Packing School Lunch: Three Truths and a Lie

school lunch

This time of year, my news feed is full of tips for perfect lunches. There are opinions on the healthy lunch, the cute lunch, the perfect lunch box, the most fun foods, and the list goes on. There is, however, very little discussion about what it is actually like to pack your child’s lunch every single day, all year long, for school.

TRUTH: To children, the priority at lunchtime is to socialize and unwind, not to eat.

Please hear me. It does not matter how artful, healthy, or cool the lunch you pack for your child is; if they have a lot to talk about that day, there is a decent chance you are going to come home with a ravenous child and a nearly full lunch box. Yes, it is important that our children learn to balance their lunchtime both socializing and actually eating. It is also important for them to be able to enjoy and process their day with their peers. As adults, our lunch breaks are not just for eating, either.  If you are like me, your focus is also on taking time to refresh, reset, and relax so you can tune back in and finish the day strong. And that’s on those lucky days when you aren’t eating on the fly prepping for whatever your next to-do is. Our children are no different.

Despite this fact, you can still tip the lunchbox scale towards empty, rather than full, with these tips:

  • Make sure your child can open everything in the lunchbox. It sounds silly; but if they have to think about opening it, they may get frustrated or lost in conversations, and, before they know it, time will be up and lunch will be over.
  • Pack party fare. Seriously consider if it would work circulating on a platter at a play date. If so, it is probably going to get eaten. The trick is to make quick healthy bites that are familiar to your child and easy to eat while discussing the latest news from the schoolyard.
  • Tell your child what is in their lunchbox, or have them help you pack it. I love packing little surprises in my children’s lunch boxes. I do. But middle of the year last year, I made an intentional switch to having my children help me do the packing the night before. I still often surprise them with an added treat or a note. Preparing lunches is a life skill and gives me a chance to remind them to, you know, eat the food.

TRUTH: You eat weird stuff.

You may learn you eat weird things (and your child is certainly going to hear about it at school). I have always known that my family eats a little bit differently from some families. I am a firm believer that normal is just a setting on the dryer. While I have always tended toward feeding my family whole, less-processed foods, I also genuinely like trying diverse recipes at home. That means sometimes my children’s lunches include things that some may not have seen before. Long gone are the days I could swap my “ants on a log” for my friend Richard’s wontons. With strict “no sharing” policies, which as an allergy mama, I love, children can’t sample each other’s food. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to talk about it. A few reminders:

  • Talk to your child about being respectful. Especially of other people’s feelings with regard to food choices.
  • Ask if they would like to try any new or interesting foods they saw at lunch today. If you can, recreate those things at home. Experiencing new recipes can be a fun opportunity for you and your littles.
  • Remind them everyone’s tastes are different. They can and should be confident in their own palate.

TRUTH: Stuff is going to go missing.

This is a tough one for me. I love using reusable bags and earth-friendly packing materials, but be aware that things can (and do) go missing. Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle, hand-sewn sandwich bags, non-disposable bamboo utensils, and reusable cups can get accidentally tossed. This is not only sad from an environmental perspective, but it can be a budget buster. Remember:

  • All-In-One Bento Boxes are AWESOME. Larger, multi-compartment bento boxes are great because, quite frankly, it is hard to mistakenly toss an entire bento box. For some ideas on products to use, check out Kacey’s post.
  • Practice with your children at home. Eat out of your lunchbox as it will be packed during the school day. Remind them which things are disposable and which things should come home. Also, practice teaching them to speak up politely if an adult accidentally attempts to toss a reusable item.
  • Don’t send things that will break your heart to lose.

LIE: Perfectly packed lunches make for perfect days and define you as a mom.

There is no one perfect lunch or magic ratio that will make your kids’ lunch divine and solidify you in the “Mommy Lunchmaker Hall of Fame.” Here is the truth: The fact that you care so much about the topic means you are awesome.

As moms, we fall too easily into patterns of measuring our successes by Pinterest and blog posts. I know, I’m not supposed to say that, am I? Well, I said it, and I meant it. Tips and tricks for healthy, cute lunches are just that — tips and tricks. Absolutely, use them as inspiration, but there is no need to judge yourself based on them. I am a blogger who has written in the past about the joys of turning Baby Bucci mozzarella balls into penguins and bear shapes. I love a cute lunch, and I love a healthy lunch. That said, the priority for lunchtime, at least for this mama, is empowering children to navigate social situations while, hopefully, eating lunch. I may not pack a Pinterest-perfect lunch every time, but it is a perfect lunch for my kids.

Stacy Mcdonald-Taylor
Stacy, a former health care program manager, came to the first coast by way of Charlotte, NC. Passionate for community and creative arts. Stacy has worked with families and educators through Parent Education & Outreach Programs. Since welcoming the births of her and her husband’s two delightful, energetic sons, she has worked from home, always seeking to find new ways to provide a joy-filled, creative environment, nurturing a love for people, learning, nature, and healthy, natural/organic foods. Stacy shares tidbits of her “life learnings” on her blog, Wasting Nothing


  1. Always love reading your articles! And yes, they do define me as a mom! Lmao. J/k. My kid has cute lunches that she mostly eats…. the “cute” factor doesn’t take me much time and it actually makes it fun for me! Yes, I am weird! I wrote her a little note the other day, taking special care to use words she (5 years old) could read. She didn’t say anything about it, I asked her what it said and she said she gave the note to her friend as a little present! She said it made her smile! Lol. Well, not the purpose, but at least it made someone smile!

    • Thank you so much. I bet your lunches are on pointe and that the little cutie that got your note was thrilled. 🙂 What a beautiful heart your little has to share the love. <3


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