The Cost of School Lunches & 20 Frugal Back-to-School Lunch Snack & Side Ideas for On-the-Go Times

One of the biggest money savers in the family budget is to make your own snacks and food for on-the-go, whether you are sending your kids off to school or you are planning to be out all day.  Think ahead!!  You would be amazed and surprised on how much eating school lunches (which aren’t always the healthiest, although they are now slightly improving nationwide) and picking up fast food can actually cost.

20 Healthy and Frugal Snacks for On-the-Go Times

Thrifty Thinking

I wanted to find out what the average price in the United States of America was for a school lunch.  It was hard to find an average, so I decided to go to our local school district’s website which gives the following lunch prices:

  • Elementary $3.00/lunch
  • Secondary $3.25/lunch
  • Adult $4.50/lunch

If this is how much a school lunch costs, there is a lot of money to be saved.  So for a standard 180 day school year the cost of the elementary lunch is $540, the cost for secondary lunch is $585, and the adult lunch is $ 810 if you bought it every school day.  Wow!  This is the cost for just ONE person.

Let’s talk about the weekly cost of a school lunch:

  • Elementary $15.00/weekly lunch total
  • Secondary $16.25/weekly lunch total
  • Adult $22.50/weekly lunch total

Let’s say you just have two elementary students that buy weekly lunches; that’s $30 per week.  THIRTY DOLLARS! YIKES!  For my family of 5 (3 small kids and two adults) in one week, we might use:

  • 1.5 pounds of nitrate free lunch meat a week=$7.50
  • 1.5 pounds special cheese (provolone or other-this could be cheaper if we sliced cheddar, but this is what we are currently doing)=$6
  • 2.5 lbs. organic baby carrots=$2.50
  • salad dressing, homemade granola bars, organic nacho chips or another side=approximately $3
  • 1 lb. organic greens=$4
  • water=nearly free

So for about $23 per week, I am feeding my entire family lunch and not just one elementary student.  That makes the yearly cost of a homemade lunch for the entire family $828 for 36 full school weeks (180 school days).  For one adult alone the yearly school lunch cost (180 days) is $810, remember? For my two elementary aged kids together it’s probably less than $9 per week we are spending on lunch ($324 for the 180 day school year).  So for my two elementary aged kids should I spend $30/week on lunches we can’t control, or should we spend $9/week on a more nourishing lunch we can control.  I know my decision.  What it yours?

I thought I would share a few of the sides that I like to use below and their recipes.

4 Ingredient Almond Butter Granola Bar Recipe 4 Ingredient, GF, DF

3 Ingredient Lara Bar Balls raw, vegan, GF

Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Bite

easy granola recipe

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Banana Yogurt Bread

Here are some snacks that have a healthier dessert bent to them.


Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here are a few other snack ideas.

Granola and Chocolate Yogurt

Would you like some more money-saving ideas for school or sporting your snacks?

DIY Reusable School Lunch Bags

Do you need some re-purposed snack bags to go with your lunch bag??

Repurposed Snack Bag Tutorial

Would you like some ideas on how to save money on school picturesHere’s how…

Saving Money with School Pictures Do you need to cut your daughter’s hair for school?  This is a quick easy way to do it for free!

DIY 5 Minute Layered Hair Cut

 Go here for the complete list of recipes
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  1. says

    I’m visiting from Frugal Fridays. My boys already take their lunch to school but it is interesting to see the cost breakdowns. I may have to try out some of your recipes as it’s a constant struggle to find something to send that they like without sending the same things all the time.

  2. says

    I have 5 kids, and everyone gets a homemade lunch. Our school, Catholic, charges $1.90 for elementary students and $2 for junior high. However, to me these are not the best-looking lunches, nor do I think they’re very nutritious.

    I’ll be checking out your recipes since I’m almost done with the ones I made in August for our school lunches.

  3. says

    Great list of ideas…very thorough. You’ve taken a lot of time to figure the costs and give great alternatives. Thanks, Gail

  4. says

    Not only is the cost of the lunches pretty high, our school offers ice cream for $1.00, and at least 50% of the kids bring money for that as well. I have six kids, but even with one, it would be a stretch to pay that much for lunch!

  5. Jacquie says

    Good ideas! But here were not allowed any kind of nuts in the schools due to others having allergies. Otherwise my life would be much easier!

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