Katie Katie Parsons is the creator of Mumbling Mommy and is a freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. She works from her home office on the east coast of Florida. Most often she writes about life in a combined family of five children and what it's like being a full time work-from-home parent. Feel free to pitch guest post ideas or just drop her a line at katie@mumblingmommy.com.

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 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. 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:

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It’s easier to let my kids buy school lunch.

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. In this case, though, I don’t think that convenience necessarily translates into laziness.

Those 15 minutes of lunch packing time 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, or remind them of anything important going on that day. My girls ask me to style their hair. We all work together to complete projects that were forgotten until the last minute.

I could pack the lunches at night, of course, but that also takes away from our family time. 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 packed lunches in the past, my husband did it a lot too. 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 letting my kids buy school lunch gives them a chance to make a choice for themselves. They are learning that reasonable requests to do something independent are met with a “yes.”

It is cheap.

Parents who pack lunches cite some of these reasons for doing so: healthier, cheaper, gives the child a piece of “home” during the school day. The last reason makes the most sense to me. 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. My kids aren’t very picky, though. 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. When my kids buy school lunch, they think about home about as much as they would opening up a sandwich I made.

If I really strategized, I could make my kids’ lunches for cheaper than what we pay per lunch, per day.  The cost is still pretty affordable and worth what we get (most days). We don’t ever have leftovers so packing a Thermos with soup or spaghetti leftovers (for 3) is out of the question. YES I could make more dinner the night before to accomplish this. Usually that means adding an extra casserole dish or firing up a second Crock Pot, though. In order to send leftovers or something other than a PB&J, I have to make something new. When I packing leftovers, it is not as cost effective as it is for other families.

It is healthy, too.

As for the healthy thing – if your family eats organic-only or has food restrictions, you should probably pack lunches. For the families like ours who can eat just about anything and prepare pretty healthy meals at home, a school lunch is healthy enough. Letting my kids buy school lunch isn’t cursing them to a life of obesity.

I go to eat with my kids sometimes and am pleasantly surprised at the healthy choices offered. There are even requirements to take a milk, fruit and grain before they can exit the lunch line. They don’t always eat the healthy things, but you can say the same 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.

Whatever you choose, you’re right

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. When your kids buy school lunch they are learning some important life skills — and, oh yeah, eating in the process. School lunches are a perfectly acceptable way to feed your children. If your little ones are anything like mine, they will love the experience anyway.


Category: Family Finances

Tags: food