One of the most challenging parts of having children in school is making lunches. With some guidance, children can make their own lunch. It then becomes a win/win situation. You do not need to make lunch daily, your child gets to practice practical life skills, and your children are more likely to eat their lunches. As with all new skills, it may take more time initially, yet the work and time will benefit both of you for years to come.
How can a young child prepare their lunch each day? Preparation of the environment, the necessary tools, and a lesson will all be necessary.
Preparing the Environment:
• Make appropriate food for lunches available at child height. This may mean reserving space on a low cabinet and low shelf in the refrigerator for lunch materials. At our house, we used colored baskets in the cabinet and refrigerator to quickly designate which items were for lunches.
• If needed, divide the food into servings before lunches are made. Your child can help you do this after school or over the weekend. If five baby carrots are an appropriate serving for your child, make a few bags with five carrots in each.
• Make sure your child can open and close any containers used and manage their lunch box.
• Consider when lunch should be prepared. If your child has trouble getting out of the house in the morning, make lunch the night before and store it in the refrigerator if needed. If your child is usually ready early, the morning is a great time for this job.
The Necessary Tools:
• Have utensils your child can use to make lunch, such as: a knife for spreading and cutting; a cutting board; containers that your children can open and close; and lunch boxes that allow them to pack easily.
• A list of ideas in written or picture form may be helpful for your child.
• Decide what you expect for lunch. What constitutes a main meal? What is a snack? Do you have a guideline of how many fruits or vegetables need to be included?
A Lesson or a few lessons):
• Discuss the plan with your child.
• Show where the tools and materials for making lunch are.
• Talk about what should be included in lunch and why, i.e., you need energy for growth and your day; these foods are not allowed at school for allergy or other health reasons; these items do not transport well. Share the reason for the guidelines.
• Work with your child the first few times and discuss what you are doing and checking: e.g., “I don’t see any fruit in here. Would you like to add a fruit or another vegetable?”
• Show your child how to clean out their lunch box at home before just adding to it.
• Peek inside the lunches that are going to school. Do they meet nutritional needs as you expect?
• Discuss options and ideas with your child before grocery shopping.
• If you have leftovers from dinner, ask if your child would like some for lunch and plan together how to make that work.
• Let your child’s teacher know that your family is making this change. Your child may be pleased and possibly even distracted by the lunch they made at first, so letting the teacher know means they can help with these changes.
Enjoy the small break this gives you and the independence it gives your child.
Cheryl Allen is the Associate Coordinator of the Montessori Family Alliance and is also a parenting educator and a Montessori consultant with the Montessori Foundation. Cheryl attended Montessori school as a child. After sometime as a traditional Secondary teacher, she worked in Montessori classrooms, 3-6, 6-9,and 9-12, earning certifications from both AMS (3-6 and 6-9) and IMC (6-12). She is a teacher educator, workshop presenter, and member of IMC accreditation teams. Cheryl’s two children attended Montessori from age two through high school graduation.