Our oldest son is in his second year at a Montessori school that fosters and preaches and attempts to ingrain independence (as all Montessori programs do). I packed his lunch for him every day last year, even though his teacher suggested that he do it himself.
I just couldn’t do it. I had no system in place. He is the slowest slowpoke on the planet. How would he know what to pack? Would I end up doing it for him anyway? Would he pack 4 bananas and a piece of cheese? Would I be nagging him all morning every day of my life?
See, I’m a bit of a control freak. And he’s a bit of a fly by the seat of his pants kid who couldn’t care less when and if things get done. We’re a fantastic match.
This year, he actually insisted that he wanted to pack his own lunch, which gave the boot to my nagging doubts about whether
he I could handle it. We’ve tried the “Just get it done because it has to be done” inspirational speech and it works zero percent of the time, so I buckled down and made a plan.
One of the things that the Montessori approach really stresses is that kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. As long as you give them the proper instructions and make all the tools easily accessible, with some guidance they can actually be fairly independent little humans. Which in turn gives parents a few extra seconds to spend on the 172 loads of laundry that need folding. Hooray!
He wouldn’t know what or how much to pack and he’d be asking me what to do every step of the way.
I knew he needed a road map, but I wasn’t about to write out a list for him every day on what to bring. He could pack the same thing every single day, but that’s not necessarily creating independence. That’s more of a dictatorship. We basically keep the same (or very similar) snacks in our pantry and food in our fridge each week, so I knew his lunches would consist of mainly the same things, just in different rotations. I decided to give him a choice.
I wanted to make sure he had a good balanced lunch to give him fuel and energy for the afternoon, but that he had options to make him excited to eat. I decided to write out the basic lunch categories and then give him a limited number of options in those categories. This put the power in his hands without being too overwhelming with too many choices. This has also created conversations about different types of food and what gives us energy and why we don’t eat 4 bananas and a piece of cheese for lunch.
As a bonus at the end of the week, I let him choose a special treat every Friday in place of one of his “extras”. I don’t mean treat like a Snickers bar, but he is welcome to take a juice box, Larabar or a crunchy snack like popcorn or Pirate’s Booty if we have it. We try not to be too restrictive in our eating, but we all feel (and act) better when we eat healthier. I feel like this gives him the option to choose a treat without turning into a sugar-laced crazy pants.
Download your own customizable School Lunch Packing List for free (you will need a Canva account to access) or print off my list here.
He would never know what containers to use or where to find them in my oddly well-organized but highly combustible Tupperware cabinet and I would go insane when he knocked everything over every day.
I needed this to be foolproof and not so complicated that I ended up digging out and matching Tupperware for him, so I cleaned out the drawer next to the fridge where he would be putting together his lunch everyday. I picked out all the containers that he could possibly use and fit in his lunch box and put them in the drawer, so they would be easily accessible for him. I try my best to keep up with the dishes so he (most of the time) has a full drawer to choose from.
We use Rubbermaid Lunch Blox that come in multiple sizes and are awesomely mix and match and Blue Avocado reusable bags that come in multiple sizes and are super easy to clean. Available on Amazon or you can sometimes find full sets at Costco.
It would take him 100 hours and I would end up doing it anyway.
Okay, truth? It does take him 100 hours because he gets distracted by the fridge doors and slidey socks and the Mariners game on TV and squirrels and carrots and drawers that OPEN AND CLOSE.
Each night while I am cleaning up dinner, I have him pack his lunch while I am close by. I can give him gentle reminders to stay on task or answer questions about what kind of fruits or vegetables we have and how to prepare them if they need it.
Even if it takes all of my life, it is so much better than racing in the morning and nagging and frustration. It’s done and done and done and all we have to do is add freezer packs in the morning.
Update: Now that both our boys are packing their own lunch, they pack it in the morning as part of their list of chores and it actually works really well. I’m usually in the kitchen making breakfast at this time so I can help or throw out a few suggestions if needed. If your mornings go over like a house on fire, evenings are a great option!
You’ll notice that we don’t have sandwiches or bagels or wraps on the list, as we are a mainly gluten-free household. This would be an extra step in the process, but if you have all the ingredients accessible and you walk your child through the steps of putting together their own, they can easily whip up a PB&J or a tortilla wrap with cream cheese and turkey.
The nice thing about this method is that it can be 100% tailored for your kids. You can even have separate lists for each kid if they have wildly different tastes.
While it took a little bit of time in the beginning to set up and for our son to understand portions and he does still have questions occasionally, it is mostly hands-off. Plus when he is packing his lunch, it gives us a little bit of time together in the kitchen to chat and he feels massively independent. #win
Update: I now have gone through two full years with two kids (ages 9 and 7) packing their lunch from this list with minimal issues! I’ve talked to both their teachers and there was never a SINGLE COMPLAINT about what they had packed. If I packed their lunch for them, I guarantee there would have been some complaining.
Download your own customizable School Lunch Packing List for free with a Canva account! Just click the image above, add in your own lunch options and print. (You can also print a blank sheet and write in your own options)
If you are looking for easy, make-ahead, kid-friendly options, check out the list of recipes below:
If you are in need of an insulated lunch box to send with your kids to school, this Rubbermaid Lunch Blox Lunch Bag comes in a few different colors, gets great reviews and perfectly fits the Lunch Blox containers. And it’s inexpensive!
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