With four kids—ages 12, 9, 7, and 5—in school all day, four school lunches need to be made every night. (Or once I get past the first few weeks of being prepared, every morning.) Given that my kids can make their own snacks and even some meals at home, I decided to make them pack their own lunches this year too.

Yes, even the five-year-old.

Now, I didn’t just spring this on them; I prepped my kids to make their own school lunches well in advance of the school year. We went grocery shopping together so that they could show me what they liked (and so that I could tell them to put back the Tasty Kakes, ha). I also bought them new, fabulous lunch boxes, plus some pre-packaged foods and pre-cut produce, because things definitely go much more smoothly for me when prepared ingredients are available. (Doesn’t that apply to life in general?)

It’s been about a month now, and I have to say that I’m pretty thrilled with how well things are going.

Aside from a few reminders and a little help following late nights when my kids have after-school sports—plus a once a week buy-your-lunch day—they’ve been handling lunch all on their own. And handling it well.

Here are five cool things that have happened in our home since my kids have taken over lunch-packing responsibilities. Maybe they’ll inspire you to empower your kids to do the same.

Related: 7 easy school lunch ideas kids can make themselves.


1. My kids stopped complaining about lunch.

It’s true! Because my kids are the ones packing their own lunches, I’m completely out of the mix, meaning they are the ones to blame if they don’t like something in their lunch boxes. Now the only complaints I hear are when I forget to buy something at the grocery store or if we run out of something.


5 things that happened when I made my kids pack their own school lunch | DIY Lunchables from What Lisa Cooks

DIY Ham Lunchables | What Lisa Cooks

2. My kids are learning more about food.

Do your kids know what foods are high in protein? Well, now that my kids are packing their own lunches, they do.

The lunch packing rules in my house are that they need to include at least one protein (dairy or meat) and a fruit or vegetable. Then, they’re welcome to pack themselves a snack—sometimes super healthy, sometimes a bag of chips—and a treat. I’ve found that my youngest does well with something like the DIY Lunchables that I found at What Lisa Cooks (above) so that she can easily see what she has and what’s missing.

It’s been great for them to learn about food, and develop a better understanding of the ingredients in packaged foods, along with knowledge about protein, carbohydrates, and produce. And honestly, it’s helped me learn more about food too.


3. No more food waste.

If you’re sick of kids coming home with half-eaten lunches like I was, you need to have them pack their own lunches. I was utterly surprised to learn how well my kids know just how much food they actually need every day. It turns out, I’d been sorely overpacking for everyone except my son.

Now when my kids come home at the end of the day, their lunch boxes are pretty much empty, which translates to less food waste.

Sure, I know that they could be tossing stuff at school, but considering my kids used to come home with empty snack wrappers and partially-consumed bananas, I’m confident that’s not happening now.


5 things that happened when I made my kids pack their own school lunch | Deconstructed taco recipe

4. I’ve learned that my kids actually like more foods than I thought.

Even though we feature lots of creative school lunch ideas here on Cool Mom Eats, I still tend to get myself in a lunch packing rut — something easy to do when you’re packing over 700 lunches over the course of a year. (Yes, I did the math!)

Well, now that my kids are packing their own lunches, I’m learning more about what they actually will eat because they’re shopping with me and very involved in the process from start to finish.

It turns out that I have kids who love to pack salad rather than sandwiches; the deconstructed tacos we recently suggested on Cool Mom Eats, pictured above,  have been a huge hit. A couple of my kids love dipping anything into hummus and guacamole. In fact, none of my kids pack sandwiches now—at all — which has been the biggest shock to me.

I’ve been really impressed with the variety of foods my children are interested in taking to school, and even more, how creatively they’ve been when it comes to packing them.

Related: 10 high protein lunch ideas that kids will love.


5. I have so much more time!

I cannot even tell you how much more time I have now that I’m not packing school lunches every day. I realize that with four kids, I might be packing a few more than you may need to pack on a daily basis, but trust me, it all adds up. This new routine has freed up my evenings or mornings; and while you will definitely spend some time on preparation up front, I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much time having the kids pack their own school lunch frees up for you.

Because if there’s one thing parents need, it’s more hours in our day.