School lunches are the bane of many a parents’ 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.
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. Last year, when they were in 2nd and 4th grades, I decided that it was time for the boys 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.
So now that we have done it for a year in my house, I wanted to share the lessons that I have learned and thoughts on what I will do differently this year.
How to get your kids to pack their own lunches
Be clear on expectations, then step back
Before the school year started, I shared The Scramble’s lunch packing printable chock full of lunch packing ideas with my boys and posted it on the inside of our pantry door where our bento boxes are stored.
We reviewed what makes up a healthy lunch: one main, one fruit, one vegetable, one optional extra, and water. Time after time, I would notice them referencing the sheet as they made their choices. For the most part, they did a tremendous job sticking to the guidelines.
Part way through the year, though, I noticed an occasional reluctance to add a vegetable, so we agreed that when there wasn’t a vegetable option that appealed to them, they could have two fruits instead.
This year I will work with them to brainstorm some more vegetables they would be excited about and will also be more flexible with the fruit.
Pre-prep for easy grabbing
At the beginning of the year 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 this year, I am going to be more disciplined about stocking up the fridge and freezer each weekend so that we don’t fall back into that pattern.
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.
This year, I will work to take advantage of this further by doubling recipes that I know he’ll want leftovers of when I cook 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 our post on lunch-packing supplies!
Do your kids pack their school lunches? If so, what tricks have you discovered that help to make it a success?
Want more ideas for feeding your kids? Check out these other resources from The Scramble:
To help make lunches and dinners go smoother in your house, try the Scramble meal planning service.