Want one less thing to do? Teach your kids how to pack their OWN lunch with these free resources, ideas, and strategies.
It was a case of better late than never.
It took a handful of years, but my two boys (ages 9 and 13) are finally packing their lunches themselves.
And the angels sang.
As much as I enjoy giving you lunch box ideas on this blog, packing lunches eventually became a chore that fell somewhere between “scrub shower walls” and “put new sheets on the top bunk” on my list of dreaded household tasks, mostly because it seemed to endlessly stretch into eternity forever and ever and on and on. Or at least for nine more years when both kids were through high school–which seemed like a really long time.
Let me tell you that NOT packing lunches is a joy, not only because I get precious minutes of my day back but also because I like knowing my boys are building independence.
If you’re ready to pass on the task to your brood, here’s a six-point plan for making that happen:
1. Have “The Talk”.
At the beginning of the school year, I told my kids that they were old enough to be packing their own lunch every day and informed them that I wouldn’t be packing lunches for them anymore. They nodded briefly and went back to telling me a long story about a YouTube video they watched. (I don’t think they believed me, since I’d made similar proclamations in the past. But this time I meant business.)
2. Show them the ropes.
If your kids would pack Goldfish crackers, pretzels, and tortilla chips in their lunches if left to their own devices, talk to them about what a balanced lunch looks like. You can grab a free copy of my Pack Your Lunch printable and fill in the boxes with the choices you have on hand.
This is also a good time to chat with them about the kinds of things they’d like to see in their lunches. I always recommend having an honest dialogue with kids about what they like, don’t like, or are trading away from their lunch. If they’re bored to death with the same old sandwich, print out my list of 100 Lunch Box Ideas to post in the kitchen for inspiration.
3. Make it easy.
When I resigned from my job as Chief Lunch Packer, I decided to make lunch packing “stations” to corral many of the items my kids would be reaching for the most. I’d seen these kinds of stations on Pinterest, and though mine aren’t nearly as organized, they get the job done. I have one in the refrigerator and one on the counter and they work really well. See what I put in each station.
4. Get a bento lunch box.
If you’re still fussing with multiple containers, lids, and plastic bags, do yourself a huge favor and get a bento lunch box with one lid. It will simplify lunch packing and clean-up. I’ve tried a lot of different lunch boxes over the years, but my personal favorites are the EasyLunchboxes. At the end of this post is a giveaway for an EasyLunchboxes prize pack, which includes a set of four!
5. Show some mercy.
For the most part, I’ve stayed off duty and held firm. But there have been a few mornings, when one of my kids is sad or worried or dragging from a bad night of sleep, when I’ve stepped in and packed for them. Because some mornings, you just need a little grace in the form of a mom-packed lunch.
6. Let it go.
I’m a professional micromanager, so sometimes it’s hard for me not to meddle. If I notice that my eighth grader, the King of Carbs, has packed a sandwich, crackers, pretzels, and a cookie, I’ll step in suggest a piece of fruit. If I’m peeling an orange at breakfast, I’ll ask my fourth grader if he wants some sections in his lunch. But otherwise, I try to let it go. By some standards, the lunches they pack themselves are not picture-perfect:
Sandwich on whole wheat, cheese stick, beef jerky, and unsweetened applesauce.
Sandwich on Flatout bread, sugar snap peas, and a yogurt.
Sandwich on a bun, cheese stick, apple, and homemade cereal bar.
But they are learning–about balance and about their own appetites, about what foods sustain them and how much they need. I can give them the building blocks for healthy lunches and guide them with occasional suggestions, but ultimately, I want them to make their own decisions–just as they will be doing on their own someday.
I also try to make sure that what’s missing from their lunch boxes gets served at home, like veggies and fresh fruit for my eighth grader.
- One set of four lunch containers
- One cooler bag (color of your choice)
- One set of Mini Dippers (super handy for packing dips, sauces, nuts, granola, and dried fruit)