A Magical Hack If Packing Your Kids' Lunchbox Makes You Want To Weep

Uncategorized Oct 04, 2021

by Jenny Jiles

Making and packing the lunchbox. This chore is on the top of most parent’s hate list. That everyday task that’s cutting into your precious (hot) coffee drinking time, with the looming pressure that this lunchbox has to hit all the “supermom” marks. And by marks I mean, it has to be in cute shapes and cut outs that get them excited to eat, packed in a sustainable container, include a vegetable or two, be nut free, maybe even dairy free, oh and foods your kid might actually eat while sitting through a highly distracted, 20 minute lunch rush.  It’s amazing they get any food down without choking, to be honest. So I hacked it:

I. Make. Them. Pack. Their. Own. Lunchboxes.


But they aren’t old enough!

Look, I don’t know your kid’s age, but most of us underestimate what our kids can actually do, and handle, in the kitchen. I’ve been teaching kids about food and cooking for almost 10 years. I started cooking with kids before I started with adults, and the funny thing is, the kids were much easier to convince to try a new cooking skill, new food, or habit. Yes, sir they were. 

Of course, there are knives, and hot pans, and scary things in the kitchen, but there are plenty of activities they can do with safe tools. According to most age appropriate chore charts, like this one, kids even as young as 2-5 can unload the dishwasher, set the table, put away clothes and yes, even prepare easy snacks.  

So why are we holding them back? Because we are parents, and we forget, and we want to help, and most importantly, we want to control. 


But what if they just put junk in their lunchbox?

Sorry to break it to you, but if you keep C.R.A.P. (chemicals, refined flour, artificial additives/colors/flavors, uber processed stuff) in your house, then they will eat C.R.A.P. and newsflash— so will you. Keep mostly real, whole foods and less C.R.A.P. packets in your kitchen, and they will have to work with what is given. This is where you get to control a little bit. I know we all love that.

To give my kids the illusion of freedom (muffled cackle), we used a chart on the fridge that reminded them what needed to go in the box. This was a guideline so that they could see what is needed to help nourish and satisfy them at school. They can start to understand that chips taste good, but they don’t give us the nutrients our bodies need or fill us up. Here is a similar chart to what we used from Debbie Koenig, author of the cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes. (I’d like the carb section to be whole grains, but you get the idea).

But what if they pack the same lunch every day?

Well thank gawd, right! This makes your grocery list and life easier now doesn’t it. I’m kidding, but also not. We’re all creatures of habit, we enjoy routine and we sometimes eat the same thing over and over again, so why can’t they? If you’ve been a parent long enough, you have experienced the phase when they insist on wearing the same shirt every day for a few weeks, and you’ve also experienced their unpredictability and ever-changing patterns. So, take a deep breath and don’t sweat it too much. They can’t have dessert every day, but let’s not lose sleep over that daily sun butter and jelly sandwich with a side of carrots. And you and I both know, the second you get accustomed to his lunch routine, he will decide to branch out, change the game, and derail your perfected grocery list. 

This is such a simple task that can truly simplify your life, while also teaching your kids some of the most valuable health and life lessons. A few simple guidelines and kitchen skills, and they are off and running for the week. Show them the chart above, buy a few of the items in each category, prepare any make ahead items (i.e. pasta, hard boiled eggs) and guide them how to slice, smear, and put those items in a simple lunchbox before bed or in the morning before school. You’ll be surprised how much fun they have and how much more they eat when they’ve made it themselves.


Jenny is a writer, cooking coach, and host of Cliffs Notes Kitchen, where she shows how simple, bite-sized shifts with minimal effort, can create lasting changes in your health. You can find more of her articles here.


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