I just can’t stop talking about school lunches!
Please check out my exhaustive list of healthy options for packing a lunch, and if you’re concerned about your environment, find some options for reducing lunchtime waste. Finally, today I’ve got a fabulous after-school organizational system for kids and parents to achieve the following goals:
- reduce the food waste that is common in school lunches
- teach organization and responsibility to the kids
- ease parents’ clean-up burden
- make kids earn their TV time
I had the great blessing of working with some really extraordinary parents in my two years of teaching third grade. One in particular was a teacher herself who chose to stay at home while her kids were young. She shared the best idea for “earning” TV time and cultivating the habit of responsibility. The kids had a half sheet of paper for each day (I bet I could cut it to ¼ sheet or put the paper in a clear plastic sleeve and write on it with wipe-off markers). On that paper were four come-home-from-school tasks:
- Change into play clothes.
- Put lunchbox on counter (for older kids: unpack lunchbox with (or without) mom, see below for details)
- Complete homework; get assignment notebook signed by parent
- Read 15 minutes
And four sets of 15, like this:,
15 15 15 15
For each task completed, the child “earned” 15 minutes of TV time, shown by a “15” being circled or marked off. I’ve also seen parents use poker chips for each 15-minute increment.
Example: If your favorite half-hour show starts at 4:30, you better make sure you’ve changed your clothes and unpacked your lunch by then so you can have two increments to watch with.
- Responsible habits
- Immediate (that day) incentive
- TV is a privilege, not a right
- Paper makes system clear, hopefully fewer battles
- Reward is not a sweet
- TV doesn’t happen without priorities (reading, homework) coming first
Certainly for some families who might not allow television at all, TV wouldn’t be a proper incentive, but if you allow your kids to watch any television, you may as well make them earn it.
Remember my adage that all children should know:
If it’s in your lunch, and it doesn’t get eaten, it comes home.
This allows parents to know what kids are eating, what they like and how hungry they are at lunch. When you unpack the lunchboxes with your kids, you can give important reminders about eating healthy foods and teach them about reducing their waste. If something isn’t eaten one day, discuss whether it should be eaten for a snack, used the next day for lunch, or if it has to be thrown away.
- Reduce the times to 10 minutes, or even 7 (to make ½ hour if all tasks are completed) if you don’t want kids to watch an hour of TV.
- Change the four tasks to fit your family and your children’s ages.
- Make the incentive “screen time” including computer or video games of all kinds.
- Make sure the lunchbox responsibility fits the child’s age. Young children should simply unpack the backpack and get the lunch into the right room. By third grade, the lunchbox should be unpacked and dishes into the sink. By fifth grade (potentially earlier), the entire lunchbox can be their responsibility, especially if you’ve trained them as they grow!
- Each set of 15 minutes could be for a “category” with multiple tasks in that category (example: school = homework, read 15 minutes, give notes to mom; kitchen = put lunch on counter, clean up after snack)
Bonus! Packing tips to help the child’s lunch run more smoothly
Two years watching kids eat their lunch taught me a lot about what needs to go in the box. Knowing doesn’t mean I do it though… God teaches me humility in my lunch packing, because I always forget the napkins! I think it’s because I used to inwardly roll my eyes at the parents who consistently forgot the napkin, causing their child to ask for one every day. Here’s a helpful reminder list for you:
- Don’t forget to include a napkin
- Put the spoon in! (Trustworthy kids with real lunchboxes get real utensils, scatter-brained ones and those with brown bags that might get thrown away too easily use plastic!)
- Start the banana peels for little ones (just a little crack will do, nothing that will make it brown by lunch), or teach them to use a spoon to do it themselves.
- Wash their fruit and make sure it’s ready to eat.
- Don’t pack whole fruits that aren’t easy to eat (oranges if they can’t peel them, peaches because they’re too juicy, etc). If you want the kids to eat it, cut it.
- Teach kids to open their own bowls/don’t pack things kids can’t open.