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Reader Tip: Our Kids Pack Their Own Lunches

KJ emailed in the following tip:

I have four children, including a newborn. I drive my older two children to school so all of us need to be ready to go in the morning.

In order to make the mornings go smoother, I wanted to have my two school-aged children pack their own lunches. I also wanted a variety in their lunches and not all cheese sticks 🙂

So I posted this on the fridge:

  • (1) sandwich/granola bar/bread or muffin
  • (1) fruit/veggie/yogurt/cheese
  • (1) drink
  • (1) cracker
  • (1) dessert
  • Have your lunch packed by 7:45
  • Pray before you eat
  • Have a great day!

On the weekends, I will bag the desserts and crackers. I then put the baggies in a large bag labeled desserts or crackers in the pantry. I make the PB&J sandwiches (put in freezer), and bag the fruit or veggies. I will also make the granola bars or homemade muffins. There is also a shelf in the fridge that is “their shelf”. That is where we keep the drinks, fruit, homemade applesauce, etc… for their lunches.

I timed it once and that whole process from start to finish took me 20 minutes! Much quicker than trying to put everything together in the mornings.

I like it because it is one less thing I have to do in the mornings. They like it because they can choose what they put in their lunch that day. It works well for us!

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  • Becky says:

    I’m not at this stage in life right now, but I love the idea! I will pass it along to some friends who might find it very useful.

  • Amy f;) says:

    I have regence blue cross insurance and on their myregence website is this cute interactive game for kids to think through what makes a healthy lunch vs. not so healthy lunch….I’m gearing them up for packing their own lunches when they are old enough:)

    thanks for the post:)

  • beth says:

    I love this idea. It is perfect as for saving time, making the children responsible, teaching them to make wise choices, and best of all one less thing mom has to put together in the morning!

  • Amanda says:

    What veggies do your kids eat?

  • Jessica says:

    I’m an adult but have to take dinner to work each nigh. I can attest to how much time I save during the week by dividing my leftovers into single serve portions.

  • Michelle says:

    What a wonderful idea! I will tweak it a bit though . . . otherwise my children would choose a muffin, yogurt, drink, cracker, and dessert and end up with a ton of sugar. I’m thinking granola bar or whole wheat crackers, real fruit choices such as apple/orange slices, grapes, berries; yogurt or cheese, filtered water or milk from school, and dessert. Thanks for sharing this time saver and responsibility builder! Love it!

  • Kirsten says:

    I do the same thing! My boys have been packing their lunch since Pre-K (at 4!). On Sundays we go through the school lunch menu. After we figure out how many days they will be packing their lunch, I make the sandwiches (PB&J for DS#1, turkey & cheese for DS #2) for the freezer and pre-bag veggies, fruit, etc. I have a picture menu on the refrigerator that they use each evening after dinner: drink, sandwich, cheese stick or yogurt, fruit or veggie, chips or pretzels or a granola bar, and a dessert. Lunches are packed while I clean up the kitchen. In the morning, I pull their lunches out, add ice packs, and put them on the table with their folders, library book, homework, etc. Easy peasy! It makes everything MUCH smoother around here.

  • holi says:

    I am heading toward the end of my school life with my 3rd & last child! I have been getting up at 6 with her in the morning. You are so right pre-making and pre-packing is so great! I wish I would have learned this 15 yrs ago, i probably would have enjoyed making lunches more & they would have been so much more healthy…..

    • Yessel says:

      what are examples of the desserts you pack for lunch? also, do you freeze some of the sandwiches (like ham, turkey) and thaw over night, especially for the later days of the week? thanks.

      • KJ says:

        I am going to try deli meat this week and see how it works. I would think it would be fine. In the dessert bag on the shelf or freezer are: homemade cookies (I just made Applesauce Oaties-good and pretty healthy!), Nilla Wafers, Animal Crackers.

  • Susan says:

    Great concept! Having pre-bagged portion-sizes of foods ready to go is a real time saver in the morning.

    We do something similar except my daughter must have a protein. She takes an entree that includes a carb, a protein, and a vegetable. Sometimes it’s a sandwich with peanut butter or meat, or a wrap with meat or beans, or a thermos of leftover whatever we had for dinner. Last night’s dinner was a roast in the crockpot with potatoes, tomatoes, and root veggies (delicious!) so today she took a thermos of that.

    With the exception of the peanut butter sandwich, it’s really easy to add vegetables to an entree and my daughter will eat it, unlike a “plain” vegetable like carrot sticks, although she does like salad, and, strangely, thin-sliced radishes. Oh, and she likes cherry or grape tomatoes, which are easy to pack in a lunch. She also likes cucumber slices.

    We tend to eat dishes as opposed to individual foods, if that makes sense, but that is a matter of personal preference.

