As we enter the final bits of Summer, parents everywhere are preparing to send their kids back to school for September. And while part of this means getting new backpacks, pencils, and other school supplies, part of it means getting back in the habit of preparing lunches for your child each day.

While there’s little that can give you as much pride as packing the perfect lunch for your kid, that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re on a budget. So how do you craft a lunch each school day that’s tasty, nutritious, and doesn’t break the bank each morning? Here are just a few ideas:

Lean into leftovers

There’s no law that says your school lunches have to be new and novel, made fresh each morning—take advantage of the work you’ve already done!

Leftovers like pasta and soup can travel especially well–particularly if you can send your kid off to school with a thermos to keep them warm. Otherwise, items like rotisserie chicken, green salads, and more can be perfect for a cold lunch that won’t be an automatic gross-out (of course, kids are kids–your mileage may vary).

Cold cuts from the deli make for cheaper sandwiches than those from the fridge aisle

A cold-cut sandwich is one of the easiest and most classic lunches to send with a kid who’s heading back to school–but have you walked down the refrigerated aisle lately? Those pre-sliced ingredients are getting pricey!

While there’s no way to cheat inflation, there are ways to make things just a bit easier on the wallet, and one example is hitting up the deli counter at your grocery store. It can be scary seeing prices by the pound and wondering “how am I going to afford this?” but the truth is that oftentimes, when you compare the bulk cost of getting the deli attendant to slice them for you to the pre-packaged stuff, the deli counter comes out on top. 

Embrace staples from other cultures

We’re living in 2023–it’s (thankfully) no longer considered “weird” to send your kid off to school with food inspired by cultures around the world. And that not only introduces your child to new flavors and foods, but it can help your bank account too.

Think about it: All your kid’s favorite Mexican foods (quesadillas, burritos, etc) are likely some combination of rice, beans, and cheese–affordable pantry staples that make for filling and flavorful meals. Hummus and pita are no longer expensive specialties only available at fancy grocers–they’re something almost every family keeps around and can be a quick and easy lunch idea. And fried rice can be a cheap and simple way to load your kid up with nutrients without them trading their veggies for Cheetos.

Go vegetarian and save

It sounds weird to take a tip from trendy restaurants, but going vegetable-forward might be the way to think this Fall–focusing on vegetables over meat products can be a great way to get your kid a healthy and flavorful lunch without overspending. 

Vegetables like sweet potatoes and broccoli are full of nutrients while also being hearty and easy to make tasty, while beans, tofu, and nut butters can give children the protein they need without resorting to expensive cuts of meat.

Buy the basics–but healthier!

You heard it here first: there’s nothing wrong with a classic PB&J! Especially for picky eaters, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is reliable, predictable, and guarantees that your kid will be eating their lunch, which means you’ve already won half the battle. The downside to a PB&J is that it’s not always the healthiest of sandwich options–from the Wonder Bread to the Smuckers, it’s often loaded with sugar and maybe a bit more processed than you’d like. 

But that doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater: every grocery store now has options for healthier alternatives to every ingredient, with natural peanut butter, no-sugar-added jellies, and nutrient-dense whole-grain bread. It will be a little bit pricier, but these are still staples that keep your cost-per-meal low and your smiles-per-bite high.

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Of course, another thing to consider is that you may not even need to pack these lunches anymore–in some states, recent legislation means that school lunches are now free to all students, which can free up your budget for other necessities that keep your family running.

But saving money on lunches may not be enough when you’re in a bind and need to cover your expenses now. At Spotloan, our simple online application process can help you qualify for the money you need, even if you have bad credit or need a loan quickly. All you have to do is go fill out our application to see if you qualify, and you could receive a decision within minutes. Fill out our application now!