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?

Published by

Anna Palmer

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

10 thoughts on “Lunch-able”

  1. You go girl. Damn do-gooders are always mucking up our kids opportunities. Just torques me. Thanks for having a mouth that goes first and a brain that “patiently” waits.

  2. Well, I want to weigh in. I have lots of opinions here, and it’s a blog post for my blog. I have been thinking a lot about the whole snack thing at school. Why in the heck do they even need to have snack during school. Seems to be they should be able to get from breakfast to lunch, let alone lunch to home without a snack.

    I am completely on your side in this. My kindergartner is also responsible for packing her own snack (only morning at our school) and lunch. If she doesn’t pack a snack they have been giving her one. I will address this with the teacher later, I already sent her a long letter about how my child is NOT to charge anything at school and then the lunch room send me a bill for it later. But my question is, why are they making him have an afternoon snack if he’s not hungry?! That is just setting kids up for eating problems. It’s the “You have to eat because everyone else is and now is the time” philosophy that bothers me here. Is he REALLY required to eat when he’s not hungry?

    My other question is, how the heck does the director know what your child is capable of? You are the one who is around him and are training him. Most days he does have plenty of food to eat. You explained to her how things work in your home. You would think that it would be enough proof that you son IS capable of packing his own lunch and snacks.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand that they don’t want kids to go hungry at school. For some kids, it’s the only meal or balanced meal they get. But obviously, he is not that kid. So did he TELL the teacher he was hungry or did she just assume that he would be and asked him if he wanted more to eat? Does the school send you a bill for that like our school does?

    My beef is that they don’t tell the kids things are going to cost money. The just ask as if it is free. Kids of all ages need to have this explained to them at school by their teachers. I know my daughter just assumed that they gave them snack milk and then I got a bill for it. She adamant that snack milk was free. It’s in the phrasing as well, “Do you want snack milk today?” Well, heck yes, as I kid I would want snack milk! But they don’t ask where their money is for the milk, just charged it to the account and send a bill home for the parents. As you can maybe see this really bothers me. When I told her she was going to have to start paying for the snack milk from her allowance, she said she didn’t want it, she’d just have some water.

    I guess the short answer is, yes I think kids need to learn at a young age how to do these things for themselves. It is so important that I let my child go to school with less than I would pack for her. I know she will come home hungry, and that’s when we can have a discussion about how she can make it better for next time. But if they keep giving her snack, she’s going to keep taking it. I guess she even asked them if it cost anything last time they gave it to her. They said no. Well, there you go.


    1. Right?

      I know she will come home hungry, and that’s when we can have a discussion about how she can make it better for next time.

      And that is the teachable moment. Fill them up with snack milk and we have a bunch of lactose intolerant kids who don’t know when they are hungry or not…Maybe i am taking it too far.

  3. My child’s Kindergarten teacher sent home a detailed letter right when school started, asking each parent to describe their needs for daytime beverages and food from school for their child. We were asked to weigh in on snack milk, snacks, hot lunch, lunch from home, etc. And it was ok to say “sometimes.” My Kindergartener isn’t packing her own food quite yet, but we are working on it. I’ve learned that she eats WAY less food than her 8-yr-old brother.

  4. I think that given the fact that Leo is in a private school, the teachers know the kids have food at home. You went further by giving the teacher all the information about what your packing lunch deal is. You are the parent, Leo’s teacher is not. I think you are doing it right and have pointed numerous friends to Parenting on Track based on the interactions I have had with your kids. I think you are an incredible parent Anna, truly.

  5. Love your parenting style and this story! First time I come across your blog, Thanks for the inspiration! Could very well suit my style and our three boys under four 🙂

    1. Wow. Three boys under four. You are IN it. They are still at the stage where they want to help and be independent. Perfect time to take advantage of that attitude.

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