party labs to meet U.S. and international safety standards.
- They are free of harmful materials such as BPA, PVC, phthalates, and lead.
- Has been featured on The Today Show and Good Morning America.
- Bags fold flat for easy storage.
ThePackIt Freezable Classic Lunch Bag is a foldable, freezable cooler bag that comes in a ton of really fun colors sure to please even your pickiest little student. These bags are the perfect size for packing healthy school lunches. Plus, it has a top rating on Amazon by almost 4,000 purchasers!
For women, the PackIt hobo designer lunch bag offers a fashionable choice. This is one of the roomiest bags to keep food cold all day long.
COOL Tools For The Road
Now that you’ve read all about the benefits of packing lunch, it is time to take a step further! You can save a significant amount of time and money by packing your meals for road trips, picnics, and even those all day sports tournaments! Here are our favorite larger homemade meal coolers:
PackIt Freezable Picnic Tote
This nifty picnic bag is perfect for a family day trip! It is made of the same patented stay cold formula mentioned in the section above. It can hold enough food and drinks for a family of four. For date night, it can also keep a couple bottles of wine cold too! It features a dry compartment for napkins and utensils so that you can save time and money wherever your travels take you!
Coleman X-Treme 5-Day Heavy-Duty Cooler
If you’ll be headed out on a long road trip and want to eat clean, wouldn’t it be great to be able to pack food for several days and not have to worry about it spoiling? If so, check out the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day Heavy-Duty Cooler.
Key features include:
- Great value compared to other long-term stay cold coolers.
- Can keep ice cold for 5 days – with users validating success after 4 days in 80-degree plus weather.
- Large capacity – can hold 100 cans or 70 quarts of food and beverages.
- Made in the U.S.A. by a trusted brand.
- Amazon’s Choice highly rated product with 68% of reviewers giving it a perfect 5 Star Rating.
- Lightweight, easy to clean, and can double as a table or a seat!
Save Time and Money by Making Your Food
Not only will making your own healthy lunches save you money and give you more control over the nutrients you eat, but it will also save you time! I know it may not feel like it when you are out shopping or in the kitchen chopping, but believe me, when you see those long lines at a festival and the insane price they are charging for deep fried chicken fingers, you will definitely be relieved! You’ll have a happier, healthier family too!
These are some very awesome tips! I’ve heard about those food jars and have always wanted to try them. I’m definitely getting my hands on some. Thank you!
Yes! The food jars are awesome. Each member of our family picked out their favorite color so we know which one belongs to which picky little person!
Love packing my little guys lunch, I feel so much better about what he is eating and I love the money saving factor. Thanks for the product suggestions as well!
These are great tips for lunches- Thanks for sharing!
It is great that you have listed different products that can be used to make lunch packing easy. Thanks
Packing lunches vexes me everyday. I really like the tools you have listed on this post. Those Simple Modern Food Jars look like a great way to pack food.
I always struggle with what to make for lunch – I’m not a leftovers for lunch kind of person. I really like the idea of the Simple Modern Food jars – I’ve never heard of those but might seriously consider buying them now!