PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The emphasis this year is back to school on a dime and nowhere are savings more achievable than with school-day lunches.
There's a dual focus to the approach – money-saving, yes, but it has be something your child will eat.
The first step is crucial and cannot be skipped.
"You need to get your kid's input on what they are going to eat because nothing is more frustrating than sending something to school and then it comes right back," said family and lifestyle blogger Amanda Mushro.
Mushro, a Uniontown native, said your child's input simplifies your life and that is going to save you a ton of money because "you're not wasting food by just sending items they're never going to eat."
"You're trying to use foods that they're already familiar with, preparing things and low-cost protein items," added registered dietitian Lara Zervos. "Dairy is a great low-cost alternative to protein, as well. Cheese sticks, cheese cubes, yogurt."
That also includes last night's dinner and that can be both a great source of protein and Mushro says you can get creative with those leftovers.
"Chop up some of that chicken, toss it into some pasta or make a cheese quesadilla or a kind of taco to go," she said. "You're saving money, saving some time, and you're using up those leftovers that you already cooked."
Zervos said this is prime time for fresh fruits in the lunchbox because apples start coming into season, pears, green seedless grapes, and even honeydew melon.
Also, don't forget the frozen fruit section.
"Frozen fruit is going to be significantly cheaper than fresh fruits and it is just as healthy," Mushro said.
Even the treat for the end of the meal can be done inexpensively.
"Make up some cookies or brownies," Mushro continued. "Just a couple of dollars for a box and you don't need to portion out what you're going to use for the rest of the week."
So, what if you're child has a specific request like cheese sandwiches? Then that's the meal, make a batch on Sunday and save time during the week.
Both Mushro and Zervos are big on saving money by buying in bulk and they have both specifics and cautions.
Mushro says a consistent eater is easy and she has one of those and another who wants variety.
"I tried to build her menu around what is on sale and how we can save a little bit of money," she said. "So, on Sundays, we kind of lay everything out, make the sandwiches for the week, put them into a bag, and toss them into the freezer."
She said for chips and other traditional fares, avoid the individual serving packets.
"It is so much more expensive," she explained. "What you want to do is you want to buy those items in bulk and then individually portion them out."
However, that comes with a caution.
"Make sure you're getting the correct serving size," Zervos said. "You know, it's real easy, for example, some of the cheddar cheese crackers, you could really overdo it on serving sizes."
Both she and Mushro agree, that investing in a Bento box lunch container is wise.
"Very great, modular packing systems for our food, you know how to fit it all together," Zervos said.
"I can put individual foods, and everything stays put," added Mushro. "He can try as many different foods as he likes, and then I'm not washing a million different things."
They also said to scrap that expensive applesauce and yogurt pouches and get reusable pouches.
"You can find them online, you can find them in the big box stores, and they're relatively inexpensive," Zervos said.
"It's not an investment in the beginning, but in the long run it will save you money," Mushro continued.
However, a word of caution – kids are so used to throwing out the applesauce pouches, you have retrain them not to throw out the reusables.
for more features.