A Guide to Teaching Your Kids to Pack Their Own Lunch

(Image credit: Jess Thomson)

One of our main goals as parents is not to simply take care of our children, but to teach them to take care of themselves. We teach them to get dressed on their own, brush their own teeth, and use the bathroom — and then we send them off to school.

While I’m still trying to master teaching a 5-year-old to tie her shoes, I’ve got my eye on the real prize of teaching kids to fend for themselves: packing their own school lunches. Here’s a five-point plan to getting kids to pack their own damn lunch.

1. Help them shop.

You’re dragging the kids to the grocery store with you anyway, so you might as well have them select lunch and snack ingredients. Younger kids can choose between selections — for example, “Do you want strawberries or grapes in your lunch box this week?” — while older kids can pick recipes and you can guide them to ingredients or substitutions.

2. Start at home.

Start early and often with guiding your little ones to pick their own snacks and weekend lunches. Not only will they master wrapping burritos, but they will also start to identify good (read: nutritious) choices for when they are left to their own devices and an empty lunch box. Younger kids can make sandwiches (stacking and rolling is loads of fun, kids!), while older kids can peel and cut vegetables and even peel hard-boiled eggs.

3. Prep the ingredients for them.

Making healthy lunch selections is infinitely easier to do when things like rinsed and washed vegetables or fruits are waiting in the fridge. Hard-boil a few eggs and cut up cheeses or cooked proteins for your little lunchers. Then kids can fill their own lunch containers from the prepared choices. I’m still making lunches for my 4-1/2-year-old, but grabbing her lunch container and a snack from the fridge is part of her morning routine already.

4. Create a packing station.

A lunch-packing station for your kids can be as simple or elaborate as your family prefers; it doesn’t have to be a Pinterest-worthy cabinet full of neatly labeled bins. Ours is simply a single cupboard with lunch bags, water bottles, and a bin of non-perishable snacks. A simple snack bin in the fridge is a nice touch as well.

5. Keep calm and lunch on.

As your kids develop their lunch-building confidence, resist directing their lunch packing. Let them eat the same thing for a whole week or make a seemingly weird food combination. Remember — you didn’t have to pack it, and you don’t have to eat it either.