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Returning to the school year means returning to a few routines we had gladly set aside for the summer, one of which is the dreaded task of making school lunches. With a summer babysitter on hand, we had put away the lunch boxes and happily left a fridge full of food for her to prepare.
Alas, school has returned, and as we ease into week 3 we are determined to making our school lunch routine less painful, which means we are NOT packing it frantically five minutes before the bus comes while our children try to find their shoes.
Think your kids are too young to pack their own lunches? Think again. Even my three year old is obligated to participate in the task. And by some miracle, both of my kids seem to enjoy making their lunches, perhaps because they feel a little more empowered to create their own meals.
Tips for Helping Kids Make their own Lunch
Make it a family affair. If your kids are young, leaving them to pack their lunch on their own is like asking them to clean their room and then walking away while they get distracted with Legos. They'll need guidance to move from one step to another, and depending on their age they'll need help with the process. Show them you are equally committed to the task, and consider packing your own lunch at the same time to create an assembly line of beautiful family collaboration (not to mention saving even more time and money the next day when you realize your lunch is also taken care of).
Trust them with knives and other kitchen tools. Kids are not too young to learn how to use knives safely, and allowing them to do so gives them even more ownership of the process. With oversight from you, instruction on how to use them, and age-appropriate tools, kids can do a lot of things on their own - from cutting cucumbers to making their own sandwiches. Try a kid-friendly knife like this one to make it even more fun! They can also try apple corers, peelers, or scooping their own yogurt or applesauce.
Get an easy-to-pack lunch box: We are obsessed with our Planet Boxes, which make it easy to pack a well-rounded lunch with great selections and no need to search for containers and covers. But there are tons of options of cool bento boxes and other solutions that make lunch packing easy and fun. Let your child pick something out or surprise them. We even had custom magnets made for our Planet Boxes with pictures of the family to make them unique to each kid.
Make a list of go-to snacks. Rather than scrounging through the cupboard and coming up empty handed, it helps to have a few reliable options that are usually available for kids to work with. In our house, especially at this time of year, we always have cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. We also have a list of cool ideas on the fridge, like cheese roll-ups, make-your-own yogurt parfait, and ready-to-assemble cracker towers.
Give them choice, including a few treats. Giving kids choice makes them feel like they have control over some part of their life, which always leads to better results. I let my kids decide when they have enough food packed or if they need more, and I use the conversation as a great excuse to talk about nutritional balance - "do you have a protein?". Likewise, we try to make each lunch a unique combination rather than forcing them both to have the same things. Our Planet Boxes also have this awesome tiny little space right in the middle that is our "treat zone". If my kids are being especially helpful I let them fill that tiny space with a little handful of trail mix or a few chocolate chips; I love that the space is small enough to control sweets without totally denying them.
Make it part of the bed time routine. Our success in remembering to make lunches relies heavily upon its inclusion in our standard bed-time routine. I'll admit we most often forget when we ditch the routine or get thrown off by post-dinner happenings, but that's life. If we can make lunches right after doing dishes and right before bath time or a special evening TV session, all is well with the world.
Give 'em hot lunch once in a while. It's a gift for you as much as for them! Wednesday is pizza day, after all :)
I'd love to hear your tips on successful school lunch routines; what keeps you sane?