With the new school term in full swing, many parents are thinking about how to keep costs down when it comes to feeding their children during the busy school day.
Although the government has increased spending to provide free meals for the youngest school-age children, families with older children are required to pay for the option of hot school dinners, causing many to send children to school with more cost-effective packed lunches instead.
In light of this, the finance experts at NerdWallet have compiled a useful list of ways parents can save money on packed lunches to coincide with the cost of living increases, whilst ensuring the contents remain healthy, fresh, and nutritious:
Batch cook and freeze
Batch cooking is a great, cost-effective way to ensure children get a nutritious lunch without having to fork out expensive school dinners. Preparing large quantities of healthy meals in advance and freezing the excess ensures you have lunches on hand for the week and saves some money in the long run.
Meals that are great for batch-cooking at the weekend to be used throughout the following week include cold pasta and rice salads, quiche, homemade chicken nuggets, and fish goujons, frittatas, or Spanish omelettes.
If you invest in a food flask, you can even send them in with a hot lunch!
Using leftovers from meals that children enjoy for their lunches throughout the week will help save time and money on additional lunch ingredients. Try bulking out the initial evening meals with extra veggies to make the dish as cost-effective as possible, and portion out lunches in Tupperware for the fridge as you serve up meals to avoid any family members being tempted by the possibility of a second helping.
Make sure to use the leftovers within the next day or two to avoid them going to waste, or freeze them to be used at a later date.
Homemade over shop-bought
Try and make as many meals from scratch at home, in order to avoid over-priced, shop-bought products. For example, making a batch of homemade hummus using a supermarket tin of chickpeas for kids to dip their favourite veggies and breadsticks into is a much more cost-effective way than buying the pre-made supermarket pots. You can also freeze dips to be used at a later date and reduce further waste.
Also, avoid purchasing pre-made and processed snacks or juice cartons and make healthier options at home. Examples of healthy homemade snacks include fruit skewers, oat-based cookies or biscuits, cheese straws, cheese crackers, egg muffins, and banana bread.
Make use of budget stores
Many budget stores such as B&M and Home Bargains are handy for picking up things like reusable lunch containers and water bottles, which are great value for money and ensure your child’s lunch stays fresh and protected. Try and opt for insulated containers that will keep lunches and drinks cool throughout the school day.
Purchase frozen fruit instead of fresh
Frozen fruit is a much more cost-effective way to ensure your child is getting their five-a-day as it will last a lot longer than fresh fruit. Frozen fruit is also a great way to ensure lunches remain cool throughout the day as by the time lunchtime rolls around, their frozen mango, pineapple or strawberries will be ready to go.
Make use of supermarket discounts/sales
Stock up on your child’s favourite snacks when a local supermarket has a deal on them. It helps if the snacks can be frozen to avoid waste and they can be used as a treat every once in a while.
Make it part of your weekly routine to make a lunchtime meal plan with your kids. Getting them involved in what they will be eating at school can be really engaging and useful. You could let them decide which snacks or fruit they want for the week while you choose the main meal, based on what you’re planning to batch-cook that week.