Kennedy and I have been having so much fun getting all ready for back-to-school the last couple of weeks. The kids here don’t go back until the day after Labor Day so if all this seems a little late to you, that’s why. She’ll be going into 6th grade this year and it seems like all of my love for planning and organizing has rubbed off on her this year. We did all of the usual clothes shopping, backpack buying, and homework station setting up, but then we ran out of things to do to get ready! And we wanted to keep going! We were having fun! Can you imagine?! 🙂
So I ended up turning one of my dreaded back-to-school tasks into a fun afternoon activity that kept Kennedy from feeling bored AND got this job out of the way for me too! Usually, I try to get myself set up for back-to-school lunches before the school year begins so that things will start off running smoothly and so I have a bit of time to be strategic and save some money! It’s always been a bit of a chore in the past but not this year!
Now, let’s be honest here. We all wish that we could make everything in our kids’ lunches from scratch, with extra love, and have it look all cute and crafty too. I used to be pretty good at it!… but it really did stress me out and take up a lot of my time. Now that I have two little ones, that’s just not happening most days. Convenient, easy-to-toss-in-the-lunch-bag-and-go types of items are where it’s at for me. But they can be really expensive, especially when you’re trying to keep an eye on how healthy your kids’ lunches are too. So here are my tips for setting yourself up for success with easy-to-make, affordable, realistic kids lunches this year.
Shop early in the school year for sales
Everything goes on sale right at the beginning of the school year. I always buy a few of those expensive items that are on sale for like 37 cents, but it never fails that a few weeks later I’m wondering why I didn’t buy 10 at that price! Learn from my mistakes. Take advantage at this time of year for any of those obvious “lunch-box-y” items. The sales usually start a couple of weeks before school begins, but they actually usually run for a few weeks after as well, so if the first week of school is just crazy for you, then you can still get yourself set up for the rest of the school year during the second week of school, and you’ll still be catching all of those great sales.
Stick to your comfort zone
Getting overwhelmed is a sure-fire way to overspend. You run short on time and even shorter on ideas and pretty soon you’re buying everything and anything no matter what the cost! Stocking up early on sale items is one way to avoid feeling like you just don’t know what to do about lunches, but also consider what type of shopping experience you’re comfortable with and go with that. If you love couponing and think it’s fun, then go for it! If you find it confusing and bewildering though, then your lunch-planning shopping trip might not be the time to try it out. You’re likely to end up ditching all your coupons in the trash can and again, just buying everything in sight, regardless of whether your kids will actually eat it or not. The same thing goes for looking at multiple flyers and extending your shopping trip to multiple stores. If you know that you won’t enjoy doing that, then don’t do it!
We actually did end up going to multiple stores this year to really go for it with the sale items at each store and I really loved how many great lunch box items that I got for so little at the end of the day. Running into multiple stores and just buying a lot of one or two items, rather than doing a mini-marathon by walking all over the store is actually pretty easy.
Let kids help plan and choose
A great way to spend way too much on school lunches is to buy what you think your kids will eat only to end up throwing it all in the trash when it comes back at the end of the day. This starts a cycle of trial and error with different lunch items that leaves kids hungry and parents frustrated! If you can involve your kids in choosing which items they think they’ll want to eat by taking them on a special “just for lunches” shopping trip, they’ll really start to get excited about their upcoming school lunches and you’ll have a pantry full of stuff that actually gets used up!
A lot of these convenient lunch items are pre-packaged and have long shelf lives, even healthy items like carrots sticks and apple slices have a shelf life of a couple of weeks, so stock up! The easier this whole process is on you, as the primary lunch item buyer, the more calm you’ll be, and the more thought and consideration you’ll be able to put into your lunch purchases in the coming months. School lunch making really is a marathon and you need to pace yourself! Having items on hand from the get-go will really help!
Keep lunch item storage areas organized
With all this extra food in the house, you run the risk of feeling overwhelmed in a different way: From having too much! If you can keep things mostly neat and tidy in a way that lets you see what you have, it will save you from buying unnecessary multiple items later and will give you a better outlook on the whole lunch situation.
There are many more lunch box items that can be frozen than most of us probably realize. If you have extra space in your freezer, you can stock up on a lot of perishable items at this time of year, as well as all of the non-perishable items we’ve already talked about. Things like lunch meat, some cheeses, breads and other bakery items, and pre-cooked hot lunch items can be frozen and will last really well for 3-6 months. That’s a big chunk of the school year! If there’s an item that your kids really love, but you’re not sure if it will freeze well, it might be worth doing a little experimenting because if it turns out that it does freeze well, you could save yourself a lot of time and energy when things start to get crazy during the school year.
School lunch preparation doesn’t have to be a dreaded chore! If you start the year off right, you’ll actually enjoy it and you’ll save a lot of money too!
What are your favorite lunch-making and lunch-item-shopping tricks that you’ve learned over the years?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.