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Pack Your Lunch And Your Independence In The Same Bag

October 21, 2013

As a professional working with young people for the last ten years, I have come to realize something…I have a thing about school lunches. I believe that they can be one of the most important parts of your child’s day – and not just because it provides them with the nutritional value to keep them going.

I know there’s a reason that I feel this way, and my mother is going to kill me when she reads this article.  When I was younger I was a very picky eater. Every night after dinner, as we were clearing the table my mother would turn to me and say “what do you want for lunch tomorrow.”  To which I would utter my typical reply, with a shrug of the shoulders, “I don’t know.”

The nightly routine would continue as she offered me everything in the fridge, from leftovers to peanut butter sandwiches (it was the early 90s) to Kraft dinner, I could have had anything, but nothing appealed to me at that time.  As my difficulty making a decision continued, my mother would finally say “everything is available to you in the fridge.  You need to pack a sandwich, a veggie, a fruit, a drink and a snack.  Make it yourself.”

And I would.  In fact, on most nights I would be standing next to my mom making my lunch as she made the lunches for my younger brothers.  This annoying routine has since become a joke in my family, but making my own lunch has had lasting, positive effects.  It helped me to become more independent.

And I know from working with parents and families over the years, this is a skill that parents hope to instil in their children.

Making lunch is one of the daily routines that I believe parents can confidently hand over to their children and I’m going to tell you how they can benefit in 6 ½ Reasons.

1.  Encourages Independent Decision Making – We want our children to be independent decision makers.  This skill starts early and with simple tasks like what to pack for lunch, or what to wear to school.  Of course, they need help with these decisions especially at a younger age.  In the story above, my mother outlined what I needed to pack for lunch – you can do this too.  Maybe a list on the fridge can serve as a reminder.  Be sure to have options available to your child that you know they will enjoy.  Even if the lunch is the same every day (as it was for me), your child is making the decision about what they want and then sticking to it.


2.  Establishes Routine – It was repetitive and annoying for me.  I can only imagine how my mother felt every time I said “I don’t know” when she asked what I wanted for lunch.  And this happened every night from grade 2 to high school.  But the routine was there, from the question “what do you want for lunch?” to us standing making lunch at night to me taking it out of the fridge the next morning.  Routine is very important to young people.  Having a solid routine helps to establish understanding, time management skills and expectations.  With our busy schedules that include homework, after-school programs, family time and getting ready for bed, if you build making lunch into this routine you (and your child) will know that this task is already completed and the stress of what to eat tomorrow is no longer there and everyone can enjoy their evening (and the rush of tomorrow morning).


3.  Develops A Sense Of Pride – Just as you feel some pride in knowing that your child is eating a lunch that you packed, your child will feel even greater pride when they pull out a lunch that they packed themselves.  It may seem like a little thing to you, but to them it is very big.  They will have accomplished a seemingly adult task, all on their own (or with some help, depending on their age), and will have done it successfully.  When they pull out their self-made sandwich and eat it among their friends and peers who have store-bought or parent-made sandwiches, they will think “look at what I can do on my own.”  This feeling is transferrable.  Your child will say “if I can make my lunch on my own…what else should I try?  What else can I do on my own?”


4.  Establishes A Sense Of Self – When your child leaves in the morning, it is important for them to know that they are “on their own” for the time that they are at school.  This doesn’t mean that they feel their parents abandoned them, it means that they are forced to problem solve on their own or use teachers and other trusted adults in the school.  When a child makes it through the full school day on their own, it tells them that their parents believe in them.  But when a parent drops off their lunch in the middle of the day, it can send a message that says “my parents don’t think I can make it a full day on my own.”  Although dropping lunch off at school is done with the best intentions, your child will benefit more from being away from you for the full day.  They will begin to believe “my parents think I can do this on my own” and that is very important validation for them.


5.  Relieves Some Pressure Off The Parent – Your job as a parent is never ending: Homework, household responsibilities, programs, carpool, meals, the list for you goes on and on.  Now, imagine being able to take one thing off that list.  That might ease your load a little bit.  No need to go home and make their lunch and then bring it back to school after you have dropped them off.  No need to spend your night stressing over what to pack for lunch.  No need to run out and buy a lunch and drop it off.  Once they are at school, the day is yours to do what you need to do.


6.  Encourages Trial And Error – Children learn best by doing things on their own.  They can learn even more when they don’t achieve on the first try.  This teaches them that it is okay to fail, that trying again is important and that skills are things that they learn.  This may mean a lot of torn up pieces of bread with cream cheese, but once they know that through trial and error they are able to make their own sandwich, they will learn that they can do that math problem, make their bed and resolve friendship issues all on their own.


6.5 .  Allows You To Surprise Them – That little note in their lunch will become such a special gift.  “Thinking of you, have a great day,” or “good luck on your test” will be so much more meaningful.  Your child will know that you took the time to write the note, open their lunch bag after they’ve already packed it and stuck the note in.

If you’re looking for some ideas for lunches, call my mom.

If you feel your child needs some help developing their own independence or you want to talk more about how to develop this in your child, please contact me at,

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ghita permalink
    October 21, 2013 11:58 pm

    Michael, loved your blog! Little did we know at the time how making your lunches would have such a positive effect on your life skills. Love, Mom xoxo

  2. Penny Fiksel permalink
    October 22, 2013 7:28 pm

    Wonderful article with some very sound parenting advice. I loved making lunches with my father after our dinners. He always lunch more appetizing than dinner because he was a much better cook than my mother. He was able to take pretty ordinary meat loaf and turn it into a yummy deli delight with good side noshes. I miss him still and those lunches we made are a beloved memory.
    Thanks for sharing your personal stories and your expertise.
    Penny Fiksel

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