Packed Lunch Moneysaving….

I originally posted this a little while ago and although, I don’t usually re-publish old posts I think this one is worth a second look so you can see that children’s packed lunches don’t have to cost the earth.  It’s easy to make a filling and healthy packed lunch that your children will enjoy for around half of what you would pay for a school dinner.

I’d strongly recommend a good read through the comments as well as there are some fantastic ideas in there.  Feel free to add your own too….

School Dinners seem to have got very expensive lately don’t they?

I think they’re currently £1.95 a day round here which works out to almost £10.00 a week and personally, I think that’s quite a lot to pay every day – especially when you consider I have two children.  One of whom is a very fussy eater and the other doesn’t have a big appetite and usually rushes through her dinner as she’s rather be out in the playground.

We decided quite early on that we were going to do packed lunches rather than school dinners and we’ve gradually got the hang of what will and won’t be eaten along with learning how to cut the cost of the packed lunches and we’re absolute experts now so I thought I’d show you how we save on our packed lunches and hopefully, you’ll have some ideas to share with me….

I’ve based all prices around the current prices on the Tesco website as I find that’s the easiest website to get prices from and I wanted to show you how much everything was – you’ll be able to get similar whatever supermarket you shop at.


For juice we use double concentrated squash and make it up in a drinks bottle which works out to around 5p a drink (based on the Tesco double strength orange squash which is £1.50 for 1.5 litres).  All children in our school are encouraged to drink water throughout the day and they all have their own water bottle in class that the school fill every morning and wash out on a night.

The Savoury Bit


I know I could get cheaper but I really like the Warburtons ready sliced buns for packed lunches so I buy a pack of 12 at a time and freeze them.  We get one out on the night when we make the next day’s lunches and make the sandwiches while the buns are still frozen.  They defrost in the fridge overnight and are taste lovely and fresh the next day.  They work out at 13p each, unless I manage to get some reduced at the end of the day.  We try to vary the fillings we use but even the most expensive one only works out to around 43p including the bun.  Our favourite fillings are:

  • Cheese = about 30p (Tesco mature cheddar 250g for £1.85)
  • Egg Mayo = 20p (Tesco Eggs are 15 for £1.45 but I can’t see if these are Free Range or not on the website, if they’re not I only buy Free Range eggs so it would cost slightly more).
  • Chicken/Pork/Beef = No idea on price really as it’s usually a thinnish slice from the leftovers of Sunday Dinner.
  • Ham = Usually from a ham joint we’ve cooked for lunches etc.  We usually buy a small value joint for around £3.00 to £4.00 so one slice probably costs about 30p.

Master Frugal isn’t really a sandwich person unless it’s just bread and butter so I make him cheesey pops which are really just cheese straws in disguise.

Cheesey Pop (AKA cheese straws but flat and round not long and thin ;-))

  • 150g Self raising flour = 6p (Tesco value flour 1.5kg for 52p)
  • 1/2 tsp salt = 2p (complete guess but can’t be much)
  • 30g margarine = 6p (Stork Margarine 500g for £1.00)
  • 75g grated cheese = 56p (Tesco mature cheddar 250g for £1.85)
  • 1 egg = 10p (Tesco Eggs 15 for £1.45, same as above, if they’re not free range I’d spend a bit more)
  • 2 tablespoons of milk = 10p (another complete guess – probably less)
  1. Rub the margarine into the flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs and then add in the cheese, leaving a handful for later.
  2. Beat the egg and the milk together and stir all but one tablespoon of the mixture into the cheesey flour and mix it to make a dough.
  3. Roll the dough out to about 1cm and either cut into strips for grown up cheese straws or use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.  You can make about 18 shapes using these quantities.
  4. Using the rest of the egg mixture, brush each shape with it and sprinkle them with the rest of the cheese.
  5. Put your shapes on to a greased baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at around 200 c for between 10 and 12 minutes.

I usually manage to get around 18 shapes out of this mixture and I use 3 shapes in one packed lunch which works out at 15p a day.

The Sweet Stuff

Our school are quite strict on what is allowed as far as sweet snacks are concerned – chocolate is a no-no although chocolate biscuit things like Kit Kats etc are allowed.  Considering a two fingered KitKat works out to around 21p these days, I prefer to make my own sweet snacks and freeze them in sandwich bags so we just have to take one out of the freezer the night before when we make the packed lunches and it’ll be ready for the next morning.

