Paycheck Chronicles

School Lunches That Won't Break The Budget


Kids are heading back to school, and parents are trying to figure out the best way to feed their children healthy lunches without spending their entire food budget.  For most of us, the first choice is whether to buy school lunches or to bring a lunch from home.  There are several things to consider when making this decision.

Free or Reduced School Meals

The National School Lunch Program is a federal program designed to help subsidize the cost of school meals for families whose income falls below certain levels.  If you think you might be eligible, I encourage you to apply.  Taking advantage of free or reduced price school lunches is an excellent way to save money.


The cost of school lunches can be a big issue.  My children's school charges $2.55 for the standard school lunch, which means that I'm paying nearly $60 per month for each child to buy school lunches.

Of course, homemade lunches are not free.  Depending on your child's preferences and your shopping style, it might actually cost you more to send a packed lunch from home.  You can reduce the cost of packed lunches by careful shopping and food selection.  Including low-cost items such as popcorn and in-season fruits and vegetables can help keep your lunches affordable and healthy.  Which brings us to...


There is much debate about the nutrition of school lunches, and there is no simple answer to whether or not school lunches are the right choice for your family.  The decision is further complicated by the fact that kids don't always eat the food provided, regardless of whether they are brought from home or provided by the school.

Time and Stress

The issue of morning stress is the reason that our family moved from mostly packed lunches to mostly purchased lunches.  For some reason, it seems like life got harder as my kids got older.  I thought it would be the opposite.  When they were young, I packed four lunches every morning and didn't consider it a big deal.  As they got older, somehow the lunch packing turned into a morning nightmare.  Finally, my husband said that I should just let them buy lunches and not feel guilty.  It did make our mornings much better, but I still feel awful.  I think the kids mostly like it, though.  If packing lunches is the last thing that is pushing you over the edge, perhaps letting them buy is better for your family.

There is certainly no single right decision about whether to purchase school lunches or send a lunch from home.  Many families find that a combination of the two works well for their needs.  A little bit of thought can help keep the stress and expense out of lunchtime.

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