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The secret to healthy school lunches that won't blow the budget

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Feeding primary school children can be a challenge, but it doesn't have to be expensive.

Here are some tips on how to be more money-savvy when putting together the lunch boxes.

1. Involve the children

Get the children to decide what they will eat for lunch.

save money on packing school lunches

This can appease the fussy eaters and can also help reduce the frequency of lunch box food boomerang.

It may be easier if you prepare a menu of non-negotiable food and a separate menu of treats and then ask the children to choose from each menu for the different days of the week.

2. Bulk buy or bulk make

If you have the time, make these menu items in advance and in bulk.

For example, sandwiches can be pre-made and frozen (leave out the vegetables otherwise the sandwich will become soggy on thawing). Cookies, muffins, cakes etc can be made in bulk and stored in the freezer. Vegetable sticks and some fruits can be pre-cut on Sunday for the following week.

If you don't have the time to make these items, buy them in bulk. Keep a lookout for specials and buy the items when they are on sale. You can then portion these bulk buys yourself into smaller containers (saving you money and the environment).

Many shops discount their products later in the evening, so muffins, cookies, cakes, etc can be bought more cheaply if you go shopping later in the evening. Remember these items can also be frozen for later use.

3. Repurpose food

Find another way of using food that comes home with the children. The brown banana can be used in a smoothie or milkshake for afternoon tea. Brown bananas can also be frozen and eaten as is on another day.

The box of carrots, capsicum or celery that weren't eaten can be diced up and added to a stew, spaghetti bolognese or fried rice (or frozen to be added into these dishes another day).

Half-eaten sandwiches can be eaten for afternoon tea (remember the sandwiches were frozen, so it shouldn't be off by the time they get home from school. But if it's an exceptionally hot day, unfortunately it means throwing it out).

If these sandwiches consistently return home with the child, ask the child if the sandwich is too big. Sometimes taking half a sandwich and half a quiche is more exciting for the children rather than a whole sandwich.

Don't forget the leftovers from home. When you have leftover dinner, packing these in the children's lunchbox for the next day can be seen as a treat for the children. At least it gives them a variety other than sandwiches.

With a bit of forward planning, you can save a lot of time and money in the lunchbox department by bulk prepping, bulk buying, repurposing food and involving the children in deciding what they will eat for lunch. Don't forget to have this money conversation with the children.

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