How to Get Your Kids to Pack Their Own Lunches

Save time and headaches by letting your kids be independent

pack school lunch

Your life is hectic enough without dealing with the hassle of packing your kids’ lunches every day, only to have them reject half of what you so lovingly selected for them. What’s the solution? Get them to pack lunch themselves. By deciding what to put in their own lunch, your kids are more likely to eat it, and more importantly, it saves you time. As a busy mom, I know how valuable a parent’s time can be. Here’s what you need to do to get started.

Prepare Foods Ahead of Time

In order to make it easy for kids to grab what they need, prepare as many foods as you can ahead of time. 

Stock up your freezer with sandwiches, muffins, granola bars, quesadilla, or any other freezable foods that your children enjoy. My boys love whole wheat cinnamon raisin or blueberry bagels with peanut-free soy butter. I slice the bagels and spread soy butter on them before I freeze them so the boys can pull them out of the freezer ready-made.

Keep food ready in your refrigerator, too. Rinse and cut up fruit and vegetables and store them in sealed containers. Individual yogurt and applesauce cups are also great to have in your fridge. To save money and cut down on waste, you can buy large tubs of yogurt and apple sauce, and then scoop them into small reusable containers so they’re ready to go.

Create a Food Chart

If I left the food selection solely up to my kids, they’d probably eat nothing but fruit snacks and crackers for lunch every day. They need guidance to make healthy and balanced choices, so we made up a chart to provide them with nutritious ideas.  

Get your kids involved in creating the chart. Together, you can look through your freezer, cupboards, and fridge to see what foods you usually have on hand that might be a good choice for packing in a lunch. Draw pictures of the food and get them to colour them in, or cut out photos from magazines so they can stick them on their chart.

Divide your chart into categories. We chose to include a main lunch item, sweet snacks, savoury snacks, dairy, and produce. I told the boys that they can select one food from each category, although I like to encourage them to pick as many fruits and vegetables as they want. My boys eat a lot and often complained I didn’t pack enough, so they usually pack at least four snacks. If your kids generally eat less than that, you can adjust your chart to your child’s needs. I tell my kids the chart is just a guideline. They will often deviate from it (like leaving out the dairy, or maybe choosing two savoury snacks and no sweet snacks), but the point is to give them a good variety of ideas to get them started.

Make Lunch Supplies Easily Accessible

I used to keep the plastic containers and bottles up high in a kitchen cupboard, but they had become a big cluttered mess, poised to topple over at any time onto the next unsuspecting person who opened the cupboard door. When the kids started making their own lunches, I decided to move all of the containers into one large box that I keep on the floor so the kids can open the box and easily search for what they need. I also keep the crackers and other snack items in a low cupboard that they can reach them without my help.

Know Your Children’s Limitations

My kids are still pretty young. My oldest just turned seven and my younger son is a brand new kindergartner, so I realize that they can’t do everything on their own yet. This is why I supervise the lunch-making process. I usually unload and load the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen at the same time so that I can keep an eye on what they’re doing while still accomplishing something productive.  I make suggestions if they’re struggling with what to pack, and I make sure they don’t forget fruits and vegetables or their water bottles. If they want something hot in a Thermos, I take care of that for them in the morning. Other than that, they seem to do pretty well on their own.  As they grow older and gain more experience making their lunches, the whole process will hopefully become even easier for all of us.

Now if someone could please tell me how I get my husband to start packing his lunch, I’d really love to know!

Megan is a mother of two whining boys and a baby girl with attitude. She writes a food blog called Food and Whine, where she shares recipes and tips for feeding a household of picky eaters.