I use a simple victoria sponge mix to make what we call packed lunch cake:

Ingredients for Packed Lunch Cake

  • 150g self raising flour = 6p (Tesco value flour 1.5kg for 52p)
  • 150g sugar = 15p (Tate and Lyle Sugar 1kg for 99p)
  • 150g softened butter / margarine = 23p (Stork Margarine 500g for £1.00)
  • 3 eggs = 30p (Tesco Eggs 15 for £1.45, same as above, if they’re not free range I’d spend a bit more)
  • Vanilla essence = 5p ish (I always have some in)
  • Icing Sugar = 19p (Silver Spoon £1.89 for 1kg)
  1. Beat together the margarine and the sugar.
  2. Add in the 3 eggs and the vanilla essence and and beat until combined.
  3. Fold in the flour.
  4. Pour the mixture into a greased baking tin – I used a smaller square one today so my squares look quite chunky but you can use a larger one and make more delicate looking sponge fingers.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven at around 200 c until your cake is looking golden on top – I’m not going to specify a time as it depends on the size of the cake tins you use and the thickness of the cake.  I start my time off at 15 mins and take it from there.
  6. When the cake is completely cool, mix the icing sugar with some water and ice the top of the cake.  The icing sugar mix needs to be not to runny but not too stiff as you want it to spread easily but not run straight off the top.
This amount of mixture makes 15 small sponge squares/fingers.  This works out to just 7p each (not including the optional sprinkles to make them look pretty).
The Fruity Bit
Most supermarkets do fruit like apples, pears and bananas in bags of 6 for between £1.00 and £1.20 so I would usually work on a piece of fruit costing around 20p.  I also often pick up those little bags of grapes or apples for around 10p when they’re reduced at the end of the day in the supermarket so I spend even less on days when I have them to include.
We also usually include something like a squeezey yoghurt (99p for 6) which works out to about 16p and a packet of crisps which we know usually won’t get eaten but we put them in anyway in case the kids are particularly that day.  A packet of crisps works out to around 16p per pack (99p for 6 packets).  Again, when bought on offer as they often are, we spend even less on these items.
If I add everything together, I can make a healthy and filling packed lunch for between 79p  and £1.07.  If I wanted to get all technical I could say that the average cost works out at 93p, a saving of £1.02 a day on the cost of school dinners.  Multiply that saving by two children and that’s around £40.00 a month cheaper than school dinners.  Taking into account school holidays that works our to £400.00 ish a year!
The Maths Bit
Juice = 5p
Savoury = 15p and 43p
Sweet = 7p
Fruit = 20p
Squeezy Yoghurt = 16p
Packet of crisps = 16p
Total per day = 79p -£1.07
Do you have any tips for me on how else I could save money or if there’s anything else I could be making for a bit more variation?

This weeks Frugal(ish) meal plan....
Family friendly frugal meals - Turkey and feta burgers....


  1. tashapage says

    I'm currently very much cutting back on how often my family eats meaty meals, as meat is so costly and really having meat as often as we do, sometimes every night) is unhealthy really.

  2. Tobim says

    We freeze the squeezy yogurts too – they act as little coolpacks and don't explode when bashed about in the lunchbox.They defrost nicely in time for lunch too!

  3. says

    Thank you for a brilliantly written blog, home economics is my pet subject! My husband has moaned about the price of school lunches for a long time and after the teacher kept moaning that our daughter wasn't eating them we have decided to go down the packed lunch route for both our kids from September. I expect there will be a lot of crudite, houmus pittas etc, cold Frikerdeller, pieces of cheddar, fruit and the odd sweet or savoury treat involved. They've been told they have to make them so it will give them some ownership and hopefully encourage them to eat it all too.

  4. theanamumdiary says

    Great post, really enjoyed it. My daughter is newly on sandwiches, I was convinced it was cheaper. Now I know!!

  5. Alison says

    Some fantastic ideas on here which I hope to use. I buy most of my food from Aldi and get whatever is on offer for lunch boxes, this week it's 59p for Blueberries and 99p for strawberries so that's their fruit tomorrow as they get fed up with what I'd call fruit basics, such as apples. My youngest two usually have either a wrap or a sandwich, a cheese triangle or small yoghurt and a pack of crisps (multipac of 30 for £2.49 aldi) and they'll either have pop made up in an old reusable bottle or a carton of orange juice (6 for 99p aldi) I try to stick to the orange juice in the winter as I figure they need all the vitamin C they can get their hands on! Sometimes they have 'standard' fruit such as a banana or clementine and sometimes the nicer stuff to maintain their interest and make sure they still eat the fruit! My oldest daughter at secondary school as all the same stuff except I replace the wrap with cheese crackers (33p a pack Aldi) as she's very fussy.
    I must admit I'm not good with home making stuff so I'm going to try much more now I've got some great ideas from here. My biggest money saver is not using any of the main supermarkets. I get most of my shopping from Aldi, popping into home bargains and poundland for other things and it saves me a fortune.

