Why Kids Should Pack Their Own Lunches (If They Aren’t Already)

Handing off the sandwich-making responsibilities to your littles can actually raise their self-esteem.

Little Boy Making a Sandwich In KitchenPhoto: Shutterstock / Aedka Studio
Photo: Shutterstock / Aedka Studio

Trying to wrangle tiny humans in the morning and get them to school or the bus stop on time is akin to herding cats. No one ever seems to be in a rush except you, everyone’s going in opposite directions, and no one wants to put on pants.

For those of us whose kiddos take their lunches to school, making a tiny and portable version of a healthy meal that fits into tiny and portable plastic containers is a feat that should be rewarded. Don’t even start with that “I cut their sandwiches into the shape of baby chipmunks.” No one wants to hear it, Deborah.

Here’s a revolutionary idea: It’s time to delegate. Kids as young as 2 can participate in making their own lunches, and research shows giving your little ones this responsibility is doing them a favor. According to the Center for Parenting Education, tasks like this can raise kids’ self-esteem, helping to foster the belief that they can solve any problem they encounter.

Yes, from PB&J to problem-solving—this is the power of responsibility. In addition, the experts say that when kids feel capable, they’re more adept down the road at acknowledging mistakes and learning from them, asking for help, trying new things and knowing their strengths and weaknesses.

Convinced your kids are just going to pack frozen waffles and bottle of ketchup if left to their own devices? Here are some ways to set up everyone for success.

Ask for Their Input

After you’ve explained that lunch-making duties are being handed over to them, ask your kids what they think they’d like to pack and, if approved, add those items to your grocery list. Kids will be more willing to get involved if they feel their input is valued.

At the same time, make sure to explain what a healthy lunch looks like and why sugary foods are only going to make them drowsy and cranky in the afternoon.

Trust Their Choices

Even if your child insists on the same four items every day, go with it. They’ll eventually branch out as they become more comfortable with this newfound lunch-making power.

Create a Lunch Station

Group together supplies like a cutting board, plastic wrap, small containers, water bottles and reusable cutlery. Show your kids where the lunch foods live in your pantry or fridge. Plastic bins or baskets are great for this: Here are all the cracker choices, here are all the fruits, and here are myriad types of string cheeses. Keeping them all together will also speed up the decision-making process.

Pack the Night Before

You don’t want to leave this sort of task for the morning rush. Create a routine of packing lunches before bed. If your kids are typical, they might use this as a way to draw out bedtime. If this happens, try making it into a contest: Who can pack their lunch the fastest? Add in a timer aspect—they get six minutes to assemble their most inventive sandwich creation. Judge accordingly.

You’ll find the little ones, especially, will need help at first, but pretty soon you’ll have a regular lunch-making factory happening nightly in your kitchen. You may want to think about throwing your own lunch order in there as well.

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Amanda Kippert
Amanda Kippert has been an award-winning freelance journalist for nearly two decades. She is based in Tucson, Arizona and specializes in food, health, fitness, parenting and humor, as well as social issues. She is the content editor of the domestic violence nonprofit DomesticShelters.org.