Packing school lunches has become an oddly specific lightning rod for modern parenting drama. The peer pressure to create a nutritious yet color-coordinated bento box nightly (eat the rainbow!) has put even celebrity parents on edge. “If I see one more Instagram blogger packing those incredible lunch boxes, I’m going to kill myself,” said none other than Charlize Theron. One think piece even likened elaborate napkin illustrations to “gender performance.”
Well, great news, parents. You may never have to deeply ponder these topics again.
According to developmental and behavioral pediatrician Dr. Damon Korb, author of Raising an Organized Child, kids should be packing their own school lunches by around third grade. “When we think about what we do when we make lunch, it requires planning and problem solving,” he told Australia’s Today Show. “Those kind of planning skills are important to be developed in kids and the everyday task of making a lunch [is] the way to do it…When kids do things for themselves, they feel proud... Our job as a parent is to coach them and teach them to do these things effectively and correctly.”
We envision them stumbling out of the gate. What happens when they pack themselves nothing but three Mallomars and a bag of goldfish? In response to such worries, Korb offers a wakeup call: “Learning happens by experiencing and making mistakes, and if we're doing everything for our kids, we're depriving them of their opportunity to learn.”
Of course you can set them up for success by pre-cutting the fruit, putting the carrot sticks or the sunbutter on a shelf they can reach, and perhaps (hard choices) not buying the cookies in the first place. “The broad goal of parenting is to prepare kids for launch,” Korb has said. “We want to create independent thinkers and problem-solvers, so they can be ready for the real world. If we do everything for them, they never get there."
Now don’t panic if you haven’t yet set your 11-year-old on this lunch-packing path. It’s never too late. And the last thing you need is more shaming or stress. It should also be said that if you love making your kids’ lunches because it gives you a semblance of control over their nutritional choices in a world dominated by lethal energy drinks and disturbingly black and green Phantom Frappuccinos, you deserve support (and kudos).
But if you’ve been searching for ways to teach independence and yearn to free up some of your own evening hours for binge watching self-care, here’s a viable chance. After their homework is put away and before the screens get unlocked, you might want to consider sending your kids (lunch) packing. It’s just food for thought.