Readers Call B.S. on the Nutritionally, Environmentally, Allergically, and Socially Correct Lunch.

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 9 2011 2:28 PM

The Happiest Lunch Box Is One the Kid Packs Herself

kid eating lunch
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Last week, after an NYT piece on lunch box food safety offered up yet another thing to add to the list of requirements for the modern packed school lunch, I asked readers if packing lunches is really the dilemma for every family that it is for ours. Over some six years of cumulative packing/assisting in packing for four assorted kids, I've dealt with everything from nut safety in its most restrictive guise (requiring a note on every piece of nonpackaged, nonsandwich food regarding its nut-free status: "these cookies were baked at home and do not contain nuts") to the no-waste lunch, the no-candy rule, and the teachers who insisted on putting the half-eaten puddings and yogurts back in the lunch box for a very messy return home.

Most of you mocked my "first world" problem, or at least the schools creating the problem (and I probably should have noted that many of these requirements were in preschool) and mocked me for taking it so seriously. As for the food police, be they fellow parents or teachers, the most common advice was to "ignore it." A few stepped up to admit that they, too, worried about the teacher who took away a child's pudding cup (too much sugar! Bad Mom!) and found the whole process stressful.


But what really came out most strongly was that the happiest parents were those whose kids pack their own lunch, making me wonder if this isn't just a first world problem but a little kids problem (and the word Montessori came up more than once). The real issue shouldn't be packing a healthy-enough lunch for our kids; it should be teaching those kids to pack that lunch (choosing for themselves whether they're willing to risk the teacher's pudding cup snatching urges).

If 6-year-olds used to be expected to be able to walk 4-6 blocks in their own neighborhood and return home, then maybe we need to have higher expectations about when a child can figure out how to put together a lunch for herself that will meet whatever demands her classroom has set. Chefs and nutritionists advocate for kids to learn how to cook. We should add "how to pack" to that list. After all, how to choose a reasonably healthy selection of foods that will satisfy your hunger, fit into a small space, and meet external situational demands is a skill set that will come in handy well into the work world (and that even someone who uses her oven to store shoes may need).

So to that madhouse assorted list of demands schools have imposed on us over the years, I'll add one I would support: Please encourage your child to take the lead in planning her own lunch. Even if sometimes it's nothing but pepperoni and a rice krispie treat. The message that not every single meal has to be a perfectly balanced one is worth teaching, too. 



Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?


“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.


The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 6:30 PM The Tragedies That Have Shaped Canada's Gun Politics
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.