This post on how to teach kids to pack school lunches is part of my ambassadorship with Stonyfield Farms where I receive periodic product samples and compensation. All opinions remain my own as a Stonyfield blogger however.
Pretty much everyone I know is back to school, and somehow the school year is even more hectic than summer. Every year, we think things will calm down once everyone is back in the routine, but no…. It’s rushing here and rushing there and it gets stressful for everyone.
With the wee ones, they bring lunches every day because cafeteria food just isn’t their thing. I used to pack their lunches every morning, but we are now going on three years of them packing their own lunches, and it is one of the best changes to our morning routine ever.
Why? No more do I get complaints about what I packed. I don’t hear about how I didn’t pack enough food. Or I packed too much. Or they didn’t want that today. Or that they didn’t want their food served in that particular way. Tell me I’m not alone that it’s always something.
Interestingly, it started when Little Miss decided one day that she wanted to make her own lunch rather than me deciding it was time for them to do it. She was in second grade at the time, just seven years old. There are times when as parents we think they’re too young to have responsibility and yet they so often prove us wrong when we grant them some of that freedom to stretch their wings.
From that day, both Mister Man and Little Miss have packed their own lunches every day. Your kids can, too, once you figure out how to teach kids to pack school lunches.
How to Teach Kids to Pack School Lunches
If I simple told the wee ones to pack a lunch and left it at that, this would be a disaster. Instead, we have ground rules that work well for both them and for me. I am somewhat particular about what they put in their lunch, especially Mister Man where he needs to eat fairly clean and ensure he gets plenty of protein.
Rule number one is what goes in the lunch. The good news is that it can be fairly flexible within this. For us, we require a protein, a fruit, and a vegetable. Generally, that’s plenty of food for them, and they like the feeling of control of choosing exactly what the protein, fruit, and vegetable will be. Though there are some who can eat the same food for breakfast or lunch every day (I’m one of them), my kids crave variety and want something different most days.
Once they’ve gotten those items, they are allowed to ask to put in something beyond that. Generally, they don’t, but sometimes they ask for a dessert in their lunches or to put in something extra in some way. I don’t always say yes, and we definitely don’t do it every day. Sometimes they ask for a brownie I’ve made or a cookie, and sometimes it’s leftover popcorn we made for Movie Night with Mommy or something else entirely.
If they take a dessert or something extra, I ask that they not eat the extra item and bring home the protein and fruit and veggie because they got full on the extra item first. Obviously, that’s not something I can fully police, but it an expectation I set with them and ask them to be honest with me and with themselves.
I also ask that if they don’t eat their entire lunch, they bring home what they didn’t finish. They’re still kids. They don’t always know their appetites or make good decisions about what to eat. By bringing home whatever they didn’t eat, we can talk about why they didn’t eat it and cut down on waste. Did you pack too many noodles? Did you drench your pasta in sauce and not think about the fact that you don’t love that much sauce? Did you add so many oranges that you didn’t have time to peel them before lunch ended? Those are the conversations that help them figure out what to pack going forward.
And generally, I give them the freedom to pack their lunches. But… they’re kids. They don’t always make the best decisions. And that’s why they know that I may do a surprise inspection on any given day. And if they don’t have packed what they know they are supposed to, they get extra chores assigned to them. I’ve had to invoke this before, too. Sometimes those sneak checks go just fine, and sometimes that pop quiz discovers that Little Miss has filled her entire bento box lunch container with popcorn and nothing but popcorn.
We go with just these five rules – too many and it’s too restrictive for kids and too hard for them to remember. The looks on their faces the first time they packed their own lunches though? That pride is important, and it’s something I want to continue to foster.
Need some ideas of what to let them pack? This is just a quick list of some of the things the wee ones have packed for themselves recently. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start!
- Sandwiches – whether PB&J or lunchmeat of some sort
- Rollups – again with lunchmeat or a tuna or chicken salad
- Leftovers from the night before – I make sure to cook extra just so they have this option
- Greek yogurt
- Carrots – they can peel their own, but make sure you cut it or supervise them with knives if they know how to use them
- Kale salad – Little Miss adores the kale salad I make with lemon juice and olive oil and will eat it all the time
- Baby spinach – often they’ll double up and add baby spinach to a sandwich or rollup and eat it there
- Grape tomatoes
- Cucumber slices – make these in advance or supervise the cutting
- Mango chunks
- Mandarins or other oranges
The most fun is when the wee ones ask if they can take dessert, and then Mister Man picks out one of the Stonyfield yogurts I have sitting in the fridge as his “dessert.” Granted, the chocolate Greek yogurt does feel like a dessert sometimes, and wow do we all love the Petite Creme flavors, but they aren’t a dessert in the traditional sense. That’s a win all the way around, right?