We will not discuss how I’ve toiled over the years to put my kids in charge of their lunches. Instead let’s focus on the success we’ve had since we nailed down this children’s lunch packing system last year!
Our kids go to a Montessori school where by first grade it is strongly encouraged for kids to pack their own lunches. I agree – learning to feed yourself is hugely important! And seemingly simple. So why did it feel so intimidating?
Here’s the thing – most kids go through phases where they get excited to help in the kitchen, but packing lunch is a day-in day-out responsibility and children tend to rebel against the mundane.
Also, getting kids to pack lunches can be easy if they are eating primarily packaged foods. But a lunch of doritos, a granola bar, applesauce and a juice box is just not balanced. Balanced lunches take more thought and time.
The mission of getting my kids to pack their own healthy lunches eluded me. (This was compounded by my son’s gluten sensitivity which limited his options.) I always went back to packing their lunches myself.
But it finally clicked. Here’s how I passed the lunch-packing torch to my kids.
Our (2 Part) Lunch Packing System
1. The kids pack their lunches at a time that works best for them
It is important to take a look at what time makes sense for your family – is it right after school? Packing a couple of days’ lunches at once? Evenings? What works best for you?
Packing lunches in the evenings was just not working for us. Once the kids come home from school, piano, tennis, ballet… (whatever is on schedule) they just don’t want to be burdened with the task.
Surprisingly, mornings have worked much better for us! They wake up about 15 minutes earlier than they used to, eat breakfast that I serve up (next on the list of torch passing) and then, instead of roller skating circles around me or irritating each other, those idle hands get to work on their lunches. I like this not only because it keeps them occupied, but it stimulates their brains and gives them a sense of order and responsibility. Great start to the day!
2. Sunday night, I consolidate their lunch options into a bin in the fridge
This literally takes me 5-10 minutes for a week of easy lunch packing!
First, I measured the bottom shelf of our fridge and found a plastic bin that fit well (with a little room at the top for foods to stick out).
Each morning I set the bin on our kitchen island and the kids pack lunches after breakfast. My 9-yr old son is more independent than my 5-yr old daughter. I’ll help her make a sandwich usually, but much of it she does herself.
In the bin, I rotate:
- protein options: such as nitrate-free deli meat, string cheese, feta cheese, sunbutter
- fruit: such as small apples, grapes, raspberries
- veggies: carrot sticks, bell pepper slices
They wash fruit the morning they pack it.
I found that the bell pepper strips I prep stay fresh for several days in a mason jar.
We like carrot sticks from whole carrots, so I prepare them in advance and keep them in a container of cold water. (I refresh the water mid-week just in case.) My daughter loves pulling them out with toast tongs in the mornings!
Some options don’t go into the bin:
The bin gets us organized and started. Like a compass. They branch out from there.
- from the pantry: fruit strips, homemade bars, tortilla chips…
- from the freezer: frozen burritos or organic frozen meals (sometimes my son likes to heat these and pack them)
- soups and leftovers: lately my son has loved packing this copycat La Madeleine tomato basil soup in his thermos
So, this is what has been working for us. The kids appreciate having everything at their fingertips and like having the freedom to choose (within limits). And they have gained enough confidence now that they can pack their lunches even when we stray from the system.
Want more kids’ lunch tips? Read 25+ Healthy Ideas For Kids’ Lunches!