One of the first things that I realized as a homeschooling mom is that I cannot possibly do all the things all the time. When we started homeschooling, we had two boys in elementary school [first and third grade], a preschooler and a newborn and quite honestly by the time lunch rolled around I was usually nursing the tiny one or trying to find my head after running around crazy all morning. The last thing I wanted to do was try to pull together lunch. So, I didn’t. Instead, I turned lunch into another opportunity for my boys to learn and it has now, four years later, become one of our favorite parts of every day.

After my resignation as the lunch lady, I began instructing my children in the various types of foods – protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit and fats – serving sizes, proper food safety, knife safety, how to reheat food, classic food pairings, etc.

Did this take time? Sure.

Did they understand it all right away? Nope.

Do we still have to go back now and then to revisit the ideas? Of course.

But it was so worth it because within a few short weeks, the boys could make their own lunches. Yes, even the preschooler could choose something appropriate, get it portioned out and prepare it to the appropriate temperature. And in case you were concerned for their safety, I was – and still am – always nearby in case someone needs help and to supervise the use of the stovetop but in general I simply supervise and can finish up with the straggling homeschool child or finish up folding laundry or do some other half-mind task.

What kinds of things do the boys reach for when they prepare lunch?

– Leftovers: Leftovers are a staple in our house. When there are six of you, cooking in large quantities becomes the norm and it isn’t much more trouble to make enough for a few extra servings. When leftovers are involved, the boys know how to get the correct amount for their appetite out of the container without contaminating the rest of the food as well as how to reheat the food using the stovetop [more often than not] or microwave [on occasion].

– Tuna: Each of my boys, including the now four year old, knows how to make tuna salad using tuna in pouches or the can. They drain the tuna, add a little bit of mayo or smashed avocado and mix in some pickle or green tomato relish.

– Eggs: All four boys also know how to scramble and fry an egg. They will pair eggs with bread for a sandwich or a bagel. Sometimes they will get fancy and do an omelet or an egg McBabel sandwich [English muffin, egg, ham and cheese].

– Peanut Butter Sandwiches: We love peanut butter in this house so about once a week one or more of the boys reach for this simple lunch choice.

– Cold Meat Sandwiches: Two of the boys love to make fancy sandwiches with lunch meat, lettuce, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, condiments, the works. As long as this isn’t an every day choice, I’m good with it.

– Salads: We usually have lettuce, spinach and other salad fixings in the fridge so a quick salad is a pretty common choice. Sometimes they will use leftover chicken, steak or pork as part of their salads and other times they reach for the Italian meats or other lunch meats as the protein.

– Homemade Lunchables: These are simply a plate full of crackers, meats of some variety, cheese slices and veggies. Then the child builds their meal as they go.

What kinds of things do I try to already have prepared each week?

– Cut Vegetables: I’ll have mason jars with celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, bell pepper slices already ready to help speed up the process.

– Yogurt: We use yogurt for breakfast and lunches [think parfaits as part of lunch] so I try to make sure I have a batch whipped up before the week begins.

– Boiled Eggs: The boys like boiled eggs plain or as a salad topping so I boil about a dozen or dozen and a half on Monday each week.

That’s it. I don’t food prep a ton of food in general. They know how to look through the fridge and they also know to ask before they open an unopened package of something in case it is part of the dinner menu for the week.

Does every boy cook every day?

No, and this has become another one of my favorite parts of this.

Some days the boys use this as an opportunity to serve one another. If one of the boys notices that someone is needing a few more minutes to wrap up part of their school work, they will jump in and ask what that brother would like to eat that day. Then they will start or even complete making it to help us get to lunch in a timely manner.

Some days they turn it into a game they like to call “Food Truck.” On these days two boys are in the kitchen and the other two are the customers. Usually the boys in the kitchen get to say what type of food truck they own and therefore dictate the food options for the day.

Some days one boy will announce what he is making and offer to make the same for anyone else who would like the same food thus cutting down on reheat time and the number of people in the kitchen.

Mama there is no reason for you to do it all. Delegate. Let lunch be easy. Keep it smart. Keep it simple. Keep letting them learn.