School lunchboxes on a budget: Tips from a money expert

School lunchboxes

We are very lucky to have Tina McElligott from the SaverPlus team here to talk about school lunchboxes on a budget. Tina has a keen interest in financial education, and helping make money simple.

It’s probably no surprise that ‘Cozzie Livs’ – a slang term for ‘cost of living’ – was 2023’s word of the year. It’s been in the news, in our conversations, and if you’re anything like us, swirling in your brain as you try to sleep.

If you thought that you’d run out of ways to shave a bit off the budget, maybe take a closer look at the school lunchboxes.

The actual school lunchbox

Starting with the actual lunchbox, while we understand that the kids are keen to keep up with the Joneses, do they really need a $50 or $80 lunchbox? Especially when we all know that there’s a good chance it’s going to get lost, or squashed.

A simple lunchbox from the supermarket will fit the bill and keep food fresh. Shop at the right time, and you’ll grab one half price. More economical PLUS you also won’t be too devastated if it gets lost or stepped on!

There are good brands available at the major supermarkets, which are solid, reliable and also have ‘bento box’ style options which kids love.

Now for the lunchbox contents

Pretend you’re running a business and try keeping a track of how many dollars per serve. By the time you add up fruit snack, recess and lunch, and any afternoon snacks, multiply that by the number of kids and then x five, you could be alarmed at what you’re spending each week.

Airlines have got this down to a fine art, every bite has a dollar value and one airline once boasted it saved $40,000 a year by cutting out one olive in one of its dishes.

And while you might not notice small savings each week consider this:

The Federal Government tells us that the average Australian household wastes around $2,500 per year because of the food that they throw away!

You read correctly: $2,500.

Think of the amazing holiday that you and the kids could have! 

Forward planning with packed lunches

Forward planning can really have a huge impact on the cost of the contents of the lunchboxes. A few hours on the weekend can save you early morning stress AND money.

If the kids enjoy sandwiches, you can make them on the weekend and put them in the freezer. Take them out each morning and they’ll be defrosted by lunchtime. Obviously if you’re going to freeze the sandwiches, you’ll need to choose freezer friendly fillings. Perhaps forget the lettuce, or pop it in once you’ve taken the sandwiches out of the freezer. Things like ham, cheese and salami freeze well.

Not fans of sandwiches? Frittata, quiche and sausage rolls are great options. Laden with protein, they freeze well and you can also smuggle in some extra vegetables.

If you’ve got a bit of time in the morning, you’ve got even more options. Invest in a good thermos – a great quality one should take you through the primary school years, or more. Frankfurts are cost effective, sausages are a kid favourite. A packet of store-bought croissants, with some ham and cheese seem like a treat but don’t break the budget.

Buy in season

Keep costs down by buying what’s in season. Include a good mix of fruit and vegetables.

You can chop carrot and celery or cucumber each week and store in the fridge. Put the pieces in an airtight container, cover them with water and pop them in the fridge. They’ll be just like freshly cut veges for the rest of the week.

Go for bulk with school lunchboxes

Kids treats and snacks can also really add up in the shopping trolley.

Where possible, avoid individual packaged items and go for bulk. Make your own ‘trail mix’ – buy nuts, seeds, choc bits, raisins in bulk and mix into a container. This will store well in the pantry and you can dish out serves for healthy recesses.

Like a sweet treat? Buy a bunch of small containers and make single portions of jelly. Bake cakes, muffins and brownies and freeze; they all defrost quickly and well. Make cookie dough on the weekend, double the portions then roll into 4 logs and freeze so you can defrost and quickly bake a smaller batch each time. Because we all know what happens when there’s a lot of cookies in the pantry!

Summary: School lunchboxes on a budget

It can sometimes feel like all you’re ever thinking about is money.

If you’ve got a healthcare card and some income, and the kids are already at school or starting next year, you could be eligible for Saver Plus.

You save up to $50 a month and at the end of the program, you’ll receive up to $500 for education costs. There’s five financial workshops where you can share hints and tips for all sorts of money saving ideas with other people who really understand where you’re at.

Further reading: How to get your kids to school on time, every time.

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