    She loves hard boiled eggs and would gobble them for lunch were it not for the fact that she gets teased at school about how disgusting they are. So we keep the hard boiled eggs for at-home consumption, or disguise them in a dish of some sort like a pasta salad. 🙂

    In addition to the entree she takes a fruit (usually an apple because that’s what she likes and they’re very portable) and a small snack bag of something like crackers, nuts and raisins, or a granola bar, in case she wants more than the entree and fruit. She knows to eat the entree first and then the fruit. Sometimes she eats the extra snack-type item, but often she just eats it as an after-school snack or keeps it for another day.

    No juice or dessert for my kiddo. Kids don’t need sweets for lunch every day. I’ve seen plenty of kids in our elementary school cafeteria eat their dessert, cookie, fruit snacks, whatever, and throw away their healthy foods. If all they have in their lunch box is healthy food, and it’s something they like, and they are hungry, they will eat it.

    Not that we don’t eat our share of sweets or drink juice — we do — but at home, not packed in a school lunch.

    For a beverage, she can buy milk if she wants to, but usually she just takes her water bottle. She fills it up completely with ice and then adds water, and it stays nice and cold until well past lunch time.

    Nor do I take sweets to my office for lunch — no need as there is always plenty of junk food around here to eat. 🙂

  • Candi says:

    Love this!! I recently began freezing PB&Js and it has made our morning routine so much quicker! Now my daughter often packs her lunches in the morning as well! I like your idea about bagging desserts and crackers! Thanks for sharing!

  • no kids here, but every weekend, my husband & i cut up & bag 10 veggies/side salads for the vegetable component of our lunches… one for every day of the week. whenever i make muffins/quick bread i also package some of it individually and store it in a big bag in the freezer. my husband also likes more “dinner” entrees for his lunch (before we got married he had a tv dinner for lunch every single day), so we freeze about half our leftovers in individual containers. these steps save us SO much time when making our lunches everyday…and we do it the night before as an added bonus. 🙂 the chart idea for kids is so great–i’ll have to suggest that to some friends!

  • Karen says:

    I do this too! We do it the night before and they put them in the fridge. We send ice packs in the lunches and a frozen gogurt both get thrown in in the morning. Saves so much time!!! I started this when twin #1 complained I had cut her sandwich in half instead of in squares and twin #2 was upset because she got hers cut in squares instead of in half (they had different sandwiches). I had been up since 3 am and I was tired so I said, “fine, you make your own lunch and cut your sandwich how you want”. It has worked out so well! They pack and I supervise 🙂 and there are no complaints because if they do it wrong they can only blame themselves!

  • Tonya says:

    My kids also pack their own lunches but they pack them at night before they go to bed. We have tried the mornings it is just to chaotic for me…I really like the idea of the kids having their own shelf and pre-portioning out the food. Will have to give this some thought…anything to help get 4 kids up and out the door in the morning on time!!!

  • Laurie says:

    I only have 1 in school. I pack her lunch the night before as I am cleaning up dinner dishes. She is not a girl who is into trying a lot of new things. So turkey sandwich,individual mandarin fruit cups,Capri sun roarin water 30 cal juice box, 100 cal snack pack for chips and dessert. I go to SAMs about every month and stock up. With groceries sky high it makes sense for us to shop at SAMs and then she can also pick out different things that she may want. We also have dance on tues for 4 hrs and art class on thurs so these snacks are so easy to take with their water bottles. My kids do not drink milk,but daughter is able to take her insulated water bottle everyday and she drinks about 16-20oz of water during the school day. My mom packed lunches for all 3 of us from k-8. I was so thankful to her for doing that. I love to pack lunches and my litle one will be in kindergarten next fall. She already has her lunch box. Our school district has excellent high quality how grown and food cooked from scratch. My daughter never wants that. I have saved over $2000 in the last 4 yrs by sending lunch everyday and I know it is quality food. I am dumbfounded at how much food is wasted in her cafeteria everyday from hot lunches. Most of the kids get free or reduced lunches and they throw it in the trash. How wasteful in our city where kids go to bed hungry every night.

    • Susan says:

      $2000 in savings really puts this in perspective.

      Costs are similar in our district — school lunch is $2.60/day, which is approx. $50/mo, which is $450/year. The lunch program is great and the food is good, and $2.60 is a bargain compared to eating out, but the cost sure does add up.

  • krystal says:

    I semi do this too. While my lil one doesn’t have to take a lunch yet. Half day pre k. I do this for my self. When we get home from the store I bag all my veg individualy for snacks all week. We can get them at any time and not worried about over eating. I do this w a box of cearel, bag them by serving size. Put the baggies back in its original box so all I have to do do is pour the the bag in a bowl w a lil mik And enjoy. This makes packing lunch so easy for me.

