Skipping fast food or restaurant lunches is the obvious first step to trimming the lunch budget. And since school-age children rarely want anything to do with leftovers, it can take a little creativity to find the right meal. As a busy parent, it's tempting to take advantage of the wide variety of inexpensive pre-packaged and single-serving lunch options at the grocery store. However, if your kid's school is a "litterless lunch" school, which means students are encouraged to bring their food in reusable containers only, you may not have that option. By choosing litterless lunches, you may discover that not only are your kids throwing out less packaging waste, they are eating much healthier food, and you are seeing significant savings. (For more, see 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)
IN PICTURES: 10 Ways To Cut Your Food Costs

But Single-Serve Packages are so Cheap!
Wastefreelunches.org states that a pre-packaged lunch costs about $4.02 a day, or $723.60 per school year, compared to $2.65 a day ($477.00 per school year) for a waste-free lunch - a difference of $246.60 per person per year. Though some pre-packaged single-serving products are clearly more expensive per serving than the bulk packages, other items might appear so inexpensive it's easy to assume you can't make it yourself for less. However, the made-from-scratch version is nearly always less expensive.

Cheese please!
Cheese and crackers ($1.77 per 100g) can be made at home for about $1.03 per 100g - and that's using real cheese. Using a spreadable cheese is even less expensive. Four servings a week for a year will cost $368.16, while making your own costs just $214.24, a savings of $153.92.

Also in the dairy aisle, single-serve yogurt cups make great paint cups for crafts, but there are only so many you can save before they start filling up your recycling bin. At 80 cents per 100g, buying larger tubs for 26 cents per 100g is definitely the way to go. One tub a week will cost you $102.44 annually, while 12 single serve containers weekly ring in at around $300.56 - a $198.12 savings.

Sweet and In-Season
A friend suggested buying a fruit tray every week to encourage my children to eat more fruit. It worked great, but seemed expensive, even if it did save time. Find a fruit storage tray with dividers from your local thrift store and try preparing your own each week. Depending on the fruit chosen, the price ranged from 54 cents per 100g (strawberries) to 10 cents per 100g (grapes). One tray a week (83 cents per 100g) meant we saved between $274 and $600 a year.

IN PICTURES: Top 6 Mindless Money Wasters

Sip and Save
Juice boxes might seem innocuous enough. After all, they're recyclable. But twice as much packaging also comes at twice the price - juice boxes cost $1.99 per liter, while larger containers cost just 99 cents per liter. Switching from juice boxes to large containers will save you over $100 a year.

Little Lunches
Stackable lunches, filled with processed deli meats and processed cheese (plus crackers and a mini chocolate bar) generally come in around $2.79 each. Making your own with fresh cheese ($1.20 per 100g), bologna (50 cents per 100g), crackers (85 cents per 100g) and mini chocolate bar (16 cents each) will cost you about a $1 each. Even if they're a rare twice-a-week treat, they'll cost you $290.16 annually, while making your own will cost you $104 - a savings of over $185.

A Little Goes a Long Way
When the savings resulting from choosing convenience over homemade are measured in pennies, it can be easy to think the savings aren't significant enough to warrant changing purchasing habits. But haul out your calculator and you'll find that just the few products compared here result in a $1,000 grocery savings annually on school lunches alone. How would you like an extra $1,000 to invest in your children's educational savings plan? (Not everyone has time to pack a lunch everyday. Check out the Top 5 Fast Food Value Menu Deals for tips on saving money on fast food.)

For the latest financial news, check out Water Cooler Finance: The End Of The Recession.

Related Articles
  1. Budgeting

    Beer of the Month Subscription Review: Is It Worth It?

    Learn how you can get access to some of the best craft beers produced in the world, delivered right to your front door every month.
  2. Budgeting

    Just the Right Book Review: Is It Worth It?

    Take an in-depth look at Just the Right Book, a subscription service that delivers personalized book selections based on your reading history and preferences.
  3. Entrepreneurship

    ‘Happy Birthday to You’ Belongs to Everyone Now

    A class action lawsuit over the copyright to the iconic American song “Happy Birthday to You” ends by placing the ubiquitous ditty in the public domain.
  4. Investing News

    Who Does Cheap Oil Benefit? See This Stock (DG)

    Cheap oil won't benefit most companies, but this retailer might buck that trend.
  5. Budgeting

    The Honest Company Bundles Review: Are They Worth It?

    Learn more about The Honest Company and its bundle subscription services, which deliver discounted diapers, formula and other baby products to your doorstep.
  6. Budgeting

    Blue Apron Review: Is It Worth It?

    Read about one of the top meal-kit delivery services in the United States, and learn more about what it offers and how much it costs.
  7. Stock Analysis

    JCPenney's Path To Profitability (JCP)

    Learn about what J.C. Penney's management team has been doing to profitably grow its business as the company recovers from years of revenue declines.
  8. Home & Auto

    The Latest Airbag Recalls: What to Do

    The latest warnings are from Honda/Acura and Dodge. How to look up your car – and what to do if you find it on the recall list.
  9. Economics

    What is a Complement?

    A good or service that’s used in conjunction with another good or service is a complement.
  10. Retirement

    Ipsy Review: Is It Worth It?

    Discover the history of ipsy, how much packages cost, options available for membership, major competition and what the future looks like for the company.
RELATED FAQS
  1. How does a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) affect my salary?

    Some companies build salary adjustments into their compensation structures to offset the effects of inflation on their employees. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Where can you buy NetSpend reload packs?

    You can only purchase NetSpend reload packs at Giant Eagle, Albertsons, Roundy's and Pathmark supermarkets. NetSpend cards ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What does marginal utility tell us about consumer choice?

    In microeconomics, utility represents a way to relate the amount of goods consumed to the amount of happiness or satisfaction ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are some common ways product differentiation is achieved?

    There are many ways to achieve product differentiation, some more common than others. Horizontal Differentiation Horizontal ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the difference between an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and a VAR ...

    An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is a company that manufactures a basic product or a component product, such as a ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Is the retail sector also affected by seasonal factors?

    Generally speaking, the retail sector is highly seasonal. Almost invariably, sales in the retail sector are highest in the ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Harry Potter Stock Index

    A collection of stocks from companies related to the "Harry Potter" series franchise. Created by StockPickr, this index seeks ...
  2. Liquidation Margin

    Liquidation margin refers to the value of all of the equity positions in a margin account. If an investor or trader holds ...
  3. Black Swan

    An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult ...
  4. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  5. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
Trading Center