Every year I spend way too much time trying to come up with school lunch ideas for my kids, and being on a budget makes it even more difficult. The worst is when they don’t eat their lunch because I packed too much, or they just didn’t like it. Such a waste of money!

With all the back-to-school supplies and clothing I just bought and the holidays coming up, I’m definitely keeping to a budget when it comes to food shopping. Here are a few tips to keep school lunch affordable and healthy:

  • Bananas  Luckily my son likes them, and at less than a quarter each you can’t go wrong!
  • Homemade Muffins – I determine the ingredients and they are cheaper (and healthier) than the muffins you buy at the store. Homemade pumpkin or banana bread is a great option too. Make a few loaves or a few dozen muffins and freeze them, then add one to your child’s lunchbox.
  • Smaller Sandwiches – Sometimes a whole sandwich is too much for a child to eat, and the other half goes to waste. If you have a light eater, use one piece of bread and cut in a half to make a smaller sandwich.
  • Apples – They’re in season right now, and they’re delicious! I found a bag of small apples for just $3 at my local store recently. Picking your own can save money, too.
  • Leftovers. Don’t let last night’s ziti, chili, or soup go to waste. A good thermos can keep it warm and delish.
  • Trail Mix. Make your own trail or snack mix with healthy cereals, raisins, nuts, pretzels, and granola. It’s cheaper than pre-packaged, and you (and your kids) get to select the ingredients.
  • Make Your Own Lunchables – These tray-style meals are easy to make yourself, especially if you have some sort of Bento box container. It’s less expensive (and far more healthy) to choose your own crackers, meats, and veggies for kids to layer. Plus your kids will love doing it themselves.
  • Pasta Salad – This type of salad is very inexpensive to make and you can choose which veggies your child likes to add the the pasta.
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs – Eggs don’t cost much and pack a lot of protein. Include an egg alongside some crackers or muffin, fruit, carrot sticks, and a cookie, and you’ve got a lunch most kids will love!
  • Cold Ramen Noodles  Serve noodles in a teriyaki-type or soy sauce with shredded veggies, like carrots or lettuce. It’s a quick, slurp-style budget meal for kids.
  • Potato Salad  Make your own when you have a few potatoes left on hand. It’s a simple and inexpensive side dish.

Packing school lunches can be both healthy and budget friendly if you pay attention to what you buy, shop sales, and use kid-friendly foods that are low cost and nutritious, too!