Between getting the kids dressed, to making breakfast, to grabbing everything they'll need for the day (backpacks, coats, homework, oh my!), weekday mornings before school are hectic to say the least.
Fortunately, according to one doctor, parents don't have to and shouldn't do everything. Damon Korb, MD, an American Academy of Pediatrics fellow, recommends that if nothing else, kids should take over the lunch-packing responsibilities. And they should do it earlier than you'd think.
Below, we asked our experts when (and why) kids need to take lunch into their own hands and how to smoothly make the transition.
When kids should start packing their own lunches
In his book, Dr. Korb says that around the age of eight or nine (a.k.a third grade) is when it's time to pass over packing duties to your little ones. However, some experts think you can stop making lunches earlier. Dr. Nicole Swiner is one of those experts and says, "I've been teaching my kids to pack their own lunches since kindergarten, but of course, it depends on the child's development and understanding." Our parenting editor, Anna Lane, agrees and admits that she lets her preschooler and kindergartner pack their lunches.
Ultimately, though, it's a decision that parents should make based on each child's maturity level. "Not every 8-year-old will be at the same level at the same time," Dr. Zulma Laracuente explains, adding, "Every single child is unique and will be ready at a different age."
Why it's important to let kids make their lunches
Not only will it save you time at night, but it teaches kids important life skills and the value of hard work. "It gives them a sense of responsibility and the pride of being a 'big-girl/big-boy,'" notes Dr. Swiner.
Plus, it helps make sure that your little ones are actually eating their lunch. "When kids pack their own lunches, they’re more inclined to eat what is packed," Lane explains. "There’s nothing worse than opening up their lunchboxes at the end of the day and seeing an untouched lunch (and having a kid screaming about being 'starving')."
How to help kids pack lunch, according to experts
Both Lane and Dr. Swiner recommend letting kids choose from nutritious, already-packaged options so they feel like they're in control (within reason). "We made it easy by either prepackaging fruits and snacks in plastic bags or containers that fit easily in their lunchboxes," Dr. Swiner says. "They pick what they feel like eating for their main course, and then add in 2 or 3 small snacks, with their water bottle, and done!" Lane has a similar routine: "I keep all healthy snacks and lunch foods within their reach (sweets are stashed way up high and out of reach) so that they can easily see and select what looks good to them."
Planning ahead (a.k.a packing lunch the night before) is a big time and sanity-saver, says Dr. Laracuente, who advises parents to help kids make good decisions. "As your child grows and becomes an expert on packing his/her lunchbox you will step back and allow more independence. However, still supervise and suggest healthy meal options," she explains. "Make sure they get a balanced meal which includes protein, carbs, nuts, veggies, and water."
And as for our experts' favorite products? Lane and her family love these PlanetBox Stainless Steel Bento Lunch Boxes, which are not only eco-friendly, but are also divided into separate sections for easy and fun packing.