The Cost of a School Lunch

When you compare prices with a restaurant, school lunches look like a bargain, but I’m going to ask you to look again.  I appreciate all the hardworking staff that make these hot lunches possible, especially when my kids forget to grab their lunch sack from home.   Yet, they are a far cry from the lunches they had when all the food was hand made from scratch by women like my grandmother who was a career school baker in the ’60’s-’70’s.

In our town, elementary Lunch is $2.55 and secondary Lunch is $2.70.  Per month that is $51 per elementary child and $54 per secondary. I have 2 elementary and 4 secondary students for a total of $318 per month.  Since my monthly food budget, including lunches, is $650….that’s not going to work for us.

Homemade lunches aren’t free, and if they are full of name brand pre-packaged convenience foods, can cost a lot more than a school lunch.  So when is it really more affordable to pack a lunch?  Just for giggles, let’s take a look at some common lunch foods and break down the cost.  Most of the prices are from Aldi, with a few (granola bars, fruit snacks, and cheese sticks.) from Costco. Costco and conventional grocery stores runs sale on lunch type items which can bring the unit cost down even further.

100% Whole Wheat Bread $1.50 for 11 sandwiches = $.14 each

100% Whole Wheat Tortillas $1.39 for 10 = $.14 each

16 oz Peanut Butter for $2.29 = $.14 per 2 Tbs

18 oz Jelly for $1.89 = $.05 per Tbs

24 oz Honey for $4.49 = $.09 per Tbs

Deli Lunch Meat $3.59 per lb = $.45 per serving

American Cheese $1.29 for 16 slices = $.08 each

Baby Carrots $1 per lb = $.16 per serving

Apples $1 per lb = $.33 each

Bananas $.44 per lb = $.11 each

Oranges $.50 per lb =  $.12 each

Grapes $1 per lb = $.25 per cup

Welches Fruit Snacks $6 for 80 ct = $.08 each

Granola Bars $8 for 60 = $.13 each

Veggie Straws $1.89 for 8 oz = $.24 each oz

Cheese Crackers $1.89 for 14 oz = $.14 each oz

Pretzels $1.29 for 16 oz = $.08 per oz

String Cheese = $.15 each

Hardboiled eggs $.85 per dozen: $.07 each

Tuna $.59 for 5 oz: $.30 per serving

A sample lunch with PB&J, string cheese, apple and baby carrots would cost: $.97  My kids only drink water at meals, which saves on calories and grams of sugar as well as money.

If you like math, put together other sample lunches and see what you get.

When we have leftovers, I like to supplement the lunches with items such as oatmeal cookies, cinnamon rolls, whole grain muffins, whole wheat rolls, cornbread, soup in a thermos etc.   I love that my oldest daughter chooses to eat lunch with her Academy Department Head, who has a microwave in his room.  That allows her to pack leftovers most days since she can warm them up.  She uses the time as a working lunch along with other students in her major.

Since we have so many children, I taught my kids early on how to pack their own lunches.  Even the first grader packs his own, using our basket system which I detailed in this facebook live video last week.

You might also like these lunch related posts:

Free Printable Lunch Planner

Why I Still Use Disposable Baggies

Homemade Calzones

Mini Chicken Pot Impossible Pies

How much was that meal?

Apple Carrot Muffins

33 Lunch Ideas

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2 thoughts on “The Cost of a School Lunch

  1. Kate says:

    I’ve been worrying what to feed my oldest once she’s in kindergarten next year. The schools around here have all banned peanut butter (or anything containing nuts) and she doesn’t like lunch meat, so I’m going to have a hard time keeping the cost down while still packing things she’ll eat. I’m thinking little containers of hummus with crackers, cheese, pepperoni (she likes that, even cold), etc.

    • Angela says:

      Yes, that makes it challenging for sure. There are a lot of alternative lunch ideas. We’ll be talking about them this month :).

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