Teaching your child how to make and budget for school lunches

Back to school budgeting tips.

School lunch

School lunch

If your child is headed back to school in a few weeks, you may have already begun shopping and planning for the school year. Whether your child attends public or private school, making sure they have everything they need is an important role of a parent. Close to the top of your list may be your child’s nutrition. Many students will have access to free and reduced price meals that will help with the family budget and ensure that your child’s nutritional needs are being met. But what if you do not have access to these programs? If you have been denied on an application, don’t give up. You may submit an application at any time during the school year as your situation may change. For example, if you become unemployed, your child may qualify.

However, if you will be providing lunch for your child, it may help to make some changes now that will help you survive the busy school year ahead. The following tips can help you get started.

  • Create a spending plan. Determine your household income. Track your monthly expenses. Discuss your goals, needs and wants, then write out a list of expenses that you know you pay every month (like a housing payment) and expenses that you have estimated based on your tracking. Don’t forget to include the cost of school lunches. Then subtract what you plan to spend from your estimated monthly income.  If you get a negative amount, you need to make some adjustments.
  • Plan your meals. One of the adjustments you can make to your monthly spending plan is saving money on food by preparing your meals. If you find that you are eating out too much, try making a meal plan of simple recipes for the week, then make a shopping list and head to the store. Try not to buy on impulse, if you are able, stick to the list.
  • Stay away from prepackaged meals. Another adjustment to your spending plan can be made if you discover that you are buying a lot of prepackaged, unhealthy foods for your child’s lunches. This may be convenient, but you may be paying a higher price for the preparation and a potential health cost by serving less nutritious foods.
  • Use leftovers for school lunches. In addition to eating a home cooked meal, your child will help you benefit from the savings. Buy reusable containers that are microwave safe and easy to pack.
  • Budget your time as well as your money. Make a schedule and delegate. Does your child know how to prepare a meal? Spend time together now and teach them to prepare their own meals for lunch. In addition to the cost savings, your child will have learned a new skill, become more self-sufficient and may even enjoy their lunch more because they made it themselves.
  • Finally, remember to have fun. Make a list, check it twice and save money, but don’t forget to have a little fun. Your child may enjoy a treat every once in a while and buying lunch may be more special if it is done less. Based on your child’s unique nutritional or health needs, a little “bad for you” food may be nice as well. But be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations and individual dietary requirements. 

Making a spending plan can save you money and bring organization to a busy school year. However, making financial changes and saving money is difficult. Sometimes it helps to have help from a professional. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).