Lunch Box or Hot Tray? What School Lunch is Better, Cheaper or More Delicious?
Patch takes a closer look at school lunch options for kids.
The decision to pack a lunch or buy a cafeteria tray is very personal.
For some moms it’s a matter of time—do they have time to pack a fun and nutritious lunch every morning, or is it easier to just pay the school to serve up pizza and nuggets? Or maybe they have a picky eater who won’t touch canned green beans or “fish treasures.”
Then there’s the issue of economy—if a family qualifies for a free or reduced lunch, why not let the school handle lunch and take a little pressure off the grocery bill?
School lunch prices are going up this year at Fox, due to federal guidelines that require schools part of the National School Lunch Program to serve more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. This year lunches will be $2.05 for elementary students or 40 cents for those who qualify for reduced price lunches.
A week of elementary school lunches will cost most families $10.25. Can a mom pack a better lunch for less?
Looking at the August elementary school lunch menu, most days kids will be chowing down on pizza, burgers, nuggets and tacos. Fries or tator tots only appear twice for the entire month, with kids being offered carrot sticks, yams, rice, salads and green veggies most days as their side dish. Each lunch will also have a fruit, like peaches, apple sauce or fruit cocktail. There is no dessert offered.
According to Candy Gruenewald, the Director of Nutrition Services at Fox, the lunches served to elementary students must include at least one fruit or vegetable and come between 550 and 650 calories.
Patch drove around town looking at common lunch staples at four major grocery store chains: Dierbergs, Schnucks, Shop & Save and Walmart. Patch also took at look at the Wonder Thrift Store where Hostess products can be picked up for cheap.
We priced a typical lunch box meal: an Oscar Mayer turkey sandwich with Kraft American cheese on Wonder Whole Grain White Bread, with a serving of Lays plain chips, a pre-packaged cup of name brand peaches*, a Twinkie and a Kool-Aid juice bottle. This meal comes in at 640 calories when prepared using recommended serving sizes and meets the school lunch calorie limits.
Walmart came in with the lowest price at $2.22 lunch, which is 17 cents a meal more than a school tray, but includes Kool-Aid instead of milk and adds the luxury of a bag of chips and a Twinkie.
The highest lunch was from Dierbergs, at $2.64, or 59 cents more expensive than a school lunch.
Obviously a mom could save more money and come in under the $2.05 budget if she did not use name brands. However, for a fair comparison, Patch only used name brand products. Each price below is for one serving.
|Dierbergs||Shop & Save||Schnucks||Walmart||Wonder||Calories|
|Lays Classic Chips||0.27||0.37||0.27||0.24||160|
|Wonder Whole Grain White||0.19||0.19||0.21||0.19||0.13||140|
|Oscar Mayer Turkey||0.70||0.76||0.88||0.60||60|
|Brand Name Peach||0.64||0.55||0.50||0.60||25|
*Patch priced Del Monte No Sugar Added Peaches in a single serving cup. One store did not carry Del Monte so Dole peaches were used instead.
Note: Patch also priced a lunch with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (using Jif and Smuckers) and a fresh banana for the fruit, but the resulting calories were too high at 830 for the meal. The price however was impressive, ranging from $1.37 at Walmart and up to $1.67 at Shop & Save--well below the $2.05 charged for a hot lunch.