Well, it’s back-to-school time. Haircuts, new shoes, first day pictures and of course lots of lunch packing. When my eldest turned 5, I kind of had a toddler-style temper tantrum about having to pack all of those lunches. Except more dignified of course. There was all the food that came back spoiled and uneaten. The complaints I got from her: “I don’t like turkey sandwiches!” And all the time it took either late at night or during the morning rush to complete this thankless task.
So when she was 5, I drew a line in the sand and said “That’s it. From now on, you pack your own lunches!” I don’t recommend the lack of tact I used in navigating this transition – there are more upbeat ways to present it. But in the 4 years since, I have to say that this kid-lunch-packing thing has turned out pretty great. For me and for her. Here are some reasons why.
Reasons Kids Should Pack Lunch
- It builds real life skills. Planning, judgement, gross motor skills. Did you know our kids are drowning in their inability to manage the mundane aspects of their lives? Our collective helicopter parenting is inhibiting their development of simple, everyday life skills. The more we can avoid doing things for our kids that they can do for themselves, the better off they will be. As Maria Montessori said, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Give your child a wonderful gift: a sense of pride and accomplishment at doing it himself.
- It demonstrates your confidence in her. When she sees that you believe she can do something that has up to this point been a grownup responsibility, she will stand a little taller in her shoes. Every child has an innate desire to know she is capable. It builds self-esteem, and who knows — it might even lead to her taking on some other new responsibilities around the house.
- It’s an opportunity for him to be in charge of something. It’s a chance to make his own choices and be independent. There are a lot of people telling him what to do day in and day out. Wake up, get dressed, brush your teeth, be quiet, pay attention. Having some semblance of control over your life is a basic human need. Give him something to have control over and to be the boss of.
- No more complaints about what you packed! This is one of my personal favorites. Oh, the whining I no longer have to listen to! Aaahhhh, it’s added years to my life.
- It reduces that sense of entitlement. They don’t get to pretend lunches just appear magically via a nightly visit from the Lunch Fairy. They get a sense that it takes effort, care and planning to attend to all the behind-the-scenes things that go on in a household. It makes them more appreciative of all the other things we take care of that they don’t have to worry about. Yet.
- It gives her practice making healthy decisions about food. Since you will still be doing the food purchasing, you can ensure your child has a wide array of healthy options from which to choose. We only have 1 rule in our house when it comes to packing lunches: choose at least 1 fruit and 1 vegetable every day. Other than that, they can go wild.
- It gets them active in the kitchen. This is the one I’m most passionate about. Packing their own lunches is a natural step towards kids cooking dinner. And since cooking from scratch is increasingly becoming a lost art, teaching our kids how to feed themselves simple, healthy food is a driving goal for me. Learning to cook takes time. A lifetime, it would seem, for yours truly. The earlier kids can get started learning to love to cook, the better!
- It frees up time for you. Go ahead, take a few minutes for yourself! I find that the lunch packing goes most smoothly when I make a quick exit after they get going. It gives me a few extra minutes to touch up my makeup, glance at the week’s calendar, or just catch my breath before we head out the door in the morning.
- You might learn something about what your kid likes to eat. I sure did! I always considered sandwiches a mainstay of a packed lunch. Ham, turkey, PB&J, what have you. But I found out my kids just don’t much care for sandwiches. They gravitate to simpler one-ingredient items, like fruit, crackers, and a slice of lunchmeat. Also, their tastes change over the months – one day cheese is in, the next day it’s out. Hearing what they do and don’t want in their lunches provides clues as to what they might actually eat at dinner time.
- It provides an opportunity for failure. They say learning requires failure. My kids have certainly had their own lunch packing failures. One morning my son was insistent he only needed two small food items in his lunch. “You sure that’s going to be enough food, buddy?” “Yep!” he replied confidently. There was nothing I could say to him in that moment to convince him otherwise. Believe me, I tried! It was really hard to let him walk out the door that morning, knowing he would be hungry that afternoon. But he only had to come home from school with a rumbling stomach one time to learn from his mistake. It’s good practice for us too, letting them have their little failures. Later on when the mistakes are bigger and the lessons are more important, it won’t be so easy; we’ll need this practice.
How It Works at Our House
Here’s how kid lunch packing works at our house:
- They each have a reusable lunchbox they picked out themselves.
- I get their input at the start of the week as to what they’d like to have in their lunches, and include that in my grocery run.
- We have a variety of reusable lunch containers available. I wash and dry them before a lunch-making session.
- They decide if they will pack their lunches the night before or the morning of school. I’m definitely a fan of the night before option. Occasionally if they are begging for an evening TV show, I might ask them to pack their lunches before getting to watch said show. Bribery is a mom’s best friend!
- My 9-year-old is pretty self-sufficient, but my 5-year-old sometimes needs some help. I might throw some ideas out there to help get the ball rolling.
- They pack their items themselves. Especially for the younger ones it helps to develop those gross motor skills.
- I might inspect or inquire to confirm that the 1 fruit and 1 vegetable rule has been adhered to.
- I ask that in the afternoon when we get home, they put their lunch boxes by the sink to be washed. One day that might actually happen, instead of me having to go digging into backpacks for sour smelling lunch boxes. Keep hope alive!
Kid-Friendly Lunch Ideas
Need a few ideas to get started? Here are some simple, healthy, kid-friendly lunch ideas that are popular around our house:
- celery sticks
- cucumber slices
- leftover cooked green beans
- leftover potato salad
- zucchini sticks
- baby carrots
- carrot chips (great for dipping)
- hummus or ranch for dipping
- apple slices + almond butter
- clementine oranges
- watermelon wedges
- cantaloupe slices
- honeydew slices
- rice crackers
- turkey + cheese rollup
- ham + cream cheese rollup spirals (roll up cream cheese inside and then slice)
- cheese + crackers
- boiled eggs, peeled
- gluten free muffin
- granola bars
- unsalted nuts (cashews and pistachios are most popular with mine)
- unsalted sunflower seeds
- sunbutter and honey sandwich
- dry granola or toasty o’s
- banana chips
I want to hear from you. Can you think of any other reasons kids should pack lunch? What are your kids’ favorite lunch foods?