By Julie Smart

Bringing a home-packed lunch to school is a requirement in my family. Being a mom, I like to know what my children are eating -- even if most schools are making an effort to provide more healthy lunch options. When I pack my son’s lunch, I include the foods I know he likes and will eat instead of just hoping he’ll have the right choices at the school cafeteria. Making lunch at home of course saves money, too: You can buy a week’s worth of supplies at the grocery store for half the cost of prepackaged lunch at school.

That said, time is always a big factor at my house. So I had to figure out how I could make and pack lunch in advance and on the cheap. Here are my top three tips to save time and money when I pack my kids’ school lunches:

Buy Bathroom Cups

Bathroom cups have been a lifesaver -- you can pack so much in them! Because there are so many per package, I can make big batches of food and store them in the freezer. Another benefit: I don’t worry about my child losing a lid or container. I like to use 3-ounce plastic bathroom cups, cheap Baggies and press-and-seal wrap to prepare all of my kids’ food.

DIY Single-Serve

Instead of spending money on individual servings of prepared food, use your cups to prepare your own foods and pack in advance. I do it all on Sunday night or on my day off, making what I can by hand, filling the cups, covering them with wrap and sticking them in the back of my fridge. My favorite DIY lunch sides and condiments include:

- Jell-O

- Pudding

- Peanut butter

- Applesauce

- Salsa

- Sour cream

- Salad dressing

Prep-and-Store Entrees

My child loves peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, so I make a batch of them and freeze them in Baggies (PB&Js freeze very well!). You can also cut up fruit, veggies, cheese and anything else your kids like to snack on and put small portions in Baggies. Keep them in the fridge for the week, and use as needed.

Packing lunch can be a pain, but if you stick to these time-saving lunch tips, you can just grab and go!

Julie Smart is the mother of five wonderful children and a blogger at


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How to Save Time and Money on School Lunches