With the new school year started we’ve gone through the stress of the kids going back or starting, dealing with the new teachers, the worry of making new friends, and so many other scenarios we dream up in our already busy minds. Add to this now the fact that we are weeks into the school year and luster and attention to those kiddie lunches is (or has) dwindled down. One hot topic of conversation that is always prevalent around this time of year is money. Money for uniforms, I feel for those who have to buy the full fledge uniforms as they cost a fortune! Then comes money for fundraising, supplies, books, school pictures, agendas, hot lunches, special pizza days and on and on. This can certainly make many people feel cash constrained as all these incidentals surely do add up, especially if you have more than one child in school.
I thought I would lay out some of my tips on how to get as much bang for your buck and stretch where you can.
Before anything else I recommend that everyone lose the guilt. If you worry that your 4 year old is going to hate you because you don’t order from every scholastic order or hot lunch delivery you will never survive the next 14 years. Be smart, say “next time”, don’t feel bad. It really is all good!
Unfortunately we have no say on the costs of most things school related so we have to look at the variable we can control, our food budget.
1) P-I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T is your friend. Enter “low cost/budget kids lunches” and you will see that the information is endless. Not only will you get some crafty insight on low cost meals but a sense of its ok to not be elaborate or feel the need to over complicate a child’s lunch. Save that for the dinners you will share together as a family. I’m sure when many people hear ‘budget friendly” they think of a can of soup or a tin of spam and get immediately turned off. But that’s not where I’m headed. Think basics like pasta and rice dishes for lunch or dinner. These staples are inexpensive, satisfying, and the possibilities are endless if you are willing to sit and look. One dinner item (that could also end up a leftover lunch item) is the whole chicken. It is one of those foods that can turn into soup one day, roasted chicken another meal, and leftover chicken salad/sandwich the next day. It really is a smart buy. I regularly see the Maple Leaf brand on sale for $7.00 at Walmart, how do you go wrong?
2) PRICE MATCH (Yes, just do it) It takes time, I get it. It’s embarrassing at times, for sure. BUT not doing this is literally like giving money away. I’ve been snickered at and thrown attitude but I don’t care. I have saved upwards of $50 on one bill, that is not small change. This is a much more feasible cost saving strategy versus driving from store to store because a) gas is inexpensive and b) who has all that extra time? There’s never any time………
3) To the best of your ability plan your meals. If you lay out what you intend on making and plan and prepare accordingly you won’t find yourself in a panic because you don’t know what to do for dinner or lunches. This will spare you from a quick dinner somewhere that can cost $30-50 for basic quick meal for a family of 4 and that’s being conservative. Those who fail to plan, plan to blow their budget!
4) The kids lunches:
a. Pack those leftovers, its fine. There’s nothing “bad” about it and it won’t make you a bad parent.
b. Kids are not complex creatures nor do their lunches have to be. When we try to get fancy, we spend more money. Avoid the unnecessary and excess trimmings. Kids barely have enough to eat as it is and won’t enjoy it. Save it for the family meals.
c. Waffles and pancakes are inexpensive and make great snack fillers. The best part is you make a batch and freeze them. Easy, cheap and most kids love them!
d. Fresh fruit. Period. You don’t need fancy fruit cups; just keep it simple and straightforward and nutritious! NO PRESERVATIVES OR ARTIFICIAL FLAVOURS!
e. Snacks – if you are buying them, check out the bulk prices. Usually you won’t beat the per unit price if you go to Costco, that saves you in the long run. Just please don’t go to Costco and buy Christmas decorations, there goes your savings!)
Where I don’t suggest anyone skip is on the contents of the food. Always buy 100% fruit juices with nothing added, it’s so important and something many people take lightly. Keep the kids systems as natural and clean as possible.
Lastly, find the balance between budget friendly and whole nutritious meals. One does not have to cancel the other out. All that you need to do is be resourceful and put the effort in. The reward will be budget savings and knowing that you are giving your children and family whole nutritious meals.
Thanks Stef! These tips are great – happy lunch planning everyone!