How to Pack Budget-friendly School Lunches

If you are looking for easy school lunch ideas, I got you. Today, I want to share some awesome school lunch ideas that you can use to make sure your kids stay healthy and happy while staying on a budget.

Let me show you my budget-friendly school lunches and how I pack them for my kids to take to school.

budget friendly school lunches, Lunch pail
Lunch pail

1. Lunch pails

Over the years, we have tried several different styles and brands, but I always seem to go back to this style. I got mine from Pottery Barn, and I know this might look expensive, but check it out. These are called the cold pack variety. They are a rectangular shape and can really hold a lot.

There is a pocket here for a hand sanitizer, which I love. Moreover, it also has a spot for the kid’s name and a telephone number, which I definitely do write in there. It has a Velcro on the top and bottom for an ice pack.

The water bottles usually do not fit in here, but the bottles by ThermoFlask that we get at Costco have handles on them, so they are easily attached to the shoulder strap when your child is heading to the cafeteria. You can also clip the lunch bag to your backpack.

For the best prices on Pottery Barn lunch pails, go to the sales section on their website. They generally offer good prices, but I have noticed the best time to shop sales is May or September.

budget friendly school lunches, Lunch pail
Lunch pail

This year my oldest daughter picked out a similar style lunch pail on Amazon. It is super cute with the sequins that you can flip up or down, it has a water bottle holder and a zipper in the back. It is really big inside and insulated, just like the Pottery Barn ones. And it has the shoulder straps, which I find to be key.

2. Water bottles

I know it is popular to send Capri Suns and juice boxes with lunches, but I really believe in the power of water. You are feeding your child a nutritious lunch, and they do not need added sugar, so water it is.

If, for whatever reason, my children are asking for a flavored beverage, I give them a flavored herbal tea. They really like the blueberry and raspberry flavors by the Celestial brand or Hibiscus teas from Target.

budget friendly school lunches, Water bottles
Water bottles

Like I said before, we get ThermoFlask bottles from Costco, and they go for about $15 for a pack of two. They stay cold, so my kids can have refreshing water with their lunch. They have a separate water bottle for the classroom.

I like water bottles with sport tops, as they are easy for the kids to use and for me to clean. The bottles I use are a bit pricier than regular plastic bottles, but they stay insulated, which is super important, especially in the wintertime when I want to pack some warm tea.

3. School lunch containers

I have been trying to move away from using tons of Ziploc bags. We looked into stainless steel containers, but they are really pricey, and we do not want our kids worrying about losing their container and mommy being mad at them.

budget friendly school lunches, Lunch containers
Lunch containers

Rubbermaid containers do the trick. You can buy them at Target, Walmart, Dollar Tree, or on Amazon. They are seal proof on the outside, but not in between the two compartments, as the divider does not go all the way up.

Still, it is a really easy and inexpensive container that works great for the kids and lasts years. We use them for sandwiches and nachos, chips, beans and rice, homemade pizza and so on.

budget friendly school lunches, Lunch containers
Lunch containers

We also really like these little containers by Sistema. We use the smaller part for hummus or peanut butter or brownie batter dip, and the bigger part for pretzel sticks, apple slices, or celery. TJ. Maxx, Ross, and Homegoods sell these for $2.99 apiece.

budget friendly school lunches, Lunch containers
Lunch containers

These containers do not wash up very well, but I really love using them. One side is for crackers and one side is for sliced cheese.

budget friendly school lunches, Lunch bags
Lunch bags

4. Lunch bags

When I do want to pack the kids a sandwich and I do not want to use a container, I use these Room Essentials brand lunch bags from Target. They are reusable sandwich bags that are pretty cheap - you get a two pack for $3.

They have great snack size bags, as well. They zip and unzip easily, but of course, the quality is lower than that of Stashers, which run about $10 apiece. Still, I prefer them, because they are easily replaceable, so my kids do not have to worry about losing or ripping them, and they can enjoy their school day.

budget friendly school lunches, Lunch bags
Lunch bags

5. Morning snacks

My kids usually eat their morning snacks on the playground, so I prefer packing them in something they can just throw away and not be stuck with until the end of recess.

The Lunchskins brand offers great paper sandwich bags, and you can get 50 for $5. They even come with stickers to seal the bag shut.

When I have the time, I make a homemade version using parchment paper. If you want to learn how to make those, check out the video at 11:50.

When I give my kids homemade granola bars, I pack them in a little bit of Saran Wrap. The kids can grab it, eat it, throw the Saran Wrap away, and it is not too much waste. I buy mine at Costco.

budget friendly school lunches, Thermoses

6. Thermoses

I mostly use the thermoses in the wintertime to pack some hot food. Some are from Pottery Barn, others are from the Contigo brand, which I got from Target, but they are also available on Amazon. They are around 8-10 oz, and they have a great seal.

What you do is boil water, pour it in, put the lid on, and let it set for about five minutes. Then take the lid off, pour out the boiling water, and then put in the hot food, seal it up, and it will stay warm until lunchtime. This is how I send spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, soup, chili, and other hot food with my kids in the winter.

Budget-friendly school lunches

I hope you have found my budget school lunch ideas helpful. How do you pack your kids’ lunches and snacks? Share your tips and your favorite tools in the comments!

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