It’s Back-to-School season, and for many moms of multiples there’s a big expense on the horizon: school lunches. Now that all three of my kids are in school full-day, it’s a big job for me to pack those lunchboxes. I prefer to pack lunch so I have more control over what they eat (I see what comes home uneaten), plus I prefer the nutrition of what I pack over what the school provides. It’s also a lot less expensive, especially with three kids!

Here are some strategies that help me save money on school lunches

Reusable Water Bottles

I switched my kids to stainless steel Thermos Funtainers a few years ago, and I no longer spend any money on disposable juice boxes. They drink water daily, which is healthier and cheaper! These straw cups have lasted us for several years, so at $10-15 at Target/Walmart, they’re a great value.

Buy Larger Packages

Instead of buying individually-packaged Goldfish, pretzels and other lunchbox treats, I buy larger bags or packages and make my own serving sizes. We use reusable containers, either fabric or plastic, and wash them instead of purchasing disposable baggies. This saves me a lot of money and I can make the serving sizes appropriate to the age of my kids–less for preschoolers and more for my son with a huge appetite. You can also do this with yogurt, canned fruit and applesauce and avoid those expensive single cups.

Use up Dinner Leftovers

Under the guise of avoiding the sandwich rut, I make my kids eat our dinner leftovers! They appreciate something new once in a while (and lunch meat gets expensive). I can use up chicken, rice, and veggies from dinner by heating it in the morning and serving it in a Thermos cup. You can also put pieces on toothpicks for a little “party food” type of lunch. My kids see that others have “Lunchables,” so we talk about what’s in it and then make our own. I add fruits and vegetables and healthier versions of crackers and cheese. To see more ways that moms use leftovers, check out this great lunch photo gallery.

If you’re a veteran lunch packer, what are your strategies to save money on school lunches?