5 Ways to Cut Costs on School Food

Are school meals one of your highest budget lines? After salaries,  school principals report that their food budget is often the most important line item on their agenda.  Whether you are cooking on site or contracting with an outside company or restaurant, we've got some tips to help you shave some zeros off your monthly bill.

1. Use the Whole Ingredient

whole broccoli.jpegChances are that if you prepare food for your kids, you probably serve broccoli as a vegetable at least some of the time. If you're like most people, you probably serve the popular broccoli tops and discard the stem. Save money and make your ingredients last longer by incorporating all parts of the vegetable. Many stems can be cut and used in a stir fry, or roasted in the  oven. When cooking poultry dishes, reserve the bones to make a stock to serve as a tasty soup base.

2. Make Your Own

baking.jpegBelieve it or not, making food from scratch is often much cheaper than buying a prepared item. For example, making large batches of granola or your own muffins with just a few simple ingredients such as whole wheat flour, oats and a natural sweetner will save you tons over packaged snacks. And we don't need to tell you that homemade food is better for your kids since it's made without artificial preservatves. An added bonus :)

Needs ideas for made from scratch meals? Check out a Red Rabbit sample menu for  inspiraton.See Sample Menu

3. Switch to Reusables 

If you purchase and serve disposable dishware at your school, you're spending  a lot more than you know. We've broken down the costs associated with the  most basic paper and plastic disposable supplies. You'll be shocked to see how much you're probably spending on these items, and ecstatic to find that switching to reusable supplies can save you thousands of dollars per year. Yes, thousands! 

ikea tableware.jpeg


Disposable Supplies

The below chart shows costs based on a full set of disposable paper and plastic tableware.

Item Cost per child Cost per 40 children
Nice brand plastic plate $0.15 $6.00
Dixie fork $0.10 $4.00
Dixie spoon $0.08 $3.20
Dixie 5 oz. plastic cup


Seventh Generation Paper Napkin


Total Cost per day per meal


Total Cost for 3 meals


Total Cost per year 




Reusable Supplies 

We used a BPA-free, microwave and dishwasher safe set of plastic tableware for this analysis.

Item Cost per child Cost per 40 children
Plate $0.33 $13.20
Fork $0.16 $6.40
Spoon $0.16 $6.40
Cup $0.33 $13.20
Cost per day  per meal $0.98 $39.20
Cost per day for 3 meals $0.98 $39.20
Total cost per year $0.98 $39.20

We did the math and switching to reusable  supplies can save you over $8,600 a year! With reusables, you need to take into account that you will be washing dishes for each meal, but the economic and environmental benefits are enormous, making this a great cost saver if you have the resources to implement a reusable dish program.

4. Get  Help 

grat.jpeg There are numerous state, city and federal grants available to help fund a food program, from Breakfast in the Classroom funding and eligibility assistance programs like the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

For schools cooking on site you can tap into the Farm to School network to get grants to bring more local food to your kids. 


Looking for more ways to cut food costs? Check out our blog post on cooking for $25 or less for more ideas.

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