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What's the REAL Cost of My Kids' Bag Lunches?

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Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla: I used to always pack my kids' lunches, secure in the idea that what I could give them was healthier than what they would get at school, and that it was saving us money, too.

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One day, as a math exercise with my oldest, I worked out just how much the average lunch cost me to make. First, the sandwich: two slices of bread (10 cents, if there are 20 slices in a $1 loaf); 2 oz. of deli turkey (38 cents, if it's on sale for $3 a pound); 1 slice of cheese (17 cents). Next, the fruit: a banana (15 cents for an average-size one, if bananas are 50 cents a pound) and a tangerine (26 cents for an average-size one, if selling at $1 a pound). Now the extras: a fiber bar (39 cents each for Target brand; a box of six costs $2.34) and a cookie (a splurge, I realize now -- a Girl Scout Do-Si-Do, $4.00 for a box of 18, making it a whopping 24 cents per cookie). Total price: $1.69. 

But wait: I forgot about the milk. I buy shelf-stable boxed milk so I don't have to worry about how long it stays unrefrigerated. I get it delivered by the case from Gossner Foods in Utah; the cost is 34 cents for an 8-ounce box. That brings the total for my school lunch to $2.03. Fantastic!

Then I remembered that our public-school lunch includes a choice of two hot entrees, a cold entree, a fruit yogurt, a salad bar with garden vegetables, fresh fruit and milk. (Sometimes they have a cookie, too.) School lunch total: $2.00.

Hmm. Now I just have to get my kids to go through that salad bar ....


next: Single-Sex School's Fine for Girls, but Not for Boys
12 comments so far | Post a comment now
chris August 23, 2010, 4:28 AM

I always packed lunch for my kids. My son is now in high school and he wants to buy so I let him but I still pack my daughter - she’s in 5th. I work a lot in her elem school and I can tell you from experience that most of the kids that buy lunches, don’t eat the fruit and barely eat the “main” food. I see kids throw out pizza, chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, salads,etc with only maybe one bite out of them. What most kids waste could feed the homeless everyday. Such a waste. I feel alittle better knowing that what I put in her lunch she likes and will eat.

KansasMommy August 23, 2010, 7:39 AM

Where do you purchase your shelf stable milk?

Cas August 23, 2010, 9:00 AM

Before you try to save the 3 cents per day, check out the questionable cuisine the teacher/blogger Mrs. Q has experienced: http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com/

Wendi August 23, 2010, 10:51 AM

I have a kid in middle school and high school this year and I still pack both of their lunches. I know they will eat it because I get them things they like. I also am able to give them hot lunches on the cold days because I will do thurmos lunches. I have done left overs and chili for hot lunches. I know they are eating healthy because I know what is in it. Also my kids have no desire to wait in a long lunch line and then have to eat so fast that it gives them a tummy ache. Better to bring from home.

Anonymous August 23, 2010, 1:29 PM

I pack lunches because the kids say they taste better and I think they’re healthier. Also what my kids would eat at the school cafeteria would be the unhealthy stuff.

Renae  August 23, 2010, 2:59 PM

My dad packed my lunch in my Hello Kitty lunch box up until my senior year of high school. I always hated the school lunches and you have to wait in line forever to get your lunch, also, you didn’t measure the quantity of food, which would affect the cost. When I was in school, You only got small amounts of a few things, so I got more food for less when I brought my lunch.

Robin August 23, 2010, 3:21 PM

You’re lucky your school caf seems to have real food. At ours you only get a salad if you don’t mind it being brown and smothered in questionable meat and cheese. Barring that you have a choice of the reheated leathery meal of the day or the chip rack. And one year you got a free can of Pepsi with every lunch purchase!

really August 24, 2010, 4:47 AM

Food in schools is very cheap but uses GMO foods, non-organic items and lots of corn syrup.

Proud Momma of a 14 year old August 24, 2010, 8:22 AM

I’ve packed my daughters everyday since pre-k. I too worked in a school and I would not eat the food so why should I expect her to? it usually consisted of a mystery meat and some type of warmed up unseasoned canned vegetables. I would rather pack her lunch no matter the cost and make sure she was eating. The kids that get free lunch drank the chocolate milk, took their straw and would sit with the straw punching holes in the rest of the food playing with it, then dump it in the trash. These children went all day with nothing in their stomach, but a carton of chocolate milk. My daughter now goes to a private school where they have their lunches catered in from various restaurants and yes it costs $25 a week but it is worth every penny as the kids are getting great food that they actually eat because they like it. I would rather spend the money to know she is eating and not going all day on an empty stomach. No I am not a wealthy person my daughter goes to school on a scholarship. It is just her health is important and good food helps maintain her health.

abby August 26, 2010, 7:56 PM

Wow you give your kid alot of food in their lunch! My mom still packs my lunch even though I’m 15 cuz I hate school food and would rather eat good food…I only ever have a pbj sandwhich 1 piece of fruit (it varies) and one thing like a yogurt or applesauce ect and a bottle of water and lunch at my school is $1.70 for either a hot entree, sandwhich made to your preference, salad, or pizza a piece of fruit and a milk box and you can buy 2 extra snacks if you want but most kids end up throwing away their food anyways cuz its disgusting

Berna Colker November 16, 2010, 11:20 AM

good point

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