Taking a box lunch to school doesn’t always have to be created by mom or dad. Teach your child to pack his own lunch with this step-be-step guide.
Melissa, a reader whose 6-year-old son is selective with food, follows Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (read about this here), and is running into a challenge with school lunch. She wants to know how to encourage her son to DIY packing his school lunch box without sacrificing health.
Is It Okay for Kids to Pack School Lunch?
My son goes to a small private Montessori school, and while we love everything else about the school, we have been somewhat frustrated with their approach to food.
They have a strict policy to not pack sweets in lunches and emphasize “healthy, organic” foods. I have suspected that this may play a role in my son’s continued avoidance of more challenging foods due to the pressure, though I can’t be sure if we are doing as well.
Now that he is in 1st grade, he is expected to pack his own lunch.
We find it very difficult to practice DOR when packing lunches, since it is not a sit down meal where everyone shares it.
Lately, I feel we have been getting off track because he will only want to pack, for instance, a bun and 3 homemade applesauce rollups. I have been telling him that he needs to pack some sort of protein, which was working okay, but I am again feeling like it is pressuring him further away from eating proteins.
Also, I’m not entirely sure it is developmentally appropriate for the kids to be packing their own lunches at this age and we are open to packing the lunches for him. I am interested in gaining more structure around this, if you have any suggestions?
Guidelines for a Healthy School Lunch
First graders are at a great age to start taking a role in packing lunch. But, they need some help.
Number one, they don’t really know what goes into a balanced, healthy lunch.
Two, it’s still hard for them to prepare food quickly, so assembly needs to be easy.
You can support your son by setting guidelines about what goes into a lunch and then let him make a reasonable choice.
For example, teach you child about what a healthy lunch menu includes by setting some guidelines:
Food Groups for a Healthy Lunch
- Protein Sources
- Fruit and/or Vegetables
- Dairy (or a non-dairy substitute)
- Healthy fats (optional)
Offer Reasonable Choices to Promote Independence
Next, enable his independence by giving him reasonable options for each of those key foods. For example:
- Protein: Turkey or yogurt
- Grain: Bread or crackers
- Fruit: grapes or applesauce
- Veggie: carrot coins or celery sticks (you can alternate fruit and veggies or if he will eat both, do both)
- Dairy: cheese or milk
This is a systematic approach that builds in more structure, lets you determine the nutritional quality and balance of the lunch, and allows your son a little more say in what he chooses to pack.
In other words, he ultimately packs his own choices from the options you provide. Here are a few more tips for packing a sack lunch.
Well, Melissa went right to it, and started to change up the system for packing a box lunch at home.
Here’s what she had to say:
Just wanted to update you – we have 3 bins in our refrigerator – one for fruit and veggies, one for protein and one for grains and I try to keep them stocked. My son has to pick something from each bin. He really likes it, especially because it makes it easier for him to pack his lunch. Working out very well so far!
A Box Lunch Packing System that Works
I created a step-by-step process to help kids pack a box lunch for school. You can get the pretty printable to use with your child by clicking on the picture below.
Here are the steps:
- Include at least 4 food groups.
- Let your child choose between two options.
- Encourage independence.
I gotta say, I love it when you can systemize things – tweak them just a bit and yield awesome results.
Melissa found a way to ensure healthy options were available for her son that he could independently include in his lunch.
For more guidance on eating well at school, read this post.
Does your child pack his own lunch? How do you make sure it’s healthy?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: January 19, 2016
Updated on: August 14, 2019