All three of my school-aged kids buy school lunch nearly every day. We started by packing all of their lunches in preschool but gradually they have each requested we stop doing that. I’ve read a lot of posts about why moms pack their lunches for their kids, from food-sensitivity reasons to money-saving ones and some others in between, but I’ve yet to read one that presents the opposite argument. So here goes – this is why my kids buy lunch at school, and why they will likely continue to do so indefinitely.
It’s easier. Let’s just get this reason right out of the way. YES it is easier to set up an automatic debit card payment to my kids’ school lunch accounts that replenishes on its own all year long than to make three different lunches every morning. I know that moms do not like to admit that they take the easy road, ever, but in this case, I don’t think that convenience necessarily translates into laziness. Those 15 minutes that I could be packing a lunch are not spent perusing Facebook or sitting on the couch playing Trivia Crack.
I use that time to talk to my kids about their upcoming days at school, remind them of anything important going on that day, or to style the girls’ hair whatever way they’ve asked that morning.I could pack the lunches at night, of course, but that also takes away from our family time and quite frankly, after an entire day of feeding 5 kids (one who is nursing, so I eat a lot too) the last thing I want to do with my evening is prepare even more food.When we have packed lunches in the past, my husband did it a lot too but now he is free to snap bike helmets in place, put socks on little feet and argue with my son about wearing a jacket on the occasional chilly Florida morning. The absence of lunch-making makes our school mornings a little less opening-scene-of-Home-Alone-like and eliminates at least one stressor.
It is something they like to do. I say “no” a lot. Some days I just stop talking so I don’t have to say it anymore. So when our oldest kid came to us in 1st grade and insisted that we stop packing his lunch for him, my knee-jerk reaction was to say “no.” I’m the lunch boss. I won’t be bullied into bowing to the demands of a then-six-year-old kid. But then I thought about it like a rational person and realized that what he was asking was a simple way for me to give him a little bit of control over his own decisions in a safe environment. Also, it was easier on me (see first point).Over time our two other school-aged kids have come to us with the same request and we have granted it. Some days they still ask for a packed lunch, and we grant that too. Saying “yes” to this gives them a chance to make a choice for themselves and feel like when the request to do something independent is a reasonable one, we will say “yes” for once.
It can be cheap and healthy. Parents who pack lunches cite some of these reasons for doing so: it is healthier, it is cheaper and it gives the child a piece of “home” during the school day. The last reason makes the most sense to me and I have enjoyed writing a note or smiley face on a napkin that I’ve put in a lunchbox in the past. I can also pack their favorite foods that way, but my kids aren’t very picky and packing their “favorite” of anything would probably go completely unnoticed. Notes fold up just as nicely to go in homework folders or the front portions of backpacks.
If I really strategized, I could make my kids’ lunches for cheaper than what we pay per lunch, per day, but the cost is still pretty affordable and what they get for that price is more than worth the cost (most days). With 7 family members, we don’t ever have leftovers so packing a Thermos with soup or spaghetti from the night before (for 3 people) is out of the question. YES I could make more dinner the night before to accomplish this, but usually that means adding an extra casserole dish or firing up a second Crock Pot which is actually more of a hassle for me. In order to send leftovers or something other than a PB&J, I have to make something new so it is not as cost effective as it might be for other families.
As for the healthy thing – if your family eats organic-only or has food restrictions, you probably fare better to pack lunches for your kids. For the families like ours who can eat just about anything and prepare pretty healthy meals at home, a school lunch is healthy enough. I’ve gone to eat with my kids a few times at the school and have been pleasantly surprised at the healthy choices they’ve been offered, and the requirements that they take a milk, fruit and grain before they can exit the lunch line. They don’t always eat the healthy things, but the same can be said of the lunches we packed too. I’ve opened many a lunch bag and found fruit snacks, juice boxes and Goldfish crackers gone, but an entire sandwich still in tact.
If you pack lunches for your kids and feel strongly that it is the right decision, I support you. For the families who feel guilty setting up an automatic payment plan, or relying on free or reduced-price lunch plans, and sending their kids to school sans lunchbox – don’t feel bad for a second. School lunches are a perfectly acceptable way to feed your children, and if your little ones are anything like mine, they will love the experience anyway.