Teach Your Kids to “Fish” For Lunch

I grew up in an Italian American family, so from an early age, food was my love language. My beloved Gramma Pippa was a master in using mouth-watering desserts and meals to cure just about any ill, from an adolescent broken heart to plain old boredom. Her wholesome fare could perk me up, not because it ticked off all boxes on taste (although it always did), but because it was prepared with love and with special consideration for me and my whole family.

She knew I loved fresh baked bread, so when she was visiting, her signature golden, fluffy Italian loaf was timed to come out of the oven just as my siblings and I were coming home from a “rough” day at school. I could smell the intoxicatingly yeasty fragrance as I turned up the driveway. My troubles melted away like the huge pat of butter she lathered on the bread’s crusty shell.

Of course, I wanted to serve up that same brand of hearty homemade love to my kids. When they started school, I took great pains tailoring their lunches to their individual likes. I tried to pack each lunchbox with lasting memories that would warm their little hearts. While other kids ate a steady diet of Pb&J and chips, my little darlings got healthy hot lunches of homemade chicken nugget kabobs, or breakfast burrito bites paired with fruit and veggie skewers with dipping sauce. Yep, I was the Martha Stewart of the brown bag lunch set. The problem is, my kids didn’t realize it. My love language was falling on deaf ears. In fact, often they’d ask me for a plain sandwich of (gasp!) Pb & J!!!! And, there were plenty of times when things just didn’t get eaten. 


So, you barely touched your BLT Croissant. Um, didn’t you like it? 

Just wasn’t that hungry…


After a few years, I started getting resentful. 

Do you have any idea how much time and thought I put into these lunches?!


Blank innocent faces answered me. None of my three kids seemed to appreciate the amount of care zippered up into each insulated lunch satchel every day. On a trip down memory lane, I remembered my own mother making the house rule that

everyone begins packing their own lunch in the third grade. No ifs and or buts!

As an 8-year-old, I took on the responsibility with a healthy dose of grumbling and whining, but I also appreciated that my ham sandwich was no longer dripping in mustard, the way my mom prepared it, but with a light touch, the way I preferred it. Not only did I survive the “horrors” of packing my own sandwich, I even began to appreciate all the effort that my parents and grandparents put into each dish they placed before me. My foray into lunchmaking led to me taking an interest in pitching-in with cooking and meal prep. Why do you put the garlic in at the end like that, and not with the onions?

Suddenly, I understood the saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Gosh darnit, I was gonna teach my kids to fish for their lunches! 

The announcement that everyone was going to be responsible for their lunches from now on was met with… a bit—strike that—a lot of reluctance. I persevered. It’s been four years of my kids making lunches and I have not looked back. Every once and a while I wistfully ponder a special meal of banana buckwheat pancakes with a side of sliced strawberries that I so lovingly packed, but instead of taking over, I make a lunch as a treat for a kid’s birthday or on a special holiday. Or I stock the fridge with some of their favorite go-to homemade burritos. Boy are they grateful! Needless to say, the food is devoured. And like that, my love language is getting through in a powerful way while my children are empowered with a new, useful life skill. 

As the school year is upon us, have you thought about having your kids make their own lunches? It may be time to hand over the reins. Whether you can’t get enough of cutting the crusts from their cute little sandwiches or feel like it’s the biggest pain in the—anyway, here are some tips to make the transition even smoother so your kids are “fishing” for a brighter future.

  1. Offer some help!
    Just because it’s their task doesn’t mean you can’t give some guidance. At the early stages, I kept a laminated paper listing four categories that they should choose from: protein, fruit, veg, and grain/snacks. Under each heading, I listed a bunch of ideas to get their little brains whirling. At the top of the paper, I suggested they choose at least one item from each category.

  2. Grocery Shop With Your Kids
    Make a trip to the store specifically for lunch fixings. This can help kids better understand how much things actually cost. Sorry bud, we have to get this brand since it’s cheaper. Also, if there are plenty of options to meet their tastes, they will be more motivated to get packing. 

  3. Reserve Final Approval
    At the beginning, I always told my kids that either my husband or I had to do a “once over” before the lunch was deemed complete. This ensured that someone didn’t throw in three bags of chips and a juice box and call it done. It also helped my younger kids figure out what a balanced meal looks like. You packed bread, crackers and chips—those are all carbs. Carbs are fine, but you need protein with it so you’ll have lasting energy. You can’t assume they know about nutrition and diet at 10-years-old, but this gets the ball rolling.

  4. Make it personal!
    Just because you’re not making the lunch, that doesn’t mean you can’t add a short note of encouragement, a joke, or a strange fun fact in each brown bag. Stash it when they’re not looking and they’ll be delighted with a special sentiment from mom or dad. My kids have even saved many of the notes over the years. Awww…


No matter how you handle lunches this school year, as my dear Gramma would say, Buon Appetito! Take a photo of your kids packing their lunch, or their creative lunch concoctions and post it on insta with the tags #FamiliesofCharacter #NOfreelunch!

If you have an issue you’d like our help with, drop us a line at Hello@FamiliesofCharacter.com. If you’re experiencing a problem, chances are thousands of other families are in the same boat. We’re ALL in this parenting boat together! 

Remember to tap into our Thrive Community on Facebook. It’s free and our team’s very own clinical counselor offers helpful tips and encouragement to parents who are adventuring together. 

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