I have a love/hate relationship with packing lunches.
My least favorite part of my morning routine, hands down, is making lunches. Still, I keep making them for husband, my second grader, and first grader.
I love how packing lunches saves us money.
If my husband were to eat out for lunch it would be a minimum of $6 a day (likely more). That would be $30 a week, $120 a month, or just under $1,500 a year. And that’s a very conservative number considering $6 per day is pretty low if you’re looking to get something nourishing.
If my kids were to buy a hot lunch at school it would cost $2.75 each or $5.50 a day for both of them. That’s $27.50 per week or $110 per month. For an entire school year of 180 days it would be nearly $1,000.
Since I don’t buy special prepackaged lunch snacks, the cost to make a homemade lunch is very, very low. Any lunch ingredients are a part of our normal $300 per month grocery budget, which consists of mainly produce and pantry staples.
Packing lunches saves our family somewhere around $2,500. Not too shabby.
But I get really tired of packing lunches.
Packing homemade lunches can be a lot of work, especially if you’re doing it on a rushed morning (and aren’t they all?).
Since we don’t usually buy pre-packaged lunch snacks (unless I find granola bars ultra cheap at Grocery Outlet) and I make our homemade bread for sandwiches (except when I don’t), there is some real preparation involved in getting supplies ready to make lunch.
Here are some ways I’ve minimized the time, effort, and cost required to make good healthy lunches for my family:
Bake in bulk and freeze
At the beginning of the school year, I decided to do a big baking day so I could fill the freezer with homemade lunch snacks that would make packing a lunch a cinch. I have don’t more bulk baking days and really love the results.
Here are some of the lunch snacks I made at the beginning of the school year.
I made about eight loaves of pumpkin bread and banana bread. I wrapped each serving (two half slices) in plastic wrap.
I made several dozen yellow squash muffins. I’ll share the recipe in the summer when we have yellow squash again.
I made a couple of pans of homemade no-bake chewy granola bars. I use a variation of this recipe.
Having lunch snacks in the freezer not only keeps the food fresher for longer, it also keeps them out of sight so they don’t disappear. I might be guilty of that otherwise.
One of my favorite lunch hacks is freezing sandwiches. We have peanut butter and jam sandwiches 99% of the time, which freeze like a dream!
I usually make four loaves of bread at a time. Usually we will eat one loaf right away. Warm bread and butter is a favorite snack for everyone. We will also have a slice with soup for dinner.
With the other three loaves, I make sandwiches (and more sandwiches and more sandwiches). I like to make three loaves of sandwiches all at once so I only have to clean up once.
I put each sandwich into its own fold-top sandwich bag, then put a whole loaf or bagged sandwiches into a bread bag and store it in the freezer.
When I’m assembling lunches in the morning, I grab a sandwich for each kid and 3-4 sandwiches for my husband. When lunchtime rolls around, the sandwiches are thawed. They are perfect and fresh like they were just made.
At the grocery store, you pay a premium for single-servings. You’re paying for both the additional packaging and the convenience factor. For the slight additional work of putting food into individual containers and then washing the containers, you can save lots of money.
We use these Rubbermaid containers and absolutely love them. I have put soup, yogurt, fruit, and more in them and we have never had a leak.
This works great for canned fruit,
While the picture isn’t lovely, the yogurt-covered fruit salad was. After having it with dinner, I packaged the leftovers into single-serving containers to put in lunches. It’s easy to grab them as I fill lunch bags in the morning.
Prep fruits and veggies
It probably won’t surprise you that prepping fruits and veggies is another chore that I like to do in bulk.
Instead of buying baby carrots, I buy a 5- or 10-pound of whole carrots. I peel them, quarter them, and cut them for lunches. To prevent them from drying out, I keep the cut carrots in water (usually in the red-lid containers I mentioned above.
When I’m assembling lunches in the morning, I grab a handful of carrots and put them in a fold-top sandwich bag. The extra moisture helps them not to dry out in the bag. This method works great for celery too.
You can prep apples by cutting them and storing them in water with Fruit Fresh (or the citric acid you use when you make dishwasher detergent) to prevent browning. Honestly though, cutting apple slices is something I usually just do in the morning when I pack lunches. When everything else for the lunch is prepped, just slicing an apple isn’t so bad.
While I will be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of packing lunches, I am happy to keep doing it for budget and health reasons. When I’m on top of my preparations like baking snacks, freezing sandwiches, storing leftovers in single-serving containers, and even prepping fruits and veggies, lunch prep is a breeze.
How about you?
- Does anyone else hate making lunches but do it anyway?
- What do you do to keep homemade lunches manageable?