  • Ann says:

    We do the same thing, they choose everything after dinner, when we’re cleaning up. However, they have to include:
    –a protein
    –a carbohydrate
    –two fruits or vegetables
    –a dairy
    They might assemble more than one component as a sandwich, but there is a lot of variety; right now my daughter likes “make your own lunchables” and chooses crackers for her carb, salami for protein, sliced cheese for dairy, and carrots and a fruit, while my son would eat a pbj on whole wheat with carrots, yogurt and an apple every day :0)

  • Sandy says:

    I have always felt a little guilty about making my kids pack their lunch for school when many of their friend’s parents would either give their kids money for school lunch or pack a lunch for their kids. I just felt it was important for my kids to pack lunches themselves even though I had time to make it for them–even when my kids were crazy busy with school and activities. However, I just sent my oldest son (of four kids) away to college this fall. He lives in a dorm with a kitchen. It put everything in perspective when I talked with him a few weeks after college had started and found out he was still packing himself a lunch every day. He was fortunate to be awarded several large scholarships so he could technically afford to eat lunch at the nearby college restaurant. He has a very busy schedule, so he could rationalize eating out because he is so busy. But he learned a habit at home that he took with him to college. I feel much better about making my younger kids pack their lunch even on busy days.

    • Jan says:

      Oh yes, don’t feel guilty at all. My son has packed his lunch since second grade (he has a lunch account so he can buy milk at the cafeteria), and has been responsible for cleaning his own bathroom since age 5 (among other chores). Hubs and I work full-time. Everyone pitches in so that we can have some free time to spend doing fun family things. And considering how much fat and sodium is in a lot of restaurant foods, packing a lunch is the more healthful option anyhow.

    • Susan says:

      I agree — don’t feel one bit guilty! You’ve raised your son to be a responsible, independant adult, an accomplishment you should be very proud of.

      One of my daughter’s friends knocked on our door last Saturday morning asking if she could hang out. My daughter answered that she would come over after she was finished folding the laundry. The friend’s eyes got huge and she responding incredulously — “YOU have to fold laundry???” Uh, yes. She wears clothes, sleeps on sheets, uses towels, so she can help maintain these items. It’s not like I make her do slave labor — it’s just that in our household, we both pitch in with household chores, and hers are age-appropriate.

  • Sarah says:

    This is what fruits and veggies my 3.5-year-old son likes in his preschool packed lunch (which has to all be finger foods):

    -broccoli (fresh, steamed, or frozen. Frozen will defrost by lunch)
    -green beans (fresh or steamed, depending on his mood, frozen would work as well as the broccoli, we’ll rarely throw in canned green beans out of the can in a pinch)
    -celery sticks (plain, with peanut butter or cream cheese filling, or with peanut butter or cottage cheese as a dip)
    -bell pepper strips
    -cucumber slices (peeled or not, depends on mood)
    -apples slices/chunks
    -orange slices/chunks

    We pack his lunch together the night before, but hopefully by the time he hits elementary he can pack his own like your kids! For now he gets to choose his lunch from my formula:
    -main course (usually some protein/carb combo, but oddly he seldom wants a sandwich or wants a meatless sandwich so I’ve had to be creative)
    -treat or “dessert”,
    -drink (100% juice, milk, or water)
    -dairy, if there’s not already dairy in main course or milk to drink.

    Yes, he needs a fruit and a veggie both, or else he’d just want to eat applesauce every day, or choose 1 green bean or something crazy like that. We also have the rule against eating the same thing 2 days in a row, so he can’t just have juice every day and never milk.

    “Dessert” for us is basically any treat, salty or sweet. So far this has been pretzels, veggie straws, oreos, “squeezy” (sugar-free squeezable fruit pouch, we especially like the ones with veggies or yogurt thrown in), leftover pizza roll from last night’s dinner, cheese stick, zucchini mini-muffins.

    I was sooooo nervous about packing a lunch for him, but it’s been easier than I thought once I decided on a formula. I spent the summer looking for sales on squeezable fruit pouches, individually packed pretzels, veggie straws, 100% juice boxes, and shelf-stable milk boxes, but my son has amazed me on his willingness to eat healthy food at school. We haven’t used the fruit pouches, pretzels, or other snacks very often (we do use the drinks, but he was just as happy to take his Toy Story water bottle filled with tap water one day). And seeing the healthy stuff that the other kids are eating has given him some awesome creative ideas: turkey & jam (I used spreadable fruit/preserves) sandwiches, and we have our own version of a “jelly donut” (sandwich made of whole wheat mini bagel and spreadable fruit/preserves, yeah he asked me for a donut at the store one day and I asked him if he wanted a “salty donut” and he called bagels donuts for a long time 😀

  • Jennie says:

    Love this! Gives the kids a sense of choice and accomplishment! I love that it is leading them on the road to independence.

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