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Ending the School Lunch Blues

Ella Herlihy

Responsibilities & Values

My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R.  

My bologna has a second name, it’s M-A-Y-E-R.  

Gone are the days of simple bologna on white bread, a Hostess® cupcake and a bag of Fritos®. Rarely do you see paper lunch bags that have been tossed after trading sandwiches with a classmate. Many of today’s school lunches can seem more like a Top Chef contest with parents packing bento boxes and preparing tiny versions of Pinterest-worthy gourmet items. If you could see the lunchroom trash can, you would likely think twice about all this effort. You might also realize that if you have a goal of training your son or daughter to become a well-functioning adult, he will clearly benefit from making his own lunch starting right now. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests on their website,, “Do Less. Parents need to stop doing things for their teens, like making lunch or running an “emergency” load of wash, that teens can do for themselves.”

Many parents view the process of making school lunches as a kindness offered to their teens and tweens, who spend most of their waking hours either at school, studying, or at an extracurricular activity. However, if we are serious about developing responsibility and gratefulness in the hearts of our students, one way to guide them down that path is to allow them to make their own lunch. Seems like a simple thing, and it is. But many parents started making lunches when their child started kindergarten, and they just haven’t found the right time to stop, despite the fact that their “child” is now a sophomore. There is nothing wrong with making lunch to save your kids time. But if you do it all the time, they miss the opportunity to gain responsibility, as well as the chance to feel genuinely grateful when something is done for them unexpectedly.

If you want to transition this skill to your tween or teen, simply follow these easy steps. First, have a conversation explaining that you are not quitting as a parent. You are, in fact, stepping up your parent game by adding an important skill to your student’s adulting capabilities. Then let her know that you will either buy items she requests for lunch when you go to the store (give her a day and a way to communicate—text message, list on the fridge) or you will give her money to purchase the items she would like each week. Then ask her if she needs any help with ideas or recipes.

The rest is simple. Don’t make their lunch. Hunger is a powerful motivator. They will figure this one out.

One of the great benefits I have found in following this method is that when your teen oversleeps or has a big project due, he is truly grateful when you step in and make his lunch to save time. When you are no longer the “Lunch Lady,” it gives him a chance to see you in a new light and to appreciate how much you do for him. And after his own attempts to make a meal, dinner might suddenly taste all the better as well.  


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Ella Herlihy

Being a mom to five children has given Ella Herlihy enough mistakes and victories to fuel her passion for guiding other parents along the road to raising responsible children without losing their minds in the process. She writes to help others learn from her many mistakes and victories, and what she has gleaned from all the books and seminars it takes to raise five children in today’s world. She is currently working on a book to encourage parents to choose to step back so their kids can move forward on the path to unentitled adulthood. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram @ Ella Herlihy.