Kids have to eat lunch, and feeding them in a way that is both healthy and inexpensive often feels impossible to parents. There's so much junk food at school, and children are notorious for struggling to navigate that world and make healthy choices. If you're concerned about both the health and expense of school lunches, here are some ideas for helping your kids make good choices.

Pack Lunch

The first step toward getting your kids to eat lunch that is healthier and cheaper is to pack food for them instead of letting them buy it at school. Though they might not be happy about this at the beginning (particularly if they've been eating chicken nuggets and pizza every day), they will eat what you send when they're hungry and don't have money to buy food at school.

If you're not very excited about taking the time to pack a lunch every day, take an hour or so on the weekend to get all the ingredients ready for the entire week. Chop veggies and put them in bags, make large batches of pudding or brownies and portion them for the entire week, and even get meat, cheese, and bread ready for sandwiches. With all of this done, putting healthy food in a bag for your kids will be easy.

Make Your Own Snack-Size Portions

It can be tempting to buy snack-size portions or 100-calorie packs of your child's favorite snacks. This costs more, though, because you pay for the packaging and for the ease. Instead, buy a regular package, read the nutritional information on the label, and portion out the food yourself. That way, your kids get the benefit of portioned food and you can spend less.

Let Them Take Leftovers

If you make healthy food for dinner, pack it for your kids to have at lunch, too, especially if it's one of their favorites. Kids are like the rest of us — they get sick of turkey sandwiches after a while. Let them have dinner for lunch. You'll save time and money, and you'll know that they're eating something healthy.

Buy in Bulk

Do your kids like pudding or string cheese or yogurt or something else you can buy at a bulk store? As long as the items will keep, buying in bulk will save you money and hassle. Make sure your kids will eat and keep eating whatever you buy, though, because throwing food away wastes your money instead of saving it.

Send Something Cool... and Cheap

When you pack a lunch, there's always the danger that your kid will trade away their healthy food for junk food, or that they'll mooch off a friend and you'll find the same bag of carrots sitting in their lunch box day after day. To counteract this, send the sort of food kids love.

Many kids like Lunchables. While these are expensive and unhealthy, you can make your own. Choose whole wheat crackers, low sodium deli meat, and high-quality cheese, and let your child go to town. You can also do something similar for pizza and tacos, letting your child build their own lunch at school. Pretty soon, your homemade lunch will be the one in demand.

Shop a Discount Grocer

Every area has their own discount grocery store. Seek these out, because they often provide high quality food at lower-than-usual prices. And they have all the usual items that kids love, like yogurt, juice boxes, fruit snacks, and baby carrots.

One of the discount grocers local to me is Save-A-Lot*. Here are a couple of their ideas for cheap school lunches. You might end up saving more than you'd expect when you use these ideas.

Save-A-Lot Lunch Idea #1 = 88 Cents

  • Tortilla roll sandwich: a tortilla, slice of deli meat and cream cheese
  • A container of Save-A-Lot Coburn Farms Moogurts Lowfat Yogurt
  • A banana
  • Save-A-Lot's new Splash Out! Brand fruit drink pouches

Save-A-Lot Lunch Idea #2 = 99 Cents

  • Save-A-Lot's Mantia's Square Cheese Ravioli (kept warm in a Thermos)
  • Baby carrots and ranch dressing
  • Save-A-Lot's Fruit Flips fruit snacks
  • A bottle of water

Use Condiments and Napkins From Eating Out

Granted, condiments and napkins aren't the most expensive items in the lunches you pack. But packing ketchup and other spreadables in a way that is easy to transport can be difficult, and buying the little packets yourself can cost more than you want to spend. So hold on to the extras that end up in your fast food bag and cut out both the expense and the hassle.

Do you send your kids to school with food? How do you save money and help them make healthy choices?

*Save-A-Lot graciously sent me free samples of some of the items in these lunches. I didn't ask for these, but I will attest that they are yummy and difficult to distinguish from the better-known brands you're used to seeing.