After what we hope was a fun and exciting summer, school is back in session. That means—kids in the house or not—it’s time to start getting creative with packing lunches, which can save money and improve your health.

The average person would probably save around $6 a day, $30 a week, $120 a month, and $1,500 a year if they brought their lunch five days a week instead of eating out.

How to Make Packing Lunches Easier

Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. For busy families, leftovers can be a godsend. Doubling a dinner recipe so you’ll have enough for lunch the next day could cut in half your time spent in the kitchen. You could also use only part of the dinner—say, the meat—to create hearty sandwiches, wraps, or salads.

Up your sandwich game, and invest in a healthy bread. Sandwiches are a lunch staple for a reason. They are quick, yummy, and can be nutritious. But many types of bread that seem healthy at first glance are not much better for you than white bread. Sprouted grain bread  can take some getting used to, but it is one of the healthiest options. If you or your kids aren’t ready to take that leap, look for 100-percent-whole-grain or 100-percent-whole-wheat bread.  Finding a brand that is low in sodium is also important.

Try macro bowls to shake up your routine. Leftovers and sandwiches are all well and good, but they can get old. Macro bowls, also known as Buddha bowls, are fun, versatile, and balanced. The concept is simple: protein, healthy starch, vegetables or fruit, and whatever seasonings you want—all in a (portable) bowl. The flexibility makes it easy to build balanced meals  that even your kids will enjoy. Bowls can be sweet or savory, which makes them an option for breakfast as well. The one-bowl-fits-all model also eliminates the need for special containers.

Special containers aren’t necessary, but they can make things fun and convenient. If you or your kids are not into letting food mix and mingle, there are plenty of cool options available. Bento boxes are a cute and practical way to keep food separated on the go.

Sunday meal prep might be for you. Preparing lunches for the whole week could be just the thing you need. It has the potential to save you time, money, and unnecessary stress.  But it’s a task that not everyone is interested in, and that’s OK. If you’re a planner, go for it. If you prefer to wing it, that’s fine, too.

 

Healthy, convenient store-bought snacks: They exist. Think low-sugar yogurt, nuts, sliced fruits and veggies, and unsweetened applesauce. Be discerning with granola, cereal, and nut bars . Refined grains and sugar often top their ingredient lists. Avoid items such as fruit snacks (basically candy) and crackers made with refined flour.

If you’ve never packed lunches on a regular basis, remember that just like with any other task, there is a learning curve. Try not to get discouraged. Even if you aren’t able to get a whole lunch together, grabbing some healthy snacks before you run out the door is still better than nothing. We hope some of these tips help you on your mission to eat well and save money.

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