Growing up, my mom ALWAYS made my lunch. Like she literally made my lunch even when I was in high school. I loved it- I loved the way she made sandwiches, how she wrapped stuff, the little notes she left. I always wanted to give that to my kids. Then I had kids, and a job, and a crazy life. . . I quickly learned that little tasks add up, and life gets crazier little task by little task. So, I started to find shortcuts and simple ways to shorten MY little task list.

Whether you’re a working mom or not, mornings before school can be a straight up beat down. It only takes one little human to wake up in a bad mood for the whole thing to turn into a complete debacle. To ease one step in the madness, I began teaching my kids to make their own lunches. I started a “training” if you will (which is hysterical coming from me because I am in NO WAY a structured kind of person), that taught them the basics of what I expected to see in their lunches.

Obviously every kid is different, and not every kid is even going to care if they even eat that day. I have 4 kids – 1 that isn’t old enough to do this yet, 1 that is the master of lunch packing, 1 that would happily survive on Pop Tarts and chicken nuggets, and 1 in college – so I totally understand the myriad of humans you might have wandering around your house. This isn’t a fix all, but it’s worked for us, so I’m passing to you!

  1. TRAIN THEM YOUNG: Starting when they are 3-4 years old, I begin teaching them about foods that are “healthy”, and what they can do for their bodies. I have “always” foods that are within little arms reach at all times – this would include fruits both on a table and ready in the fridge, cheese sticks, portable yogurts, pretzels already portioned out. This is my solution to the “I’m hungry” phrase that I hear in my house every 30 minutes. I call these things “healthy” choices, and I mention it all the time. The only drinks my young ones ever get are water, milk, and sometimes chocolate milk. This might sound drill sargeant-ish, but I’ve found it’s cheaper and my kids drink a lot of water, so whatevs. I make water bottles easy to get, and I teach my little ones how to fill up their sippy cups from the fridge. They like it, and it gives them ownership of their choice.
  2. KINDER/FIRST GRADE PREP: Once they start school, I make their lunches with them. We talk about what’s going into the lunch, and why we need them. So, working moms, this is done very fast usually while I’m flying around the kitchen grabbing and tossing things around. It’s not like I sit down with them and do a lesson on food groups. This happens everyday throughout the year, so it’s really something that we elaborate on as we go. After Kindergarten, First Grade is just a recap. I still make their lunches with them, but I start to give them more freedom (especially towards the end of the year). I will ask them questions like “What protein do you want?” Usually they know that protein typically means meat or beans by this point. And the conversation goes from there. We ALWAYS include the following :
    1. CARB (gives us energy) : chips, pretzels, popcorn . . .
    2. PROTEIN (helps build muscles): my kids hate sandwiches (WHATEVER TINY PEOPLE!!), so this could be rolled up pieces of ham or turkey. Sometimes I get those protein packs that have cheese, meat, and nuts in it and throw that in
    3. FRUIT (healthy heart, happy body): they have to have a fruit in there, and I try to make our fruit quick and easy to grab 
    4. DAIRY (strong bones): this can be a cheese stick or cheese square, yogurt, milk, whatever – again, I make sure they’re easy to grab
    5. WILDCARD: depending on what their eating has been like (as in not on a week already full of junk food), I’ll let them throw in something of their choosing such as fruit snacks, a little chocolate, halloween/easter candy, something sweet.
    6. DRINK (body needs water): WATER. My kids take water bottles. For years I was buying juice boxes until it dawned on me that I was a) wasting money, and b) they didn’t really need it. Every school I’ve been to lets kids bring water bottles. Give them a good one, fill it up in the morning, and let them navigate the day. If they drink it all, and they get thirsty, they will fill it up. Done. Every now and then I will throw in a juice box or a little milk, but that is very rarely.
  3. SECOND GRADE GO!: This is the year I let them go on their own. Now first month of school I’m still pretty hands on, but after that, they’re off. When they’re all packed up, I ask to see their lunch just to give it a nod, and that’s it. They know what’s expected, they know I’m not going to budge, so it’s usually a non-issue. Usually . . . LOL!

CAVEATS: Oh yes, this doesn’t always happen as planned! Sometimes we wake up late, sometimes we have no food in the house, sometimes we are just having a crap-tastic morning, and I don’t care if they eat their halloween candy for lunch.

BUYING LUNCH: At least once a week, they get to buy lunch at school. I usually let them choose based off the menu, but sometimes this happens when we have no food in the house 🙂 With my high school boy, this was more often than not. However, once they get to the end of middle school, and into high school, they get a monthly lunch budget- we give them $20 for the whole month. High school is filled with amazing (and expensive) lunch choices and offers from the ever-popular coffee bar. HOWEVER, if they run out, they’re on their own. Obviously by now, they know how to pack a lunch. So, if they want to eat, they’ll either use their own money (NOT a fan favorite), make a lunch, not eat, or mooch off their friends (which I found out my son did WAY too often). Folks- if your kids choose the non-eating option, they will survive. Talk to them when they get home and guide them to not making this a habit.

So, that’s it! Is this fool-proof? Nope. Will it work for your house? Maybe. It works for us, and I am soooo thankful that we did it. Not only does it give me more time in the morning, but it teaches my kids to be responsible, while at the same time educating them on making healthy food choices for themselves. AND SIDE NOTE: I still sneak notes into their lunches all the time. 🙂

jill