The USDA Is Extending Its Free Lunch Program — Here’s Why I’m Going to Continue to Pack

published Aug 2, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

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I’ll be honest: I absolutely do not like packing my kids’ lunches every day. When my kids were in the depths of e-learning, not having to pack lunches (amidst also making breakfast and making sure the kids brushed, ate, and dressed on time) felt like the small win I needed to make it through each day of pandemic parenting. 

This year, the USDA is extending their free school lunch program, which is doubtless a relief to many parents who struggle with the before-school rush. On a bigger level, I feel that access to fresh, whole, healthy meals should be a right for all kids. Universal school lunch programs in many cities — like Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia — have also proven to reduce the stigma and shaming associated with free school lunches as more children participate in the program. 

I recognize that the choice to pack my kids’ lunches is an immense privilege. As a former teacher in many under-resourced schools, I know how many incredible families rely on the school lunch program to provide meals for their kids and how not having access to those meals can put major stress on parents. 

However, as my own personal choice, I’ll go back to the relentless chore of packing my kids’ lunches for school. The drawbacks are eclipsed by these two important benefits for our family:

I know what they eat — and can continue to expand their palates

Instilling positive food habits in my kids is one of my biggest focuses as a parent. Since they were babies, I’ve attempted to expose my kids to a variety of foods from different cultures and cuisines in addition to teaching skills like hunger and fullness cues, body awareness, and self-regulation. It’s a point of parenting pride for me to have kids who love cooking and baking and are flexible when it comes to meal options; these are qualities I like about myself, too. So, it’s important for me to try to keep them on this path for as long as I can. 

To be clear, there is no one way to feed your kids, and there is certainly no best way to do it

To be clear, there is no one way to feed your kids, and there is certainly no best way to do it; this is just what works for us now. I know the day will come when they’ll opt to buy lunch from school instead of bringing one from home — I remember going through that transition as a pre-teen myself. But for now, they eat what I give them and I’m going to ride that wave ‘till it crashes. 

Credit: Shutterstock

It makes me feel closer to my kids

As a mom who works full-time, it’s not lost on me that all three of my precious offspring spend more waking hours at school during the week than with me. I’d be lying if I said I went even one day without letting that little piece of truth sit on my heart until it stings. I love working and I also miss my kids deeply throughout the day. Making their lunches allows me a way to be with them even when I can’t be. I don’t know if they sense how much I think about them when choosing their snacks each morning or if they read the little notes I leave inside their bags, but thinking of them opening their lunches and smiling warms my heart as I sit at home and work.

As parents, we offer love to our kids in a variety of ways and food is one of the ways I offer mine.