I've packed nearly 2,000 lunch boxes for my kids, and I'm officially ready for retirement.
My kids, who are (understandably) not fans of the hot lunch at school, are still toting lunch boxes every day. And since one is in third grade and the other is in seventh, they've got a ways to go. But this year, I'm passing on the baton—to them.
Honestly, it's my own fault I've waited this long. I've been a bit Type A about making sure they went off to school with all food groups represented and neatly packed. They've been more than happy to sit back and let me do it for them. But people, it's time. They're capable. And I'm tired.
If you are too, here's some advice for handing over the reins:
Left to his own devices, my seventh-grader will pack a lunch consisting of crackers, tortilla chips, popcorn, and a granola bar. Not exactly well-rounded. So I mapped out some general ideas in different categories such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains and suggested they choose an item from each group. I designed a free printable you can fill out for your kids and post on your fridge—get it here.
They're all the rage for good reason: They make lunch packing foolproof. Kids fill all the little compartments, and there aren't bunches of containers, lids, and bags to keep track of. (If you don't have one already, here are the four bento boxes I like best.)
Your child will be able to be more independent with lunch-packing if she can easily get what she needs. Designate a place to keep the lunch box, thermos, cold pack, water bottle, fruit, and anything else she would need for packing and be sure she can see it and easily grab it.
Keep cut-up fruit and sliced veggies in containers in the fridge, stock easy-peel clementines, or fill a bowl on the counter with bananas and washed apples and pears. Be sure to have some healthy grab-and-go options for very busy days, like boxes of raisins, unsweetened applesauce cups, and fruit cups packed in juice.
The whole idea is for your kids to develop more independence—and for you to have one less thing on your to-do list! So avoid the temptation to get overly involved. It's okay to suggest tossing in a cheese stick, but don't take over. And if your child packs the same thing three days in a row, no big deal.
If your kids are younger, say under age 7, get them involved without handing over the entire process. Ask your child to pick and pack a fruit each day or, for really small kids, tuck in a napkin and fork. Not only will your child gain independence and learn a new skill, she'll be practicing for the day when you can go hands-off entirely.
Do your kids pack their own lunches? If you've got any tips and tricks that make the process easier, please share!
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.