It's even hard for me to believe, but you read that right. My kids make their own lunches.
My children went to a kindergarten that provided lunch, which meant years of parental bliss. I hate making lunches. Doesn't everyone? Can you imagine being sentenced to 18 years of making someone else's lunches? Not me! So when Dan started school, part of the mama-generated hype was that he'd get to make his own lunch.
Here are my top 5 tips for making it happen at your house:
- Ensure you've got the right gear and it's accessible for the kids.
The lunch gear options are our house include a lunch box with 5 slots (2 sandwich-sized, 3 sides), a small thermos, several snack-sized containers, and a tiny salad dressing sized box. Dan knows where the gear is stored and helps himself to whatever he requires.
- Set some guidelines.
Nothing packaged (the school has a rubbish-free lunch policy).
At least one fresh item - a fruit or vegetable.
At least one protein item - beans, nuts, seeds (or meat and dairy if you roll that way).
No treats except for on school lunch day.
- No other restrictions.* Leave them to it!
Try not to get too involved in the lunch box decisions. As long as they're following your guidelines, they'll have a decent lunch. Dan packs almost exactly the same lunch everyday - I'm certain it'd be healthier and tastier with a bit more variety. But the natural reward for making your own lunch is a sense of autonomy and capability so I swallow my helpful suggestions and leave him to it.
- Brainstorm lunchbox ideas together. Get your child to check out other kids' lunch boxes for ideas. In his time as a lunchbox spy, Dan discovered that leftovers can be put in thermoses and sushi can be made a home. Look through recipe books together. Before you head to the supermarket, check with your child for any lunchbox items and ingredients that are needed. Better yet, do the shopping together.
- Treats and special lunches are your friends. Set any rules about treats upfront in your guidelines. For example, maybe one of the lunchbox compartments is for a treat or maybe Friday is treat day. To give your child a break from making lunches, take part in school fundraising lunches if you can. Dan's favourite lunchbox treat is takeaway Thai curry in his thermos so we try to make this a monthly event.
*Our kids can pick any food they like. This isn't a problem in our house because my husband and I consume junk food on sight, so by morning all unhealthy food is extinct and thus never available for inclusion in lunch boxes. If the adults in your house have better restraint and thus leave temptingly unhealthy choices in your cupboards, you could set all available lunch options on the kitchen counter.
Other things that might help:
- Include packing and clean up as part of the role. Dan packs all his lunch containers and drink bottles into his backpack and we've recently changed the expectation to include cleaning up the preparation area. At the end of the day, he cleans out his backpack and brings all the containers to the kitchen for washing. At this stage, Dan doesn't wash the lunch containers so we'll have to phase that in later.
- Get your child to make dinner. Once a week, it's Dan's dinner night. He gets to pick what we have, he does the prep, and we cook or bake it together. This seems to increase his familiarity and comfort in the kitchen.
- Have some easy-access healthy lunch box options, such as savoury muffins and bliss balls, in the fridge or freezer for quick pickings.
- Prepare or set up the night before.
- Put all lunch options on the kitchen bench if there are too many tempting prohibited lunch foods in the cupboards.
- Have younger children prepare their lunches and snacks. Sadie doesn't have to make her lunch for school yet so, of course, she is extremely eager to do so. When we head out on a day trip or if she attends a holiday programme, she gets to makes her lunch.
- Mama-hype - Apply liberally :)