    • says

      A few people have said to me to try Aldi for fruit and veg especially as they do some really good offers apparently so I'm going to check them out next week I think.

      Some great ideas so thanks for sharing x

  6. hopewellmomschoolagain says

    Just found your blog. I'm in the USA (Ohio) and rant about school lunches to my kids a lot! They're 15 and 17 so I've given up the fight, but I do take my own. One thing that helped was looking at it like BENTO–a little of this (leftover) a little fruit or veg etc.

    FYI–WOW the school CLEANS and FILLS water bottles? Ours banned them due to water fights!

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    • says

      You should check out the packed lunches that Pippa at A Mothers Ramblings makes – she uses the same BENTO philosophy with her little girls packed lunches and they look great every week.

      I'm impressed about the water bottles as well, I could be wrong but I don't think most schools in the UK do this x x

  7. says

    Some useful tips, thanks. I also do the cake thing – bake, cut up and freeze – and it works well. I also tend to buy the big bags of raisins and they take some of those in small pots, rather than those individual boxes of raisins which can add up. For variety (and when I'm more organised) I sometimes also cook the Sainsbury's Basics or Tesco Value pizza (99p for a large one), cut up and freeze individual slices for later, or make small pasta salads which cost pennies. Going to try your cheesey pops too :-)

  8. Lynne Walker says

    I have 2 teens who still take packed lunches. They include loads of fruit and mostly buy Tesco value/Asda Smartprice fruit and veg. They love apples, oranges, grapes, satsumas etc. I do tubs of sultanas, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, sausages. I also buy jellies and also do angel delight (Asda/Tesco cheapest variety) I add fruit to jellies too to bulk up and give them an extra portion of their '5 a day'. I get bags of frozen mini sausages or sausage rolls – about 50 for £1ish and cook them on a Sunday night and they keep for a week in the fridge. You can buy Greens Cheesecake mix and make up mini cheesecake and I just add fruit to the top in a small tupperware pot.

    I make weetabix muffins:

    2 crushed weetabix
    1 and a half cups SR Flour
    1 cup milk
    half cup sugar
    1 egg (optional)
    2 tablespoons Mixed Spice
    2 cups sultanas

    Mix all dry ingredients then add milk and egg (if required) I then pop the ingredients into silicone muffin trays and cook until golden brown (Just over 30 mins) at 180 degrees.

    I tend to add a bit more mixed spice than specified (they taste a bit Christmas Puddy, yum yum) but I also mix it up a little by adding apples, pineapples, cinnamon, grated carrot etc….just whatever is lying around. My daughter likes them baked without an egg and they still come out ok – slightly firmer then she pops it in the microwave for 20 seconds with custard.

    Asda/Tesco do packs of 6 hot cross buns which are 3 packs for £1.50 you can give them to the kids plain or I add a little homemade raspberry jam – less than 10p each.

    • says

      I love that recipe – thanks so much for sharing it. Your other ideas are all brilliant aswell, I'm definitely going to be using some of them for our lunches.

      Thanks again for taking the time to share all your ideas x x

  9. utterlyscrummy says

    My girls usually have packed lunches as school dinners are £2 for younger 2 and £3 for 11yo who is at high school. If they were to have school dinners every day it would cost us £35 a week. We obviously can't afford that so they nearly always take packed lunches unless I am really ill or working a 12hr night shift the night before. My girls have water to drink at school in the lunch hall so I don't bother packing drinks as they tend not to put the top back on properly and the lunch bag gets soaked. I try and vary the contents of packed lunches so they don't get bored, but still be frugal at the same time. We have reuable solid icepacks to keep the lunches cold which helps. I make savoury swirls, calzone or falafels in advance and freeze them to save time then defrost them overnight in the fridge for packed lunches the next day. I also bake all our own bread and freeze some for later in the week if it's a busy week. I also buy dried fruit in bigger packs and put it in smaller containers for packed lunches, and do the same with yoghurt as bigger packs are cheaper.

