5 Questions I Ask My Kids Before Packing Their Lunch

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Depending on where you are in the country, the new school year is either underway or fast approaching. My own first grader is headed back to school next week. It has been a whole year since I’ve regularly packed her lunch box (she had half-day kindergarten last year), so getting back into our school lunch groove has involved dusting off the lunch bags, shopping for a few new supplies, and talking about school lunch.

These are the five questions that I ask my daughter before the school year begins and that we use throughout the school year to get her excited about school lunch and to prepare her for packing her own lunches one day.

(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

Getting Your Kid Involved in School Lunch Planning

The ultimate goal with packed lunches is to get your kids to start packing their own lunches between the ages of 8 and 10 and creating autonomy around bringing lunch from home or eating lunch provided by the school by the time they hit middle school.

If your kids are starting elementary school this year, these questions will engage them in the process of planning, shopping, and packing lunches.

1. What day (s) do you want to eat school lunch?

There are a number of reasons why I prefer to pack lunch rather than pay for school lunch, but starting in pre-K my daughter became infatuated with eating the “hot lunch” provided by the school. Each week we look at the menu our school district provides and she picks one or two lunches she wants to eat most. On those days, I don’t pack anything but a snack for her school bag.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Do you have any lunch box ideas?

When I’m meal planning on Friday nights I always try to ask this question even if I don’t get to the other three. Her most-requested lunch is a snack platter — crackers, cheese, and deli meat, set up like an old-school Lunchable. But surprisingly she’s also inspired me to pack a DIY pizza (again inspired by a Lunchable), and she long ago invented our now favorite breakfast-for-lunch box.

3. What do you want to see more of in your lunch box?

Kids really do crave foods based on what their bodies need and it’s easy to tap into that primal need — and, let’s be honest, take advantage of that — by asking them what they are craving. We make a short list of some staples once a month — like chickpeas, carrots, and ranch dip — that she’s really excited about eating right now. But checking in weekly gives us the opportunity to include fruits or vegetables that may have fallen off our radar or that she saw in a friend’s lunch box and wants to try.

4. Is there anything you want to skip this week?

Every adult has experienced leftover fatigue or fallen into a lunch rut. This may be especially true for your lunch box-toting kids if they are selective and like to eat the same thing on repeat. Are they still loving plain turkey on whole-wheat or would the like to swap the bread for a wrap?

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. Let’s pick a lunch box treat!

Less a question and more a statement, a lunch box treat doesn’t have to be a cookie or candies, but it gets her anticipating shopping for and packing her lunches each week. Admittedly she often picks a sweet bar (she loves the KIND kids; bars and Z-Bar’s chocolate brownie flavor right now) but sometimes she picks cheesy snack mix or her favorite salty snack instead.

How do you get your kids involved in lunch box planning?