Super Easy Bag Lunches

by Maxine Sprague

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Buying food and preparing bag lunches is a challenging daily routine for many families when you consider that one child could eat as many as 2400 of them during their school years alone. We often find ourselves stuck in a rut, serving the same boring lunches day after day.

Fifty or sixty Years ago, parents had limited choices when it came to shopping. Today, we are bombarded with glitzy ads, sale of the century signs, coupons, discounts, rebates, don't pay until the year something or other, giant discount warehouse, one stop supermarket shopping, gigantic malls, info-mercials, 1-800-24 hr. mail order, easy credit and world wide internet access. Keeping control of spending habits and teaching children how to manage money are necessary life skills in today's world.

Grocery items are one area of your budget where you can make considerable savings with very little effort using good shopping habits and commonsense. This is especially true when it comes to packed lunches. Store shelves are bulging with an enormous variety of costly prepackaged lunch and snack foods aimed at capturing the dollars of busy parents. Clever marketing strategies, phenomenal advertising budgets and attractive packaging are used to target your children so they will talk you into buying them the latest and greatest lunch snack. Not only are these individually packaged snacks expensive, many of them are nutritionally deficient and add excessive amounts of fat, salt, sugar and chemical additives to your youngster's diet.

Use the following suggestions to help you prepare economical, nutritious and appealing lunches that will have your family saying, "Great lunch today!" Beautiful words to a lunch maker's ears.

  1. Teach children money saving strategies. Talk about advertising, using teachable moments not lecture style.
  2. Set a wise-consumer example for your children by reading labels, comparing prices and sticking to a budget.
  3. Narrow choices for children by having them choose between two cereals rather than asking which cereal they would like.
  4. Limit prepackaged lunch box snacks to one or two per week.
  5. Compare brands and try using cheaper brands to see if the quality is the same or close enough to justify the savings.
  6. Watch at the checkout as cashiers sometimes make errors or the computer may not have had a price programmed into it correctly. Catching the error when it happens makes fixing it easier and faster.
  7. Look high and low. The most expensive brands are often placed in the most convenient location.
  8. Buy in season and freeze or can for later use. Buy bulk when items are on sale, if you have available storage space.
  9. Make your own convenience foods. Spend a few minutes mixing several batches of dry ingredients for a favorite loaf, cake or muffins. When needed, add the wet ingredients and bake.
  10. Thinly slice or chop leftover roast, chicken, pork, turkey and other meats, lay out on a cookie tray and freeze. Once frozen, the pieces can be packaged until ready for use in sandwiches, tacos, salads, soups and stews. Pre-freezing on trays keeps the pieces from freezing together so you can take out only the amount you need.
  11. Use a thermos, cloth lunch bag and reusable juice and food containers rather than buying the more expensive individual serving sizes and disposable wraps. The initial investment is higher but the savings are significant over time.

Many of our parents and grandparents grew up with an attitude of waste not, want not. It would be of benefit to us to learn from their example and to pass those tips on to our children. Saving a little here and there adds up to a lot in the end. Packing economical and nutritious lunches saves time and money while providing our children with the food they need for active, growing bodies.

Reprinted with permission from Super Easy Bag Lunches ISBN 0-9691665-2-4 $16.95 Cndn. $12.95 US (The Learning Center Press, Box 82016, GMO #2, Edmonton, Alberta T6J 7A6, E-Mail:

Maxine Sprague is a parent, author and educator. Super Easy Bag Lunches is her third book. Maxine has made over 4000 bag lunches and will be making many more for her husband and three children. She has a big white cat named Laptop and a small black dog named Franklin. Thankfully, they don't eat bag lunches. She is a Master Composter and enjoys gardening, hiking, sewing, spending time with family and friends and giving group presentations for adults and children.

Take the Next Step

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Once you trim the grocery budget, don't waste that extra money! Consider opening a savings account to start an emergency fund or save for some other financial goal.
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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