So Leo, Mr. independent, has been packing imaginary and real lunches since he was 18 months old. Inspired by the “if they can walk they can work” motto of Parenting On Track, we put it to him and he thrives. When he struggles we inform, support and step back and watch. Sometimes a “hmmm” as a response to a query reveals that he knew the answer to his own question. This method does occasionally leave him floundering, but that insult is quickly replaced with a sense of his own ability. Our style and his personality do well this way.

He started kindergarden this fall, and he packs morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack for himself. Many evenings we work together, cleaning from dinner, packing leftovers for the fridge, lunch boxes, and work totes and things buzz along in that warm, everything is under control, we are a big happy team             way. Other evenings the kids (or parents) are feeling lazy or distracted, and we part ways to our various screens, rooms, or interior dialogues and cleaning and packing is deferred. Generally the grownups do get around to the cleaning, but lunches…sometimes those wait.

So the morning scene. Kids get dressed, make breakfast, clean up from breakfast, and if necessary pack lunches and snack. Oliver always gets school lunch. His packing job is simple. Leo however with his varied palate and three course food event has a bit of a harder time.

Two weeks ago we had a rough night followed by a cranky morning and Leo went to school with apple sauce and apple a cheese stick and an individual container of chicken stock. Perhaps he thought it was a juice box? Which we don’t have in the house…but who knows.

At school I opened his lunch box and saw that it was light. I told him he would probably be hungry. I spoke briefly to the classroom teacher and explained that he packs his own lunch and had forgotten the protein this morning. I mentioned that he would be hungry and hoped it wouldn’t impact their afternoon too much.

Go ahead, think what you will. I believe that one afternoon of hunger is going to teach a better lesson than 4 years of packing a beautifully balanced lunch for your kid.

The classroom teacher was calm in the morning, and calm again in the afternoon when she pulled me aside and told me that school had provided Leo’s lunch and afternoon snack. Leo was thrilled.

Me, not so much.

I was planning to go home and think this through…but the school director pulled me aside. “We had no choice but to give Leo food today at lunch. He needs help packing his lunch.” Those of you that know me in real life know that I speak first and think later. Or at least think AS the words are coming out. “Did you really have NO choice?” “Let me explain the situation to you so you have all the information.” “Leo comes to the store, selects his own food, he puts it away in shelves in the fridge and pantry he can reach.” “His lunch packing supplies are in a bottom drawer.” “We are teaching him about nutrition, how much food he needs to get the energy to grow and make it through each day, and if he packs too little, the natural consequence of hunger is a necessary part of the learning process.”

The director says she will think about it and get back to me, but her response today is  to restate that she has “no choice” but to feed a kid that says he is hungry. So my response to that is to re-state that in my view since he does have an afterschool snack and a hot dinner prepared for him, plenty of food in the fridge and pantry, perhaps letting him go hungry between 12:30 and 3:00 might be a valid choice as well. In my view if he gets food from school that is actually a disincentive to pack his lunch with forethought, and raising thinking kids is the goal here.

Fast forward to this morning when Leo opens his lunchbox to tell me that he has received a note home. It is a lovely note on cow paper commending Leo on well he has been doing eating his lunch. It goes on to say that he needs food at afternoon snack, and asks us to “pack a few more items for him.” It’s tone was both caring and diplomatic.

Yesterday Leo packed pepperoni (1/3 stick of VT smoke and cure cut into thick slices) two cheese sticks, an apple, and sun gold tomatoes. When I saw it go in I asked him if he thought it would be enough food. He said he thought it would.

When he showed me the cow note this morning I asked why it was his teacher telling me that he was hungry and didn’t have enough food instead of Leo himself. His response?

Can you guess?

I’m not hungry. They give me afternoon snack at school when I eat my afternoon snack at lunchtime. So I packed the right amount of food.Hmmm.

So we did a supported pack this morning. I asked him to MAKE SURE he had enough for snack, lunch and snack again. Here was what he had today: leftover hamburger, radishes wrapped in plastic, two cheese sticks, cheddar bunnies, a banana, a slice of ginger bread, sun gold tomatoes.  It should be enough. Perhaps even for leftovers.

What do you think? How important is it for a Kindergartener to be Lunch-able?

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Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble,, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at

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