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Getting Your Kids to Pack Their Own Lunches

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School lunches are the bane of many a parent’s life. Here’s how to get your kids to pack their own lunches so you don’t have to, including lessons I’ve learned from doing this with my own kids. 

Packed Food

My kids go to a school where there is no cafeteria, so we have to pack lunches every. single. day. And while my husband is in charge of school day breakfasts, I still have the task of overseeing school lunches. When my kids were in 2nd and 4th grades, I decided that it was time for them to start packing their own lunches. There were definitely days when it didn’t go as planned, days when I threw up my hands and just packed the lunches because otherwise the boys never would have left on time, but for much of the year, they successfully pulled their own lunches together every day. And it was awesome.

Since then, my kids and I have continued to perfect our lunch-packing system and it is now at a point where they are able to pack their lunches pretty much every day without any help from me. So, I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned on the how to get your kids to pack their own lunches.

How to get your kids to pack their own lunches

Recipe for a Healthy Lunch

Be clear on expectations, then step back

When you are first starting out, before the school year starts, sit down with your kids to talk about the goal of getting them to their own lunches.

In this same conversation, I recommend that you do two things:

  1. Share a printed copy of our Make-Your-Own-Lunch diagram (see below) with them so that they can see what is expected
  2. Come up with a list of lunch ideas with them that includes main dish ideas as well as lists of fruits and vegetables they are open to eating at lunch.

Once they are on board, then post both the diagram and the list of food ideas somewhere where they can see them. For my family, we put them up on the inside of our pantry door where our bento boxes are stored to make it easy for them to reference all year long.

Being flexible is also important

The agreement I had with my boys was that they would each pack one fruit and one vegetable every day, but part way through the first year of my kids packing their own lunches, I noticed an occasional reluctance to add a vegetable. So, after talking it through, we agreed that when there wasn’t a vegetable option that appealed to them, they could have two fruits instead, but that I would also make more of an effort to have their favorite vegetables ready to go.

Homemade Ranch Dressing with Carrots and Broccoli

Pre-prep for easy grabbing

At the beginning of the first year of our lunch-packing experiment, I was gung-ho about pre-chopping veggie sticks and keeping the freezer stocked with quick main dish options such as muffins (to go with cheeses or another protein), English muffin pizzas, and baked chimichangas.

As the year went on, though, I started to slip and the supplies weren’t as readily available. This meant that then there’d be a morning scramble to get lunches pulled together and I’d end up in the kitchen chopping up carrots, which then would somehow turn into my packing the whole lunch. Bad.

So I recommend two things: 1) being as consistent as possible about stocking the fridge and freezer with easy-to-grab lunch options and 2) also having a list of easy-to-throw-together options for the times when you don’t have a good stockpile. Some of our favorite easy options are: PB&J, cheese and crackers, deli meat sandwiches, and quesadillas.

Bento Box

Leftovers are key

My eldest is not a big sandwich fan so for years, we have struggled to find good lunch box foods for him. Quesadillas are a staple, as are bread and cheese platters. But this year we also started doing a lot more leftovers. Some he’d heat up and put in a thermos and others he’d happily eat at room temperature.

So, if your kid is also a sandwich skeptic, I recommend doubling favorite recipes when you make them for dinner so that there is enough for lunch the next day.

Teach about leaks

After a few leakage incidents involving yogurt, I had to make sure to teach my youngest which containers could hold liquids and which might leak. After that, the lunch boxes came home much cleaner. For great lunchbox supplies, check out The Scramble Store for all of our favorite products!

Do your kids pack their school lunches? If so, what tricks have you discovered that help to make it a success?

Further Inspiration

Want more ideas for feeding your kids? Check out these other resources from The Scramble:

The Formula for a Healthy Lunch

30 Out-of-the-Box Ideas for Healthy School Lunches

How to Make Lunch Packing Easier

Navigating Treats & Snacks in School Lunches

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Teens

To help make lunches and dinners go smoother in your house, check out The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans.

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