Best Frugal School Lunch Ideas

Looking for some frugal ideas to send your kids for lunch? Check out the best frugal kids school lunch ideas here.

Packing lunch for the kiddos every day gets to be a tiring task and can easily get expensive if you are buying individually portioned items (especially if you are going for the healthier ones!).  I want to feed my kids healthy food for lunch that they will actually eat, but I also don’t want to break the bank!  To help you in the same quest, I’m sharing our top frugal (and healthy!) kid’s cold lunch ideas.

What does the average school lunch cost?

According to schoolnurition.org, here are the average prices for kid’s lunches:

LunchBreakfast
High School$2.74$1.55
Middle School$2.68$1.53
Elementary School$2.48$1.46

I know this doesn’t seem like a lot, but it sure adds up – especially if you have several kids!

How to Make School Lunch: How We Pack

Most of the time our kids take their lunch to school.  This year we have a Kindergartener who is super excited to have the option of eating in the cafeteria and has been eating hot lunch a few times, but we still have three other kiddos to pack for.  

We pack the lunches the night before.  Our goal is to have at least one serving of each food group but we don’t always stick to that.  We really strive to put at least one fruit and vegetable option in each day’s lunchbox.  I’d say the dairy or protein is probably the option that gets left out on some days, but we try to be as varied as possible.

So – to help you come up with some ideas for the kids I’ve put together this list.  I’ll share some quick entrees you can prepare as well as frugal options for the other food groups (and some entrees count as more than one food group).  

I’ll also be honest – we don’t really spend much time making lunches for our kids.  We don’t do cute bento boxes even though I would love to.  With four boys under age 9 we just don’t have time!  Plus both hubs and I work full-time and have a side job.  We also don’t cook a lot of things for lunch so making special dishes just for packed lunch is also out.  Convenience, health, and frugality are what we’re after.

Of course, you can buy individual portions of pretzels and such, but you can save quite a bit if you bag them up yourself.  I will set aside time on the weekend to bag a lot of options for the week (fruits, veggies, pretzels, chips, etc) that way they are ready to go during the week when things are more hectic.  Just grab, throw in the lunch box, and go!

What can I give my child for school lunch?

There are so many options when it comes to feeding your kiddos! You have to keep in mind what they will actually eat (most families have at least one picky kiddo in the house!), but this handy list of options should give you plenty of frugal ideas.

Main Entree Options

  1. Of course, sandwiches should be mentioned here, even though I’ve seen a ton of Pinterest posts about non-sandwich lunch ideas.  We only do sandwiches once or twice a month but they are an easy lunch idea. Some parents love homemade uncrustables.
  2. Quesadillas.  We do just cheese in ours and put them in the microwave but this option is super easy and cheap – tortillas and some shredded cheese!  You can also add a couple of dips if you like – maybe some sour cream or salsa (both also part of a cheap meal!)
  3. DIY Lunchables – grab some crackers (can get as cheap or expensive as you like), lunch meat and cheese.  My kids love these and sometimes we do pepperoni for the meat.
  4. Pita pockets.  Fill with salad, meat, leftovers – really anything. 🙂
  5. Wraps.  Again, tortillas (which my kids seem to like better than bread) with fillings.
  6. Chicken nuggets.  Even better if you have them the night before and make extra for the lunch boxes the next day.  I know these are not always healthy but you can get some pretty good ones at the store that don’t cost a whole lot.

Grains

Many of the options above have grains in them, and if I were making one of the options above I would skip this category altogether.  Sometimes, though, we just grab an option from each group and don’t have an official entree.  

  1. Noodles (a kid favorite and super easy on the wallet!)
  2. Pretzels 
  3. Popcorn
  4. Mini muffins (we cook these on Sunday morning for breakfast and use the leftovers in the lunches for a healthy school lunch idea)
  5. Multi-grain chips or Simply Cheetos (really any kind of chip could do here depending upon how healthy you want it to be)
  6. Crackers (again, level of health is up to you)
  7. Oatmeal (sometimes we make this in the morning and keep it in a thermos.  It’s still warm by lunch time).  Could also do overnight oats if your kids like them.
  8. Granola bar, cereal bar, etc.  Any type of bar will do here for an easy lunch (except the ones with nuts if you are a nut-free school like our kids go to!)
  9. Mini bagels (could pack a spread, too)
  10. Cereal.  Every once in a while we do this.  Not really the healthiest but better than a lot of things out there!
  11. Veggie straws or Snap Pea Crisps.  Both of these are big hits at our house and the kids love finding them in their lunch boxes.
  12. Frozen waffle or pancakes (heated up first, obviously 😉
  13. English Muffins 
  14. Mac and Cheese
  15. Pasta salad
  16. Tortilla – we have one kiddo who loves to eat them plain, or you can make them a wrap or cheese quesadillas

Veggies

  1. Carrots.  Always a favorite.
  2. Cucumber Slices or Mini Cukes
  3. Celery (with or without toppings)
  4. Broccoli
  5. Snap Peas
  6. Bell pepper strips (if your kiddos will eat them – only one of ours will!)
  7. Tomatoes (we like to grow cherry tomatoes for this)
  8. Guacamole or salsa
  9. Spinach leaves or salad
  10. We also sometimes do veggie straws or snap pea crisps as their veggie choice
  11. Freeze dried peas.  We started our kids out on these when they were little and they absolutely love them!  You can buy them in a large can from Honeyville or smaller sizes on Amazon. We’ve also done freeze dried green beans with success, too.  A large can goes a long way so for less than $20 for a big can you can make a ton of lunches.

Fruit

  1. Berries (any type)
  2. Apples or apple slices (I tend to only buy apple slices from Sam’s or on sale because they can get expensive)
  3. Grapes (cut if needed)
  4. Oranges
  5. Bananas
  6. Raisins or craisins
  7. Applesauce (we get ours at Sam’s for 22 cents a cup!)
  8. Melon chunks
  9. Fruit cups (we buy these at Aldi)
  10. Mango
  11. Nectarines/peaches/plums
  12. Pineapple
  13. Any fresh fruit (our kids are huge fruit eaters!)

Dairy

  1. Yogurt
  2. Cheese (cheddar cheese, string cheese, cream cheese, you get the idea – also a great snack idea. Heck, our kids will even eat just a cheese slice!)
  3. Cottage cheese

Protein

  1. Lunch meat
  2. Pepperoni
  3. Peanut butter or other nut butter (if allowed) or sunbutter
  4. Hummus (one of our kids goes crazy for this – the others won’t touch it)
  5. Hot dogs (cut, if needed)
  6. Hard boiled egg (huge hit for two of our kids – we also have our own chickens but this is still an affordable option)
  7. Tuna or tuna salad
  8. Grilled Chicken
  9. Meatballs
  10. Leftover bacon (our kids will go absolutely crazy for this!)
  11. Refried beans

Sweet Treat

We don’t always include this so it is a nice surprise to the kids when they find one of these in their lunch box.  We usually will only buy these things when they are on a super sale.

  1. Very small candy bar or dark chocolate
  2. Pudding
  3. Animal crackers
  4. Small cookie
  5. Natural fruit snacks
  6. Mint or other small candy (depending upon child’s age)

Other Items

You can also add things like a dipping sauce, sides like baked beans (these would be great in a thermos) or even coleslaw in your kids’ lunches.

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I hope this list of frugal meal ideas has inspired you and that you enjoy some healthy, frugal lunch ideas. 🙂  Want more frugal living tips?  Check out this list of more than 60!

Amanda

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