Thursday, August 16, 2012

The cost of school lunches

As the countdown to the first day of school keeps ticking during these final days, I've come to realize that one of the things I like most about summer is not having to make school lunches.  For some reason, making lunches for the kids at home over the summer doesn't seem as hard.  But when I pack a lunch for school, I like to do it that morning so that the sandwich is fresh.  Put everything in a container, pre-freeze a yogurt tube to keep the lunch cold...all while getting up early and getting the kids ready.   Packing a lunch under time pressure is just not my favorite thing to do.

Only 1 of my 3 kids is in elementary school right now, so he could either bring a lunch from home or buy at school.  My other son is in a pre-school with no cafeteria, so we have to pack his lunch.  The price for a school lunch is $2.25, which includes the entree, fruit, a side and milk.  However, on the occasions when my son buys lunch at school (which is at most once a week, but usually only 1-2 times a month), he insists on getting an ice cream bar.  So that brings his total up to $3.10.

Today I read this article about the cost of making various types of sandwiches and it got me wondering about how much I spend on my kids' school lunches.  Am I really saving that much?

So I did my own spreadsheet.  Most of the stuff I get for their school lunches comes from Aldi, a discount grocery store.  They have all the basics for much cheaper than even most generics in a normal grocery store.  I've been going to Aldi for so long now, every week, that I have most of their prices memorized.

In my spreadsheet I put the cost of the item, divided it by the number of servings, and then added up all the ingredients that go into the sandwich (bread, peanut butter, jelly, etc).  I then figured out the cost of the side items I put in the lunch, (which vary from day to day), like a yogurt tube, chips, apple, fruit cup, granola bar, juice box, milk, etc. (I should add that I try to avoid buying things that are individually packaged like chips; I always buy a big bag and divide it up).

And by adding up all these items, I figured out that one of my brown bag school lunches costs between $1.30 and $1.46, depending on what sandwich I make and what side items I put in.  My costs for sandwiches were cheaper than in the article linked above, I guess the author didn't shop at Aldi's!

So how much am I saving?  Depending on if I use the $3.10 school lunch price (with ice cream) or the $2.25 school lunch price (without ice cream) and the cost of the lunches I make, it's a per-day savings of between 79 cents and  $1.80 per day. There are 177 days of school, so for the school year that's a savings between $139 - $319 for one kid.  Multiply that for 3 kids (in a few years when all 3 of my kids are in public school) and it's $418 - $957 of savings per school year.  That's easily a few days of Disney World tickets, folks! (Do you see how my mind works??? LOL)

So there you have it.  I will go back to making brown bag lunches in a few weeks, happier now that I know how much we're saving by doing it and staying motivated by thinking of what we could do with that money we are saving. Now I don't know if kids still bring their lunch in middle school and high school, so at some point my kids may protest to the brown bag lunches....but until then this is our strategy.

Do you pack your kid's lunch for school?  Do you have any time saving or cost saving tips?


  1. A woman after my own heart... spreadsheets... Brian is a lucky man

  2. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm a crazy coupon lady! It could be worse--At least I'm trying to save his money rather than spend it!!

  3. Austin brought his lunch 99% of the time from 1st grade all the way through high school. For him, it allowed him more "social" time vs. standing in line for lunch. Plus, as soon as he was old enough, he made his own lunch. Now that he's grown and out on his own, he still brown bags to work :) Guess we should go to DISNEY!!!