My children have helped pack their own school (or daycare!) lunches for about two years. It has always been a small, daily way to build practical life skills. Now that they are 4 and 6, they are expected to pack their lunches with little to no intervention from an adult. They are able to accomplish this goal for the following reasons: We have carefully prepared the environment of our kitchen to allow them total freedom within the set limits, we have invested in a few tools to increase their independence in food preparation, and we have streamlined the process over the last two year.
I believe it is important to teach my children what to pack in their lunch and provide only food that is acceptable for our family as choices. I want them to have total freedom to decide what “snacks” to pack and therefore have to make sure I am only buying things I am okay with them consuming.
A properly packed lunch in our house must contain one thing from each category:
- A “Main Dish”: this is a term we use to mean something with protein like a sandwich, pretzels and hummus, apples and peanut butter, etc.
- A fruit
- 2 “snacks”: cheese, yogurt, raisins, nuts, applesauce, etc.
- A drink
These limits allow the kids to chose what they want to eat without ending up with a lunchbox full of cereal bars.
The Prepared Kitchen
We designate two shelves of the pantry and the lowest shelves of the refrigerator for lunch supplies and food. This means that the kids never have to ask for help in making their food selections. The set-up also helps facilitate snack time and if the kids need water throughout the day.
This is a picture of the lowest drawer in our pantry. It houses all of the kids’ lunch and snack supplies.
One of the main lessons learned came after I observed a Children’s House lunch period in the cafeteria. I watched the poor lunch monitors zooming from kid to kid helping them open various parts of their lunch. It was then that I decided to make sure my kids could access every part of their lunch without the teacher’s help. This is why we switched to using the Ziploc containers and remove all excess packaging during the packing process. The next lesson is that my kids are totally capable of packing their lunches, but when I hover too much or nag too much they ask me to do much more for them. If I am hovering in the morning, all of the sudden I am being asked to open the peanut butter jar or slice apples which didn’t seem to be an issue for them the day before. I also push myself to say “no” when asked for help. I want to make sure that they have attempted the action before stepping in. Most of the time they surprise themselves by being able to complete the task.
Lunch preparation is an important part of our day. Yes, it takes time and a bit of effort, but the payoff is huge!
A note: If you are concerned with time in the mornings, I recommend having children pack their lunches the evening before.