A Tale of Two Lunches: In Defense of Cute Lunches

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It surprise many of you – given that I encourage kids’ kitchen independence and run a Montessori daycare – that my daughter will not be expected to make her school lunches.*

In fact, I plan on being one of those “cute lunchbox moms” – armed with my bento boxes, cookie cutters, and themed lunch box ideas.

My friend Nicola from Crafty Kids at Home is very much against the Pinterest-perfect lunches, and so we decided to have ourselves a little debate about them!

A tale of two lunches: two moms debate on the merits of the Pinterest Perfect Lunch box ideas, and kid-made lunches.

There are so many reasons why someone might be drawn to the ornate bento boxes or cute themed lunch ideas that are currently popping up all over Pinterest.

Yes, some women likely feel pressure to produce the lunches. Some people are probably doing it to win some imaginary “parenting distinction” for best lunch maker ever.

But, I think those people are far and few between. I think for the most part, the moms who make these cute lunches are doing it for understandable – and dare I even say “good” – reasons.

Creative Expression

As parents, I think many of us can agree that it’s really hard to stay connected to the things that make you happy (beyond motherhood). For those who enjoy creative expression (ahem, Pinterest Parents), naturally working creative expression into our daily tasks is sometimes the only way to keep that part of ourselves alive.

It may seem weird to get your creative expression from turning a sandwich into a donut, but it’s keeping those creative juices flowing and giving a piece of our creative efforts to our kids, and using our creative talents to make our children’s day a little more special.

Encouraging Children to Eat Healthy Foods

For some children, seeing a cute monkey pancake on their plate in the morning would not be a good start to their day, but for others, it’s a way to have fun with their food and reduce objections to healthier lunch fare. Making vegetable cookies or turning boring old carrots into pencil-carrots can reduce lunchtime anxieties and make eating vegetables fun!

A lot of bento boxes involve omelettes, rice balls, and other healthy lunch choices. They encourage children to think of healthy food as just as fun – maybe even more so – than junk food. That’s a powerful message and mindset for children to accept.

A Mid-Day “I Love You”

An eight-hour day is a pretty long one, and some children are even separated from their parents for 10 or more hours, between before- and after-school programs, or demanding work schedules, and that can affect the parent-child relationship, or at least cause a parent to fear disconnect. What a wonderful and amazing thing it is to be able to lovingly craft a reminder to your child that they are loved – whether by leaving a sweet note in their lunch box, or by figuring out how to make their favourite TV character into an open-faced sandwich!

This is especially wonderful if you have a child who suffers from separation anxiety or who is having a hard time with school.

Should kids be expected to make their own lunches? Are Pinterest lunch box ideas for crazy moms, or is there something to them? Two moms enter the debate.

Of course, I think it’s wonderful to allow and encourage children to make their own meals. Ella has been cooking independently on the stove since she was 2 years old, and recently made her own sandcastle birthday cake. (We even share practical life lessons every Thursday to encourage children to develop life-long skills.)

I’m also all for encouraging children to accept responsibility for things like helping keep the whole house clean, but I have an issue with forced responsibility, especially when it comes to things that can undermine children’s love languages.

What do I mean by that?

School lunchtimes are an interesting phenomenon. It’s the most obvious example during the school day of children’s home lives – bringing culture, family values, and personal preferences to the forefront. For a child who is expected to make their own lunches, it can feel like their parent loves them less than the parents who make their children’s lunches (even the boring, un-themed ones). Some children will feel an increase of pride and self-esteem looking around at their less self-sufficient peers, but some will resent the put-upon independence.

How a child interprets either side is as individual as the child themselves – and it can differ day to day!

For me, the solution is to encourage and empower children to make their own lunches when they desire (their own kitchen cupboard can be great for this), split lunch-making responsibilities 50-50, or create a schedule of days when they are expected to make their own lunches and days when a parent will take that on.

A tale of two lunches - two moms debate on the merits of a Pinterest perfect lunch and a kid-made lunch.

Finally, cute lunches don’t need to be over-the-top or a huge time investment. An extra minute or two can add a bit of fun to your child’s lunch box. I’ll be sharing a list of my favourite ways to quickly and easily add some whimsy to our kids’ lunches soon!

What do you think? I’m curious to hear various opinions – should children be expected to make their own lunches? Are the moms who make cute lunches off their rockers?

Be sure to check out Nicola’s post, A Tale of Two Lunches: The Practical School Lunch.


*NOTE: Ella will be attending a part-time program for the school year, and homeschooled the rest of the time.

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