Back to School Lunches: Kids Can Make Their Own
It’s that time of year again — time to get back to school and back to packing lunches every single morning (can you hear my dread?). In a busy household, it’s never easy to pull off making a lunch that’s healthy, packable, and appetizing. So here’s a crazy idea: why not get the kids to make their own lunches?
When my daughters, Ella and Maisie, were in elementary school, they got into the habit of making their lunches every day. I had read a clever idea in a parenting magazine that really worked. I gave my kids a weekly lunch allowance and told them they could buy lunch at school, or pack it at home and pocket the money. My kids liked the idea of making some cold hard cash, so they’d get up every morning a little earlier than usual and pack up their own lunches (and keep the money!). They started with the easy stuff: bagel and cream cheese, grapes, and a cookie. Then they moved to fancier sandwiches (fresh mozzarella, pesto, garden fresh tomatoes on a baguette). Now that they are in high school, they pack stir-fried rice, mango smoothies, and Greek salad.
Getting kids to make their own lunches is a win-win. They learn how to whip up something good to eat when they’re in a rush (an important skill that will come in handy throughout their lives). If they pack their lunches, they’re more likely to eat them, too. And when kids are given the opportunity to make their own lunches (or cook any meal for that matter), they learn math, science, reading, time management, and more.
Preparing a midday meal is a great way to practice cooking skills, too. The more time your kids spend experimenting with fresh ingredients and trying out simple kitchen tools, the better they will get at cooking. It’s like playing soccer or the piano – it takes time and effort to learn to cook, but practice makes perfect. For kids, it’s not just about the cooking techniques they’re mastering, but it’s also about getting creative with food presentation. When they make their own lunches, they feel independent and proud of the food they made all by themselves.
If you’d like to get your own children into the habit of making lunches, start with the recipes here and from my cookbook, Cooking Class. You might also consider making a cash deal with them like I did. Once they’ve chosen some recipes, stock up at the beginning of the week on good fresh lunch ingredients (bakery bread, farmer’s market veggies, organic lunch meats, and so on). Depending on their age, you can let the kids do most of the cooking on their own with a little guidance from you. Stay nearby for questions in the beginning. But step out of the way and let them get creative. With any luck, you may inspire the kids to start the morning habit of making their own lunches.