Although inflation has (thankfully) been cooling, grocery prices are still going up. The latest Consumer Price Index report found that food prices increased 1.1% in July, representing the seventh consecutive monthly increase of 0.9% or more. This means that packing school lunches has never been more costly. Fortunately, there are ways for savvy shoppers to save on sandwich ingredients, snacks and more.
Skip Individual Snack Bags
Although individual snack bags are convenient, you typically pay a mark-up for this added ease.
“Don’t spend money on individually packaged portions,” said Gigi Lehman, editor of Living on the Cheap, a network of sites that helps people live more frugally. “The per-ounce price is outrageous. Buy a large container of nuts or a big bag of baby carrots, and put the right amount into a small bag.”
To save even more, pack snacks in reusable bags.
“Reusable bags save money over time and are better for the planet, too,” Lehman said.
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Shop for Snacks in Bulk
As a busy parent or guardian, it may be worth a little extra to not have to individually pack snacks each day. If you do want to buy individually packaged snacks, buy them in bulk to get the best deals.
“If your kids like granola bars or trail mix, you may be able to buy individual portions of these items from warehouse clubs like Costco for much less than a standard grocery store,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com.
Shop Weekly Grocery Sales
“This is hands down one of the easiest ways to save on lunch items,” Ramhold said. “Note which products your kids are particularly fond of and stock up on them when they go on sale. Just make sure that you like them too in case the kids suddenly have a change of taste — that way nothing goes to waste!”
Avoid Paying Extra for Marketing
Ramhold recommends skipping items marketed directly to kids.
“These can be unnecessarily expensive because of the marketing and have no real difference compared to items ‘for adults,'” she said. “Instead of buying these kinds of things, look for alternatives that may be the same sizes or prices, or even buying in bulk and portioning out products for your kids’ lunches. It could end up being far cheaper to take this route rather than buying yogurt ‘specially formulated for kids’ or something in a similar situation.”
Opt for Homemade Snacks
Another way to save on snacks is to cook or bake them yourself, said Elizabeth Michelle, a single mom, early childhood teacher and founder of the blog Teaching Brave.
“Do a large banana loaf and cut it into pieces,” she said, “or make homemade muffins.”
Turn Dinner Leftovers Into Lunches
“Kids get sick of sandwiches every day,” said Sandy Wolner, registered dietician and manager of culinary education at Pampered Chef. “While you’re cleaning up after dinner, consider what leftovers would be great as lunches. Pasta and chicken are great options. Keep tortillas on hand to make easy wraps with leftovers.”
Buy the Store Brand
Kristen Gall, president at money-saving site Rakuten, recommends purchasing grocery-brand products as opposed to brand-name products.
“I promise your child won’t notice a difference,” she said. “Shoppers are likely to find lower prices and better deals with the specific grocery store brand’s product versus name brands.”
Enroll in Loyalty Programs
“Almost every grocery store or retailer has its own loyalty program,” Gall said, “so make sure to take advantage of them and get your points.”
Take Advantage of Opportunities To Earn Cash Back
If you do your shopping online, using a cash-back platform, like Rakuten, can help you save on lunches.
“Rakuten has a huge variety of food and grocery retailers, including Sam’s Club, Thrive Market, Instacart, Kroger and more,” Gall said.
If you shop in store, utilize credit cards that allow you to earn extra cash back or rewards with grocery store purchases.
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