    • says

      I'd love to live in your house as your packed lunches sound great 😉

      I'm going to steal your idea of buying dried fruit in bigger packs and making it into smaller portions for lunches – have you seen how much those little boxes of raisins are – they're about 30p for a mouthful if that!

      • utterlyscrummy says

        The small boxes of raisins are really expensive. I like to give them a mixture of dried fruit and sometimes add some nuts or cooked popcorn as well. Buying bigger packs and making them into lunchbox snacks means you get more for your money and more variety too :o)

          • utterlyscrummy says

            LOL I sometimes add a 1 tsp of cinnamon & 1 Tblsp of sugar to a large bag of homemade popcorn and shake it up to flavour it for kids lunchboxes instead of putting baking in. If I want a savoury version I put 50gm butter in a pan with 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp paprika, 4 tsp table salt and 4 tsp caster sugar then cook until butter has melted. Pour over large amount of popcorn in a bag, seal the end, then shake like mad to coat the popcorn in the mixture. Tis a fab snack with drinks in the evening as well as a lunchbox snack 😉

  10. says


    You could try making up sultana loaf or banana bread – wrap individual slices and freeze – pull straight from the freezer as required in the morning and by lunchtime they are defrosted and ready to eat – but act as a wee "cool pack" in the lunchbox during the morning to keep the yoghurt etc fresh and cool!

    Best Wishes
    Frugal Wife

  11. says

    Bel has a pack lunch because we found out that she wasn't made to eat all her school dinner and if its something she doesn't like then she wouldn't eat it. So, its a pack lunch for her though she has decided that she won't eat bread if its not crusty!

  12. says

    Just a quickie – I no longer have to do the school dinners/packed lunch thing as mine are grown ups now (thank goodness looking at these prices) but I take a packed 'lunch' for my night shifts – a recent find at the 99p shop is a pack of bright, reuseable, single serving jelly pots with lids and one packet of jelly makes all 5 pots – they set quickly too. Add fruit to them if you want to make fancy ones (not kiwi or pineapple though as the jelly won't set)

  13. says

    I have 4 children and my husband and I both take a packed lunch to work.
    Like you I include a drink, sandwich, packet of crisps, biscuit or cake and I add a piece of fruit.
    I buy crisps from Aldi – £1.99 for pack of 24 which adds up to just over 8p each.
    I used to spend £3.50 a day on my lunch and a coffee. My husband spent the same. I spent £40 a week per child.
    It was only when I added it up – a staggering £75 a week on lunches that I decided to do the packed lunches. Now I work it out at £1.10 per person per day pr £6.60. That means I save £8.00 ish a week.

    • says

      It's a really easy area to save money in isn't it? All you need to do is to take a few minutes to prepare your meals in advance and to plan what you're going to have each day. Well done on your savings – that's about £400+ a year saved!

  14. says

    It's £2.20 per child here.Before the split from the husband my older kids had school dinners twice a week and packed lunches inbetween.They qualify for free school meals which, they have now.My youngest has a packed lunch at preschool twice a week when she stays all day.I did used to let them all have the Innocents drinks with their lunch boxes but they drank that and left most of their lunch, so the youngest just gets water now and I reserve the apple/ornge juice for meals time at home only.I make my own bread, tray bakes and use left over food from dinner to make up packed lunches.Which is why I'm over here as I'm adding you to my post about food budgeting.

    • says

      £2.20! That'e even worse than here. One thing I don't do at the minute is make my own bread – I did have a breadmaker before (a few years ago now) but the bread just seemed to taste really doughy. I might have to keep an eye out on Freecycle for a new one and have another go 😉

      Thanks for adding me to your post x


  1. […] Again Frugal Family comes to the lunch box rescue. She has worked out that she can feed her children cheaper than the school dinners that are on offer (yay) and shares some of her favourite recipes, including these Cheese Pops. Now I am not sure if you can freeze them or not. But I guess if you have an air tight container, they should last a few days! And if you have 4 kids like Amanda.. well, they won’t need to last very long! The Packed Lunch cake looks great too! […]

  2. […] Again Frugal Family comes to the lunch box rescue. She has worked out that she can feed her children cheaper than the school dinners that are on offer (yay) and shares some of her favourite recipes, including these Cheese Pops. Now I am not sure if you can freeze them or not. But I guess if you have an air tight container, they should last a few days! And if you have 4 kids like Amanda.. well, they won’t need to last very long! The Packed Lunch cake looks great too! […]