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Children love small foods that come in containers: cheese sticks in plastic, yogurt in small colorful cups, bags of chips. But when it comes to packaged snack foods, you are not paying for the food within; you are paying for the packaging. Instead of buying string cheese sticks, purchase a block of cheddar, cut it up, and put the slices in a plastic container or sandwich bag. The same goes for fruit cocktails and yogurt; large containers of these items cost a fraction of what individually packaged items do per serving. Spoon portions into small plastic locking-lid containers and pop them in the lunch box. Over time, hundreds of dollars can be saved. Divide chips and crackers into small plastic zipping bags. Consider investing in reusable plastic juice bottles rather than spending a fortune on landfill-clogging juice boxes. Though the containers will be an initial cost, they will more than pay for themselves.
Say "No" to Name Brands
As with packaged vs. home containers, name brand packaged foods cost significantly more than store brands. If packaging your own foods is out of the question on a busy morning, then packaged foods are your only option. To economize on packaged foods, reach for the store brand. National brands have more appeal to children because of advertising. But store brand cookies, chips, yogurt, milk, juice drinks, crackers and packaged fruit snacks taste similar to and cost less than the big names.
Though perhaps the most time-consuming money-saving idea for busy parents, homemade snacks and foods save money over anything purchased. Homemade cookies, muffins, sandwiches, soups and wraps are all less expensive than their pre-made purchased equivalent. Packaging up last night's dinner leftovers makes for a virtually free lunch entree.
Healthy and Classic
Healthy fresh foods cost less than expensively packaged fun foods. A piece of fruit costs less and is better for your child than a package of sugary fruit snacks. Though it may be cliché, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are not only nutritious, they are also loved by most children, and are the cheapest sandwich you could stick in their lunchboxes. Peanut butter, jam or jelly and bread (try whole wheat or enriched white) are inexpensive ingredients that last for weeks of lunches.