We’re all for making those crazy school mornings as un-crazy as possible, which is why we’re big fans of having our kids pack their own lunches the night before. Yes, even our little ones! It can be done, promise.
Not only does having kids pack their own lunches give you one less thing to do yourself (whoo!), but it’s a smart way to ensure they’ll actually eat what’s in their lunch box. And if they don’t, well, there’s no blaming you for that too-ripe banana or the strawberry yogurt they devoured yesterday, but claim they don’t like today.
We’re thrilled to get to bring you our top tips on behalf of Nalgene, whose new Lunch Box Buddy makes packing lunch so much easier — especially when you’re encouraging your kids to pack their own. The BPA-free hard case can be organized three different ways to accommodate the included ice pack, and it’s all held in a handy neoprene sleeve. Your kids can grab it just like that, or if they’re prone to forgetting their lunches (d’oh) you can easily attach it to a backpack. Smart!
So, whether you’ve got new kindergarteners just getting the hang of spreading jelly on the bread, or tweens and teens who are a bit more advanced with their lunch-packing skills, here are 7 of our favorite tricks to help kids pack their own school lunches.
Hooray for independence! And a huge hooray for easier mornings!
1. Have kids start with snacks and lunch they eat at home.
Before you throw your kids into the deep end of making their own school lunch, ease them in by having them help you in the kitchen first. Let them assist you during snack or meal prep, and make it fun! Little ones can crack eggs and add pre-measured ingredients, and older kids can get comfortable with small appliances and start learning knife skills. You can even get your kids their own kitchen utensils so they feel some real ownership in the kitchen.
Even if they’re just adding salt to a pot of boiling water for pasta, you’ll see your kids start to feel more comfortable around food, especially with your positive encouragement and support. That’s when they’ll be confident enough to start on their own snacks and meals.
This way, you’re not teaching them a new skill come back to school time, but rather, a new habit.
2. Take kids grocery shopping with you.
If your kids are making their own lunches, bring them to the supermarket with you so they can help pick the food they’re going to pack — and eat. This really works to get kids excited about the whole process, and we’ve found they’ll be more eager to eat what they pack.
It’s also a fantastic opportunity to educate your kids about everything from food labels to food groups, so that they have an understanding of what needs to be in their lunch.
(Sorry, cookies are not an officially recognized food group, kids. Unless you’re a pregnant woman. But that’s another story.)
A great tip is to work with kids to make a list of foods by food group before you leave the house, so you have a bunch of protein, fruit and vegetable options, for example. This way, you’re not winging it at the grocery store, which can make your shopping trip a lot more tedious than it has to be.
3. Get a lunchbox that kids can actually pack.
When picking out a lunch box, first you want one that your kid actually likes. Besides that, it should be one that’s easy to pack, easy to open and easy to close — and don’t take those traits for granted! If any aspect of lunch is a struggle, kids are less likely to be enthusiastic about prepping for it.
That’s why we have always recommended kid-friendly lunch boxes like the new Lunch Box Buddy from our sponsor Nalgene.
The hard case fits reusable containers and drink bottles of all kinds, so it’s especially versatile if you’ve got different kids with different eating habits. Plus it’s so easy to unpack — kids just pop the top off and it turns into its own plate they can eat off of — a feature that inspires a lot of confidence among the germaphobes here.
We think parents will also appreciate that the Lunch Box Buddy is completely dishwasher safe, so once your kids get home from school, they can empty out whatever’s leftover (hopefully nothing!) by themselves, and pop it into the dishwasher.
Hey, in our book, helping make your own lunch means you’re responsible for unpacking and getting it ready for the next day too.
4. Create a kid-friendly lunch packing station.
It’s smart to designate a spot in your kitchen where all the non-perishable lunch items live and can be easily accessed by kids. We’re loving this lunch packing station from Uncommon Designs Online, which inspires us all to be a little more organized!
Even if you don’t have a ton of pantry space, it’s still a terrific idea to create a dedicated shelf or cabinet at the right height, just for your kids. This way, they they can grab what they need without help, and know exactly what their options are when getting lunch together.
If you really want to make it easy, consider hanging a list of lunch suggestions — whether inside your cabinet or tacked to the refrigerator door — as a quick visual reminder of what’s available. Kids can get in a rut the same as we do, and knowing that there’s more than sunbutter in the pantry just may spark some creativity.
5. Help prep some items to save time.
A little prep work on your part can also help make your kids’ lunch-packing a success. Yes, it means spending a little time up front, but it sure beats doing it all on busy school mornings. Consider pre-cutting fruit and veggies then storing them in smaller containers, like the handy ones from Nalgene shown here. This way kids can easily transfer a few carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes into a smaller container; or if it’s something like pasta or salad, they can grab the whole thing, dress it as needed, and pop it into their lunch box.
One trick that Kristen suggested on The TODAY Show a few months back is to use larger bins marked with labels (or even pictures for younger kids) that are sorted by fruit, veggies, snacks, and protein. This way, kids can just grab from each section and know they’ve got a complete lunch.
6. Let kids get creative with their lunches! Even if it’s not what you would do…
The more fun you can make lunch-packing for kids, the easier it’s going to be to get your kids to do it. And even better, to stick with it. So, let your kids get creative with what and how they pack.
Think outside the sandwich box and brainstorm some fun, tasty alternatives. Maybe it’s some Greek yogurt with granola and fresh fruit; a hot lunch of leftovers; hummus or cheese rolled up in pita pinwheels; or a bento style lunch with lots of little things to nosh. There really are so many other school lunch ideas that kids can make beyond traditional sandwiches.
You can also let your kids play around with gadgets like cookie cutters for lunch meats and cheese, or a Lunch Punch to cut sandwiches into fun shapes. There’s just something about a sandwich in the shape of a castle or a train that makes it taste better when you’re a kid. Or uh, not a kid.
7. Be positive!
There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to packing a school lunch. If the sandwich is a little messy or the veggies are cut in odd shapes, that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. The last thing you want to do is critique your kids’ abilities so they lose enthusiasm.
So even though it’s killing you to see that jelly leaking out all over the side of the wheat bread, or the removal of crusts that include a lot more than just the crusts, be supportive and positive throughout the process. Especially when it comes to the finished product. Tell your kids what they did right, before you point out something they forgot.
The whole point is that your kids did it all on their own — maybe even for the first time — which is a fantastic accomplishment for all of you.
Thanks to our sponsor Nalgene and their new Lunch Box Buddy for helping make it easier for kids to pack their own school lunch this back to school season. We are grateful!