How My Kids Pack Their Own Lunch Box
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Kids Lunch Box Stations
A few years ago, I posted a similar post, but I’ve made some improvements so it was easier just to rewrite the whole dang thing. The same year Oliver entered elementary school, our preschool added lunch to their school day which meant there were FOUR lunch boxes that needed to be packed every morning. That’s A LOT of work that I had no interest in doing, so… I made a few changes to the way I organize the kitchen and ever since… my kids all pack their own lunch boxes. Here’s how!
Step 1. Food needs to be accessible
Everything needs to be within reach of the kids. This means bringing items down from the top shelf of the pantry and dedicating some shelves in the kitchen for lunch box supplies. We’re also fortunate to have a 2nd small fridge in our kitchen that can be used for easy access lunch items. The bins that I’m using in the pantry are these ones from Ikea and I love them with all of my heart. In the fridge, I have these ones in varying sizes.
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Step 2. Label everything
In order for this whole ‘pack your own lunch’ thing to work, the kids need to know that 5 bags of pretzels is not a well-balanced lunch. I have an illustrated lunch box guide on the refrigerator for everyone to refer to, and then the bins of food have corresponding labels that I made with my most favorite label maker of all time (affiliate)!
Step 3. Prepare foods as needed
If you can find a snack pack of something, then God bless. For some items (like fruit), you’re just going to have to prepackage them the week before to make it easier for the kids to grab. I picked up a TON of small little tupperware containers from Target and then grabbed these dissolvable labels so I wouldn’t lose track of expiration dates.
Step 4. What about the main?
You’re probably noticing that there’s one critical component missing from this set up: the main course. We’ve learned the sticky way that it’s just easier for us to quickly make a few PB&Js each morning than to put that job on the kids as well. If we have something like leftover pasta, I’ll put it in smaller containers with a label and they can grab that instead!
Step 5. Practice makes perfect
Do my kids try to sneak in an extra treat? Yes. Yes they do. Do they sometimes forget a fruit or protein? Yep. All the time. They know to get their lunch box, grab an ice pack and stuff their lunch boxes without me. I’ll take a quick peek to make sure they’ve covered all their bases, remembered a spoon, etc, but I always double check.
I am a FIRM believer that sometimes we need to get out of our own ways and let children learn independence and autonomy. If you are someone who packs a color coordinated bento box for your kids’ lunch each day, then this is a HUGE change and will be a little harder to implement. But it makes our mornings so much smoother and easier: no fighting, I’m not doing a million things before the bus comes, and the kids have to learn to pack what they will eat! Win-win-win.
Let me know if there are any other tips you can share for getting your kids out the door each morning with a smile! I wrote this post about it ages ago, but am always looking for more ideas!
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This seems great although having all those snacks accessible at all times would be too much temptation for my two daughters. we have been implementing the “pack it the night before” regimen which works well for my high school daughter. the 3rd grader likes to make hers in the morning and since she’s an early riser and the only one at home at that hour that also works. your system is admirable and i totally get the autonomy part for the kids – also a laudable goal! good luck with the new school year.
Yes! We definitely have to reel them in when we stock the pantry bins with new snacks! 🙂 Your system sounds great too! I say, whatever works is a victory! Good luck this year!
Hey Charlotte, this post is super exciting. I Have Mostly followed your design posts on IG, So this one is definitley more up my alley as far as daily grind busyness. Ive tried a similar method, but I would love to hear more about yours. For instance, where do you keep cutlery and do you guve them throw away plastics or Real fLatwear? Or, do they use what they have at school for fruit cups, etc.? AlSo, What about veggies and various likes and DISLIKES? I know most of my kids are older than yours, and we have a couple more, but i have one Vegetarian and a couple that throw veggies away at school, while, at home, they would eat the veggies so i go crazy at the thought of all that food wasted. How many fruit items do your wildlIngs get per lunch? Sorry for thr inQuest, just very curious. Also, water bottles or jusT fruit box eaCh day?? Thanks In adVance! You’re awesome!
Hi there! We have a drawer of plastic kids cutlery from Ikea… they’re not technically disposable, but I definitely have to restock every so often since they get thrown away from time to time. We don’t do great with veggies in the lunches, but I try to cut up carrots (a like) and anything else I think they might eat. We get veggies with every dinner so I’m less fussed if they miss a serving at lunch on occasion. They mainline fruit and will often take 2 servings of fruit which is totally fine with me. Usually that means one fresh fruit and then a fruit cup/ applesauce suck or something. They always have a water bottle in their backpack so they bring juice or a box of milk with lunch if they want! Hope this helps! Also… my older kids truly love ordering from the cafeteria so they do that a lot too! 🙂 xx
Great ideas. It sounds dreamy, but like Ellen, such A spread is tempting to my children. if I buy in bulk they eat in bulk. What are your strategies in that respect?
Have you ever tried making pbjs ahead of time? They freeze WELl. Wrapped individually they are prefect to grab and go, and can keep other items cold in a sack as the sandwiches thaw.
Hmm, Maybe the time to thaw deters my children from raiding this lunch prep the way they do for other items!
Hi! There are definitely times when we have to shoo them away, but we’re trying to give them the message that things with wrappers are for school lunch/ school snacks so at home we each the non-pre-packaged stuff. They’re actually pretty good about it! I’ve never tried the frozen PBJ but I’ve heard it works super well! For us to make a few quick sandwiches in the morning is totally easy and they are always changing their mind so taking an order day of works for us… sometimes they’d prefer pasta, sometimes cream cheese/ jelly, sometimes ham and cheese!