5 Reasons Your Child Should Pack Their Own Lunch
Happy New Year! The first day of the school year has always felt more like New Year’s Day to me than January 1st. As a student, then a teacher, and now a parent it signifies a chance to start fresh. I’ve always made my resolutions for the year now instead of waiting until December 31st. Often times my resolutions include teaching my children a new skill. Since this is the first day back that my children needed a packed lunch, I thought it would be appropriate to share how my husband and I transitioned the lunch making responsibilities to our children once they reached 3rd grade.
#1 It makes your life a little easier
At the end of the school year I often hear parents celebrating that summer vacation means a break from packing lunches and once the school year begins many parents grumble that packing school lunches is one their least favorite chores. Handing over the lunch packing duties to your child(ren) takes something off of your plate and allows child(ren) to be more involved in household responsibilities
#2 Children are more likely to eat an item that they pack for themselves
Have you ever made your child something only to have them complain that there was too little of this or too much or that. When children make their own lunch, it can be to their exact specifications. They are not going to pack something they don’t like and I believe they will be a lot less likely to throw away something they have put time and effort into preparing
#3 Packing lunch is a great opportunity to talk about eating a balanced diet
Once my children have finished packing their lunch I usually take a minute to ask them if they included all of the food groups. They would probably choose to make a lunch that was completely comprised of carbohydrates, so taking the opportunity to ask them what protein, dairy and fruit or vegetable they have packed ensures that their lunch is balanced and that they are learning about nutrition in the process
#4 Children learn about appropriate serving sizes
When my children first started packing their lunch they would put half of the goldfish container into a baggie or assume that one baby carrot would fulfill their fruit or vegetable requirement. I showed them where to find the serving size information on a box of crackers or bag of carrots. Other things we looked up together online. For example 5 medium strawberries, 20 raspberries or 1/4 cup of blue berries all make up a single serving.
#5 Children develop kitchen skills
Making a lunch can include rinsing and cutting up fruits and vegetable, toasting bagels, boiling water for pasta, reheating leftovers, assembling sandwiches and more. Children learn where kitchen tools are kept and how to use them properly. We also talk about how to clean up after yourself when cooking. Food scraps are put in the compost bin, cutting boards can go in the dishwasher and knives should be hand washed. By teaching these simple skills I can rest assured that my children will not starve when they are on their own.
Packing lunch can be an opportunity for children to earn money
In our household we do not pay our children to do chores. Their daily and weekly chores are their contribution to our family. I do however believe that it is important to provide children with ways to earn money so that they can develop good spending habits. We decided that the two ways our children can earn spending money is by asking for an extra household chore or by making their own lunch. My husband and I were more than happy to hand over lunch making responsibilities and $.50 per lunch seemed like a good deal. We have a chart on the refrigerator where the kids keep track of how many lunches they have made. Once the chart has been filled, they can bring it to us in order to get paid. My daughter was in 3rd grade when we offered her the opportunity to be paid for making her own lunch. We also offered to pay her if she made her younger brother’s lunch up until he was ready to start making his own lunch. Our children use this printable chart to keep track of how many lunches they have made.
Buying a hot lunch can be a life lesson too
Unlike our daughter, our son would choose to buy his lunch from our school cafeteria every day. He likes the hot food and not having the responsibility of packing his own lunch. I find that the school lunch doesn’t always provide his body with the fuel it needs. I wanted him to have an opportunity to earn money and and practice his kitchen skills. We came to a compromise that he could buy lunch twice a week on any days that he chose. To extend his budgeting skills I asked him to calculate how much money he would need on his hot lunch card to to purchase lunch twice a week for the first half of the year. He came back to me with an amount (that I double checked) and we deposited that money onto his card. Over the next couple months there were some weeks, that due to poor time management, he wasn’t able to get his lunch made in time for school and he would end up eating a hot lunch instead. Towards the end of the first half of the school year, he had run out of money. The consequence was that he had to make his lunch everyday until the second half of the year when we would reload his lunch card. Let me tell you, he was so much better at budgeting his time the second half of the year and keeping track of how often he could purchase a hot lunch that he ended the school year with one hot lunch left on his card.
Tips for teaching your child how to pack their own lunch
You will need to be an active participant helping your child make their own lunch the first couple weeks.
- Ask for their input when you are making a grocery list. What items to they need for their lunch this week?
- Teach children how to carry, cut food and wash a knife safely.
- Show them how you expect them to clean up after themselves. Do some kitchen tools need to be hand washed instead of placed in the dishwasher?
- Look at the nutritional information on food packages together to learn about serving sizes and more.
- Make a list of items from each of the food groups that they enjoy eating to give them ideas of what to pack in their lunch. Here is a printable to get you started.
Here is a printable that my children filled out with some of their favorite lunch box ideas for each of the 5 categories. I’ll be posting some of their favorite lunches in an upcoming post. I want to wish all of the teachers, students and parents reading today an amazing school year ahead. Let me know if any of my tips today make your school year a little easier or if you have any questions about our daily routine that I can answer on the blog.