School Lunches: The Cost of Convenience

Packing school lunches it not likely to make many parents’ list of favorite daily chores, and it’s tempting to go for pre-packaged single-serving items that are easy to toss into a lunch box. We know that there’s an environmental cost to all that packaging, but it turns out there’s also a significant cost to your wallet.

To save you the time — and inconvenience! — we’ve run some numbers on the true cost of convenience, so you can decide for yourself when it makes sense to give up the single-serving items in favor of reusables.

Water

If you pack a small, single-use water bottle, how much are you spending? Absolute cheapest, at a club store, probably $0.11 per bottle, but they run as much as $0.38 per bottle. A reusable thermos, with or without a straw, tends to cost between $12 and $15. So depending on how much you’re paying for bottled water, the thermos pays off in 2-5 months.

Juice

A juice box or pouch runs about $0.30-$0.60 per 6 oz. If you buy juice in bulk instead, and send it in a little thermos, it will take as few as 3 months to make up the price difference.

Sandwich and Snack Bags

Resealable, single-use plastic sandwich or snack bags tend to cost about $0.02-$0.03 per bag. A pack of four reusable bags costs about $14, or $3.50 per bag. All you have to do is shake or wipe them out if they get too dirty. If you’re packing two lunches that each have one sandwich bag and one snack bag, it will take you 5-7 months of school lunches to recoup that $14.

Lunch Combo Packs

Lunch packs such as Lunchables have been popular for decades. A simple pack contains roughly one ounce each of crackers, deli meat and cheese, and costs about $1.68. That price seems hard to beat, right? But to make your own at home, after buying 16 oz of crackers, 16 oz of deli meat, and 16 oz of cheese, the same 3-ounce combination costs roughly $0.83 per serving, and uses up much less packaging. That savings, about $0.85 per day, pays for a $12 reusable bento-style lunchbox within a mere 3 weeks.

Ultimately, switching from single-use to reusable items isn’t only about saving money. You’ll create less waste, and you’ll almost surely consume healthier, higher-quality foods in the process.

For more ideas on how to save money and create less waste when packing school lunches, visit Global Stewards.