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How to Get Your Kids to Pack Their Own Lunches

Four schoolkids looking at camera while having lunch during break

How to Get Your Kids to Pack Their Own Lunches

Tired of being the family lunch maker-in-chief? Here's a surefire plan to get your kids to pack their own lunches and have fun doing it (FREE printables).

After being my family’s School Lunch Packer-in-Chief for the past four years or so, I’m officially ready to retire my post.

From the last-minute morning rush of grabbing anything edible/packable to the never-ending after-school complaints about what I packed (“Mom, you KNOW I don’t like XYZ…”), I really would like to eliminate this particular job from Mom’s To-Do List. (And I know I’m not alone, after talking with other moms and reading this hilarious PopSugar post.)

James, 6, and Cassie, 9, each have their very specific food preferences, which of course vary widely and change faster than I can keep up with. They’re also totally capable of putting food into a lunch bag and bringing it to school with them every day.

But as I’m sure you know, wanting to pass the lunch baton to your kids and making it a reality this school year are not one in the same. Here’s my step-by-step plan for how to get your kids to pack their own lunches for school.

Step 1: Let them pick out cool lunch bags.

If your child can pick a super-sweet lunch bag or box that he absolutely loves and can't wait to show his school pals, that's a pretty good start to making his own lunches.
I am totally going to buy this on eBay. Why did my mom get rid of the original?!

I still remember with great fondness my metal Annie lunchbox and matching Thermos from the first grade. The year was 1981. Yes, I am that old. From then on, all lunch containers and bags paled in comparison.

If your child can pick a super-sweet lunch bag or box that he absolutely loves and can’t wait to show his school pals, that’s a pretty good place to start. Don’t make him use the “perfectly good” free one you got from a conference two years ago. Just spring for a sturdy, stylish model of his choosing, and hopefully he’ll have happy memories of that first lunchbox for years to come.

Step 2: Use Box Tops as the “carrot.”

Make collecting and clipping Box Tops your kids' responsibility, so they can be part of a larger effort to support their school. Hint: A pencil pouch is a great way to keep Box Tops until it's time to hand them in.

Last week, I confessed my shameful secret that I had not previously clipped Box Tops for Education™ to support my kids’ school. But I also proclaimed that Box Tops would now become the kids’ new way of helping out their own school. They now understand that each clipped Box Top label equals 10 cents for their school, and the money adds up to awesome additions to their playground (like a zip line!)

With this new power to choose Box Tops and other items for our shopping list, and to pack those items in their lunches, Cassie and James now have an extra incentive to become self-packing pros. They even have the job of clipping the labels (good for fine motor skills!) and storing them in this handy pencil pouch, until it’s time to hand them in at school.

Step 3: Involve them in the weekly shopping.

No longer will I be the lone grocery-store martyr, trying to predict what my kids will want, then schlepping through the store and hoping for the best. I now have willing and able helpers, who eagerly contribute suggestions for our list and help me gather the goods throughout the store.

I still have parental right of refusal, of course, and skipping the veggie aisle is not an option. But Cassie and James absolutely can comb through the long list of Box Tops products as well as my own suggested list of lunch possibilities. Together, we make a pretty solid team.

Tips to involve your kids in grocery shopping and lunch-planning. PLUS! Free printable grocery list of school lunch items your kiddos will love.

And spotting Bonus Box Tops Products on the store shelves? Well, that’s pretty much a game to the kids (and allows me to stick to cart-steering).

Free printable: Click to download this grocery list of school lunch items.

Step 4: Create a kid-friendly lunch-making station.

As much as I adore the idea of creating a Montessori environment at home, I’m guilty of more than a few contradictions to this “let the child do it for herself” method. For example, we’ve always kept our non-perishable food items in cabinets up high, while the lower kitchen cabinets contained approximately 10,465 reusable plastic storage containers.

To enable the kids to easily retrieve food and pack lunches each night, I decluttered and moved some things around in the kitchen. I managed to clear out a lower pantry cabinet and a middle shelf in the refrigerator to create dedicated space for their lunch items. I also made a sign claiming this space for them, while also clearly displaying a “formula” for what they should pack. They see a reminder to include one fruit, one veggie, one protein and one “extra” in each lunch.

Free printable: Click to download, personalize, and print a sign for your own lunch-making station.

Free printable: Click to download a sign you can personalize and print for your own lunch-making station.

I also labeled some clear plastic containers (approximately the size of a shoe box) to help organize the food items into the four categories. I figured this would make it easier for the kids to grab each of the food types and put it into their lunch bag.

Depending on your child’s age, you might need to help prepare some of the foods you place in the lunch-making station, such as sliced fruit or hard-boiled eggs. But older kids can certainly contribute, such as using a slicer to make and bag up apple slices or spreading sun butter on bread for a nut-free PB&J sandwich.

Step 5: Withhold evening screentime until lunch is packed.

From my vast experience as School Lunch Packer-in-Chief, I know that two seconds before you need to leave for school is not the best timeframe for this activity. That’s why I instituted a new school-night rule of packing lunch before enjoying the privilege of screentime.

(If you happen to be one of those unicorn parents who don’t allow screentime, period—well, my hat’s off to you. But I’m sure you can think of something your kids really want to do at night, and make a packed lunch the price of admission.)

Step 6: Make a reminder for mornings so they don’t forget their lunch.

While it’s a wonderful convenience to have lunch all packed and waiting in the fridge for morning, there is one possible down side: Forgetting lunch in your rush to get out the door. No one wants that.

FREE PRINTABLE: Download, personalize, and print this sign as a lunch reminder for your kids.

Come up with a way to remind your kids to put an ice pack in their lunch and get it into their backpack before leaving the house each morning. You could post a sign like this on the door where everyone leaves, set an alarm on your phone, or whatever tactic you think will work best for your family.

Free printable: Click to download a sign you can personalize and print as a lunch reminder for your kids.

And that pretty much does it! Follow these six steps, and your kids will build confidence as they do for themselves and help their school with Box Tops for Education.

Meanwhile, your lunch-packing days are officially over! Unless … you still have to pack your own lunch for work, in which case, might I suggest a celebratory lunch out with your coworkers to toast your new independence?

Tired of being the family lunch maker-in-chief? Here's a surefire plan to get your kids to pack their own lunches and have fun doing it (FREE printables).

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of General Mills®. The opinions and text are all mine.


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