I would like to buy school meals. Really I would. And for almost the duration of an academic year I did, for my Daughter.
The idea that I am supporting the local school and my child is receiving a hot, nutritious balanced meal sounds perfect to me.
However there’s always been a niggling doubt that if I sat down and costed it all out, that the maths wouldn’t add up. And in reality, the meal wasn’t as nutritious as I would have liked. That isn’t to say one wasn’t offered, all the main component parts were available. What my Daughter chose to put on her tray was another matter.
The ‘ole brain started a whirring. I love a price comparison, so I decided to calculate how much a packed lunch costs, the way we do it at Chez Wright.
So, I’m back to prepping a packed lunch each day, and I thought I’d share how I do it. And the costings behind it. Upon starting this post, I haven’t yet done the comparison – so the results will be as much a revelation to myself as much as anyone else.
(n.b the majority of costs are based on Aldi UK April 2012 product/prices and are approximate, I have ’rounded up’ where unsure)
School meals is a topical subject, at the moment, here in the UK.
It’s being reported that for some families, the removal of free school meals could cost, a family with 3 children, in excess of £30 extra a week. Based on what I had been paying this would be £31.50 a week.
Packed Lunch 1 = 62p
3 x Slices of Simple Healthy Home-Made Pizza left over from Saturday dinner = £0.25
50 grams of red grapes = £0.20
1/10 th of a whole cucumber = £0.05
Large handful of popcorn = £0.05
Earlier that day, the Kid’s had made fairy cakes – 1 x home-made cake = £0.07
Packed Lunch 2 = 56p
Scooby Snack Ham Sandwich (double layer) = £0.35
1 carrot chopped into sticks = £0.05
1/2 bag of crisps = £0.05
Small handful of sultanas (approx. 30 grams) = £0.07
1 chocolate digestive biscuit = £0.04
Based on the above 2 packed lunches, the average cost is 59p per day. (Interestingly these lunches are very similar in cost, which was unplanned).
I believe an academic year in the UK is 38 weeks. Therefore school meals (at £10.50 per week) would cost £399 per annum per child, opposed to £112 for packed lunches based around what I prepare (this is an approx. figure as you would need to take into account additional days off and bank holidays etc…). A child can be at primary school for up to 7 years, this is a total saving of over £2,000.
There is, of course, an initial outlay for containers and a lunch bag/bottle. As always, I like a bit of recycling, so the main container is from a recent McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion (which many a friend has commented was the best freebie in their meals ever!). The smaller containers are actually…
…recycled ice-cream tubs from a previous impulse purchase! Perfect size for a primary school child’s lunch!
The lunch bag and bottle was a birthday gift. The bottle is metal and contains tap water. So minimal cost there.
But it’s not all about the money, one of the major benefits for me is:
I know what was for lunch, and I know what was eaten.
This post doesn’t mean I won’t ever buy school meals again. I may well do. There are themed lunches for special occasions, and I may find that when Second-Born stays for all day he won’t eat a packed lunch. Never say never. But now I have an exact figure, a cost in mind that I can compare, it will be difficult to justify paying for a school meal.
What this comparison also made me consider is that for a family currently receiving free meals, should this be removed as a benefit, it could cost a family with 2 children almost an extra £6 a week even by cutting costs and going for a home-made packed option (based on the lunches I’ve suggested). This could easily be a 10% increase on a grocery spend per week. Things are already tough for UK families, this could make them a lot tougher.
(High food prices and a tough economic climate are not unknown to the UK – BBC2 are running a great series at the moment about the 70’s – it seems that times were tough then also – I don’t remember as I was a young child. It was really interesting to see how the UK was ‘making do and mending’ and also participating in some frugal cooking. I adored the lady advising on reducing grocery spend)
What’s your view on school meals versus a packed lunch, I’d love to hear your thoughts… Please share…