How to get kids to pack their own lunches

I remember trading lunches with other kids back when I was in school. But with teachers and cafeteria monitors walking around and a much greater sensitivity to allergies and dietary needs, those days are gone. Which I am totally cool with, by the way. Because, seriously, I don’t know who made that kid’s lunch, and I don’t know where their hands have been. But still, there really is no way for me to know if my child is eating the food I have so lovingly packed. They could easily be throwing it away just because it’s not what they wanted that day.

I’m trying to find my way around this, and have come up with probably the most brilliant/lazy parenting move we’ve ever made: We make our kids pack their own lunches. Whenever possible, kids like to have a say in things that affect them. And we’ve learned that our kids are much more likely to eat food that they have chosen and prepared themselves. Even if it’s the same food I would have made them. Over the summer, when kids are at home, we champion autonomy and want them to make their own lunches. Now, with school coming soon and all four of my kids being there five days a week, you can believe they will still be packing their lunches. Even my youngest can do her part to make her lunch for the day.

During the school year, we pack our lunches at night. It’s the easiest way to avoid any stress. I’m not a fan of morning routines that involve running around like crazy people trying to find socks and load up backpacks before heading out the door. I’m not really a fan of mornings, period. So when everyone is ready for bed each evening, they head to the kitchen and pack their lunches. It gives them responsibility for their decisions. They have learned that, if they don’t like their lunch, there is no one to blame but themselves.

Yes, this requires a little more planning and prep on my part, but I know the day will soon come when they can do this without ANY supervision from me (or from the chart). We use the term "snack" because there are so many other options than candy bars or chips. Protein bars, string cheese, fruit leather, or almonds are a much better option. All of my kids love almonds which is great for me since almonds are so much healthier.  (Check out Blue Diamond’s "Facts" page for more information about the health benefits of almonds.(

We also have designated a lunch-making area. We’ve put within reach most of the things they will need to make their lunches (like reusable bags or containers, napkins, cutting boards, lunch boxes). They assemble everything and clean up the area when they’re done. After the school day ends, they’re also responsible for cleaning out their lunch boxes. I know I don’t want to clean out their soggy sandwich crusts or other trash. Making them do it themselves seems to be the best way to teach them how disgusting it is to leave unwrapped food in a small, enclosed box all day long. THIS IS WHY WE EAT ALL OUR FOOD, KIDS.

Does this whole process work? Most of the time. For one thing, my kids will find anything that prolongs bedtime each night…even the cleaning-up part. So far, there has been very little complaining about this process. I love that they are learning life skills. And I especially love that I don’t have to pack four lunches every day. It seems to be a win/win at our house.

What about you? How do you handle school lunches?