10 Things I Learned About Getting Kids to Make Their Own Lunches

Letting kids lead with new food ideas

10 Things I Learned About Getting Kids to Make Their Own Lunches

Don't tell my kids, but I have an ulterior motive to hand off some of the school lunch prep next year. I want my kids to be making their own lunches for school, but I want them to do it with some knowledge of what to include and why. Giving them some room to explore and learn ahead of time is key.

We were recently hosted by Maple Lodge Farms at a local event featuring a great family first activity - a sandwich making competition!

With a massive spread of ingredients and toppings to choose from, we were challenged to create a delicious sandwich that would also be unique to our family in some way - flavour, style, ingredients, or name.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Anything can go into a sandwich!

Seriously, in a group of kids, not one questioned the gummy worms on the counter. There were vegetables, chips, gummy worms, cheese, deli slices, pickles, bacon, lettuce, and a bounty of condiments. The kids didn’t hesitate. For school lunches, I could give them basic rules like “must contain one source of protein (cheese, deli slices, etc.) and two vegetables (lettuce, tomato, etc.)” and for home, we could add in an even wider range of ingredients (tuna, egg, bacon, avocado, etc.)

2.  Let the kids take the lead

I let the kids run the show. With no prompting from me, the kids chose romaine lettuce, red peppers, cucumbers, and red onion to add flavour and crunch to their sandwich. Creating strategic layers of meat, cheese then a layer of diced veggies on top led the kids to the name for our sandwich - Layers of Awesome. Who could argue with that?

3.  Ignore your kids

I was amazed at how fast they got on board to not only dig into the task at hand, but to also work together to get to a finished family entry. I turned my back to chat with a friend, and when I checked in on the kids, they were plotting and negotiating - without me!

4.  Competition can be a good thing

They were having such a great time, and I was both proud and sort of surprised at the level of teamwork they mustered up. Realizing they were on the same team and creating a sandwich together put them in an interesting spot, and it was fun to see them coming up with ideas and having to angle for their preferences. Having said that, I'm definitely going to start holding an ongoing sandwich making competition at home.

5.  Get creative

Kids love food, full stop. And they loved the freedom to create, on their own, with little to no direction from me. They loved the opportunity to walk up to a simple cutting board and knife, and pile a plate high with options from the food station set up for us. Why not try this in your kitchen? Give them a cutting board, ingredients, and anything else they may need. Then sit back and see where they go with it!

6.  Encourage your kids’ inner foodies

Our sandwich featured the Maple Lodge Farms Naturally from the Farm Oven Roasted Chicken deli slices, swiss and cheddar cheese, and no less than FOUR kinds of vegetables...bringing us a win for Healthiest Sandwich.

7.  Turn food into art

Given the chance to play, the kids who participated in this event turned out colourful plates with combinations I’d never have considered. They added colour and extra ingredients to their plates to pretty it up - even the younger kids who I could see having less experimental palates were braver about adding more ingredients and then wolfing the sandwiches down.

8.  Everything Is better with bacon!

This one goes without saying. While we built our creation, we happily snuck tastes of all the foods offered for our sandwiches, including the Naturally from the Farm Hickory Smoked Chicken Bacon. The cheer of approval that went up when the bacon was ready should tell you - yep, everything’s better with bacon.

9.  Don’t assume you know what your kids will eat

I got a closer look at what they were choosing and why, and listened to them debate the benefits and drawbacks of different ingredients. My son, who hadn’t taken a sandwich to school more than a handful of times in the last few years, had lots to say about what he likes in sandwiches and what makes them awesome - to him. Now, he's inspired to make his own.

10.  Make it a game

My biggest takeaway was the reminder that food for kids can be fun, and how easily all the kids got into the spirit of the competition. I’m definitely going to use that at home - school lunch sandwich speed contests during the week, and maybe the odd weekend competition where I provide the food, and they compete for categories - healthiest, most ingredients, most colourful. And of course, wackiest!

By this time next year I’m hoping to be off school lunch duty entirely...can’t wait!

Jen Taylor is a writer based in Calgary, Alberta. With over 150 articles published online, she knows how to turn content planning and words into stories that connect. A lover of words, and chaser of good things, you can usually find her drinking coffee or running off to the mountains for inspiration. You can find her website at Mocha Creative Works.