How to get your preschoolers to make (and eat) their own lunch

By Hillarie Cox, Yikes Tikes! Board member

My kids never ate the lunches I packed for them to take to preschool.  No matter how interesting I made them (sandwiches cut into train shapes for my son), they always came back half eaten; until my friend told me, “Your kids need to be making their own lunches.”  I didn’t believe her.  Could preschoolers really make their own lunches?  I decided to try it out.  And what I discovered was life-changing.

I started by making a chart of the food items I had available for my two kids, Griffin (5) and Kennedy (3).  I created a written chart of their choices, broken down into 4 categories: dairy, grain, protein and fruit/vegetables.  The chart suggested juice or water for drink choices.  I added photographs of each item (I found them using Google searches) so they could easily “read” the chart.

Griffin and Kennedy's Lunch choices

a chart of lunch choices made by Hillarie for her kids

Then I prepped my kids.  I built up great excitement about how they were so grown up that they were now able to make their own lunches for school.  I decided to have them make their lunches the night before they needed them.  Then I introduced the chart, pointing out their choices and the pictures.  They excitedly chose one item from each category.  I had them get the food that they were able to get (juice/water, applesauce pouches, etc.), and I helped them with the trickier parts (lunchmeat in containers and pretzels in bags).  When they were done, I had them put their lunches in the refrigerator for the next day.

Griffin and Kennedy make their own lunches

Griffin and Kennedy make their own lunches

I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Sure, there was a good amount of prep work on my part.  And I had to manage two very excited kids and keep them focused on the task at hand.  But with just a little effort on my part, I began training my kids to make healthy food choices and become more responsible.  And most importantly, they ate what they packed themselves.

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