I admit it — packing my children’s lunch every morning before school really stresses me out. Recently I shared my frustrations with some of the other parents standing on the sidelines at my son’s baseball practice and was quite surprised (and relieved!) to find this feeling is universal.
The Stress of Making Lunch
As our children ran around the bases and we shared our secret hatred of lunch making, one brave parent finally asked the question that most of us were probably wondering: Is my child old enough to make his own lunch yet?
For one innocent moment, I toyed with the idea of letting my children handle this task, but then reality struck. While I’ve heard some experts say that a child who is old enough to go to school is old enough have a hand in packing the lunch box (around age five), in my experience, not all children are ready to take on the full responsibility and do it right — especially with the increased emphasis of late that the White House has placed through the national Let’sMove! campaign to encourage all children to eat a balanced and healthful diet, along with getting plenty of exercise.
Maturity Matters More Than Age
Whether your youngster is equipped to take on this daily task probably has less to do with chronological age and more to do with how he will handle the freedom and whether he counts chocolate chips as meeting his daily nutritional requirements. It really all comes down to whether he will make good decisions (or will at least follow your good directions) or whether, when left to his own devices, he is likely to skip the sandwich and fruit and instead cram the lunchbox with junk food like cookies and candy bars.
If your child falls in the junk food group, all hope isn’t lost. Even the most unreliable children can be trained to meet some of the basic components of healthy eating. It just means that you need to start off with baby steps and work your way up.
Creative Ways to Involve Your Child
In my quest to help involve my children in preparing their own balanced lunches, here are some tips I discovered:
1. Plan Your Strategy
Let your child help you set the lunch menu for the next day (or even for the entire week). This preparation can help you streamline the assembly process in the morning. Work together to create a list for each day of what should go into the lunchbox so you can check off items as you go along.
2. Take a Team Approach
Even young children can spread some peanut butter and jelly on bread with a little supervision. Your child can also roll up a few slices of deli turkey or ham and either stick the lunchmeat between two pieces of bread or place inside a Ziplock bag.
3. Cover Your Bases
Involve your child in the grocery shopping, from making lists to picking out flavors and new foods to try. You can also browse through recipe books, magazines, and online for easy lunch foods that are nutritious and also delicious. When your child has some say in the choices, he is more likely to enjoy them.
4. Don’t Go Into Extra Innings
Sometimes it takes more time for your child to pack his own lunchbox and this can be frustrating when you are racing to get out the door. Help manage your precious morning time by letting your child make appropriate portions of his favorite snack foods in advance. He can bag things such as pretzels, crackers, baby carrots, and grapes so they will be ready to stick in the lunchbox in the morning.
5. Have a Clean Up Hitter
Put your child in charge of cleaning out the lunchbox after school. Even the littlest kids can throw away empty wrappers and put reusable containers in the sink for you to wash.
All of these tips have helped mornings go a little smoother in my house, and I find that my children do eat more of their food when they have a say in the content and pack some of it themselves. But there is one caveat: When my children make their own lunches, I do a quality control check with them before the kids go out the door to be sure their meals are complete and nutritious and nothing important has been left out.