Price of Eating At School vs. Home & Our Meal Plan – September 27, 2015

Weekly Menu Plan May 2013

This post is a bit on the political side, so I am going to give a disclaimer here.  When it comes down to where I stand politically, I tend to be for small government and less involvement.  I really am not fond of government programs, though we have been involved with a few due to our kids’ histories.  I have also worked for various government offices and actually like helping private property owners. Yes, it is a fine line we walk sometimes, between the ideal world and the one we actually live in. Keep that in mind please as you read this.

One week into the school year, George’s school said we needed to resubmit paperwork for his lunches.  As a foster child he was automatically qualified to received free lunches.  When we adopted him, he automatically qualified for free lunches due to his insurance.  Not liking this fact, knowing that if he was our biological child he would not qualify, I even tried to pay for them but was told it was not even possible.  (After talking with a former foster parent friend in another school district this past week, it seems that this was limited to our school district.)

So this year, I was very shocked when I was told that the rules had changed and we needed to resubmit the paperwork with OUR income, not just his.  I knew we, as a household, did not qualify, so I did not even bother with filling out the paperwork.

Instead I used this as an opportunity to find out more information and to help the secretary at school become more informed.  In other words, I asked questions.  I had the school double check as they have told me things before that were not quiet true.  I was not saying I should not be paying, I just wanted to make sure they were right before handing over almost $200.

The money is not the part I was upset about.  What really got me was that there was no warning and it wasn’t until the school year had begun that we found out.  As it turns out, the rule was that once we found out we were immediately responsible for the costs of his meals AND owed the school for the ones he had already eaten. It got better (sarcasm), as we were also charged almost $200 for other fees that had also been covered previously.  Again, I am not arguing that we should not have covered them, just that previously we were not even allowed to cover them and now without warning we were being held responsible for them and expected to pay them right away.

I am not sure who came up with the rule that you could not be told about these changes, but once you found out they took effect that very minute.  Really?  No warning?  I am pretty sure this had put more than a few families in a tight spot.  I understand the reasons behind these changes and agree they needed to be done.  The carry out of them, though, was done very poorly.

In my shock I did ask a very important question – “How much do lunches cost?”  Turns out the answer is $2.40 per day.  While that is not a lot if you were eating out, it is a lot if I were to spend that much per person to make a meal at home.  I also knew that George did not eat all of his food.  To make life a bit easier, I went ahead and paid for the meals he had already eaten and added $20 more to his account. That $20 would have lasted him only 8 days for lunches only!  That is almost the amount I use per person per week to plan our grocery shopping! Then I went home and vented.  I can make much better food at home for cheaper.

I must have said as much to my husband over lunch, as he came home that night with a very useful number.  Seems we have spent $1.75 per person per meal over the past year.  I looked at him funny, as there is no way I spend that much on our grocery/household shopping.  The light bulb went on, “Does that include eating out?”  It did.  So, Dear Readers, over the past year including eating out we have spent less than the school is going to charge us, for better, healthier food.  The next morning George’s routine changed and he started taking his lunches daily.  Here are some of the meals I have sent him:

  • Dad’s Meatloaf, rice, peas, milk
  • Sliced ham, cheese, crackers, applesauce, chocolate chip zucchini muffin, juice
  • Spaghetti, juice
  • Pan fried steak with noodles, juice
  • Breaded Pork Chops, couscous, red cabbage with apples, juice
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips, applesauce, juice

… all for less than $2 a day.  I am thinking it was more like $1-$1.50 a day, as these were servings taken from our main meal of the day, lunch.  If it had been from breakfast or supper, it would have cost us even less.

So what is the big deal about an extra $1 or so each day?  Let’s do the math:

185 school days x $2.40 per school lunch = $444 if we paid full price

185 school days x $.40 in savings every day = $74 saved with minimal effort ($370 spent for lunches)

185 school days x $1 in savings every day = $185 saved with a bit of planning ($259 spent for lunches)

185 school days x $1.40 in savings every day = $259 saved with better planning and shopping  ($185 spent for lunches)

crackers ham cheese

A few days after I found out about the change, I had used up all the individual milk cartons we had at home.  The store I normally would go to for the purchase of these was not near where I was headed anytime soon.  I was not sure what I was going to do, but figured I would take it as it came.  (It cost $.30 to buy just milk at school and I could get cartons elsewhere for $.25.)

I was very thankful and surprised to then find juice cartons at our Small Town grocer, that same day, on discount for $.15 each.  I was not sure why they were marked down, as the expiration dates were not for a few months.  After a quick check of the ingredients list, I took all they had set out.  He is now good for the next 4 or 5 months.  Hope he likes apple juice.  🙂

My husband’s take-away from the results of him figuring out how much we spend on each meal?  “Eating at home really does save us a lot of money.”  🙂  Yes, Dear.   I have also noted that he has been eating supper at home more often on the nights he has class.  In the past, he would grab a sandwich, chips and drink from one of several restaurant in Big Town.  I  think he realized the cost of eating out, but once put in a different light it clicked as to how much we could save by lowering that number.

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat


  1. Shake
  2. Twice Baked Breakfast Sweet Potatoes
  3. Eggs, Toast, Fruit
  4. Chocolate Chip Monkey Muffins
  5. Shake
  6. Cream of Wheat
  7. Crepes, fruit


  1. Eat Out
  2. Dad’s Meatloaf with Tomato Relish
  3. Grilled Spiced Pork Patties with greens, rice, beets
  4. Meatball Curry, rice, tomatoes
  5. Spaghetti
  6. Super Fast Salibury Steak, rice peas


  1. Leftovers
  2. Slow Cooker Lentil and Brown Rice Tacos
  3. Salad
  4. Healthy Slow Cooked Tikki Masala, rice, vegetables
  5. Salad
  6. Falafel, rice, vegetables
  7. Leftovers


Linked up with: This Week For DinnerOrgJunkie, TheModestMom

This post contains affiliate links.