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When Can Kids Pack Their Own Lunch?

August 17, 2022 by Emily Moore

When Can Kids Pack Their Own Lunch? Now is a good THYME

As we gear up for the return to school, here’s a question you might be asking yourself: when are kids old enough to pack their own lunch? It’s a great question and, like most aspects of child-raising, there’s no definitive answer, but around age ten (5th grade) is a good rule of thumb. Some kids will be ready sooner, some later, and that’s perfectly fine.  

But even if your child isn’t quite up to the task yet, the topic warrants your consideration. Why? For starters, you probably spend a lot of time making lunch. Figuring in school holidays and vacations, let’s say you pack your kid’s lunch every day for 8 months, that’s:

  • 5 lunches per week x 4 weeks = 20 lunches per month
  • 20 lunches per month x 8 months = 160 lunches per child!

So, if it takes 10 mins to pack a lunch, we’re talking about more than 26 hours per kid, per year packing lunches. And that’s just for one kid! 

Trust me: it’s worth figuring out how to transition this task to your kids – you’re not going to miss it. (OK, you might miss it; I kind of miss it.) Regardless, feeding oneself is an important life skill for kids to learn, so you might as well start working on passing the torch).

If your child isn’t yet ready for the job, you might try enlisting their help as lunch box sous chef. This is a great opportunity to reinforce what constitutes healthy eating, what different foods do for us, how what we eat connects to how we feel, and how well our bodies and brains work (check out these fantastic tips from our friends at Kids Eat in Color).

We got our own kids a version of these bento boxes and used them for school and camp lunches for seven years – literally thousands of lunches. They were ideal for packing salads, pasta, fruit, veggies, sandwiches, cheese & crackers, etc. (and more of our bento box ideas). We also had small, insulated containers like these for soups, stews, or leftovers. 

I don’t appreciate a rushed morning. So, I’m a firm believer in packing lunch the night before. My family’s routine was this: the kids cleaned out their lunchboxes as soon as they got home from school. They were dry by the time dinner was over. So, lunches got packed while they were actively procrastinating doing homework or procrastinating going to bed. This worked reasonably well most nights as lunch was concerned.

Tips for Helping Kids Pack Their Lunch
  • Acknowledge and honor your child’s preferences (within reason!)
  • Encourage your child’s efforts and participation
  • Post a list of ideas for kids to choose from
  • Plan for leftovers when you prepare dinner 
  • Keep the fridge and pantry stocked with healthy staples
  • apples, oranges, celery, and carrots all keep for several weeks in the fridge
  • nuts, applesauce, dried fruit, and crackers are good bulk buys
  • sandwiches (e.g., PB&J) are easy for kids to prepare independently

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