A 2023 survey found that 1 in 3 parents would rather clean the bathroom, including scrubbing a urine-covered toilet seat, than pack a lunch. Why do they hate packing lunches more than cleaning?
Parents nationwide face the daily struggle of packing healthy, appetizing lunches for their children. With busy work schedules and endless to-do lists, the task of packing lunch boxes can often be pushed to the bottom of the priority list.
A preference for cleaning toilets is just the beginning. The Juicy Juice survey also reveals that 1 in 5 parents would rather have a cavity filled than pack a lunch. Of the 1,000 parents answering the survey, 26% rated packing lunches as their least favorite chore.
Lunch Box Prep Burnout Is Real
With chores like cleaning the bathroom floor, laundry, loading the dishwasher, and scrubbing the floors, why do parents dread the daily task of packing lunch so much? There are many factors involved.
First, parents are packing lunches with minimal positive feedback. Some 72% of parents report that their children’s packed lunches aren’t eaten.
A 2017 survey cited that 61% of parents found packing lunch a significant back-to-school stressor. Packing lunch was considered more stressful than getting the kids up and dressed in the morning and doing homework.
There’s also considerable societal and school pressure on parents to pack healthy, balanced meals that kids will actually eat. A case study of 10 mothers revealed complex and contradictory expectations for a school lunch. A child's preferences, income restraints, and school nutrition support, or lack thereof, all influence what goes in a student's lunchbox.
Ultimately, parents are trying to strike the right balance. Offering nutrient-dense foods that the child will also eat can be a tricky equation to balance. With this comes the added stress of judgment from peers and other parents who may be packing “perfect” lunches for their children.
Consequences of Lunch Box Burnout
Food preparation burnout extends beyond the daily dread of packing a lunch. It can lead to unhealthy and unbalanced meals for children, impacting their health and well-being. According to a 2020 study from the Pediatric Journal, children are more likely to become picky eaters or develop disordered eating habits if their lunches are consistently packed with food they do not enjoy.
The stress and pressure of packing lunches can add to a parent's mental load and contribute to parental burnout. This can negatively impact their overall well-being and relationships with their children.
Solutions to the Lunchbox Dilemma
What can parents do to combat lunch box packing burnout? Real moms offer their advice for the daily lunch grind.
Tiffany McCauley from the Gracious Pantry has a genius tip to manage the daily lunch dilemma. “I gave up on packing unique lunches every day. I make extras at dinner, and my kiddo gets that for lunch the next day too. It just makes life easier.” She loves using a wide-mouthed thermos to keep hot meals warm until lunch. If it needs to stay cool, she throws in an ice pack.
To reduce the weekday morning chaos, Anika Jindal of What Anika Says shares, “I have created a meal plan for [my son]. That helps me buy everything I need for his lunches during the weekend, and I also do a little prep work, like chopping veggies and all ahead of time.”
For pickier eaters, Anna Chesley from Salt in My Coffee shares, “I need to pack lunches for my kids because I have a child with severe food sensitivities. I have found bento boxes to be a sanity-saver! Putting foods I know my kids enjoy into those fun little compartments makes it so I almost never get complaints, and I know they’re eating a safe and healthy lunch.” Keeping it simple yet creative is essential for many families.
To save her sanity, Emese Maczko of My Pure Plants ditches the anxiety-inducing expectations laid out by social media. Instead, she says, “I try to pack simple things that my daughter loves and asks for that are in line with the rules we set.” Thankfully, there are many great packaged options on the market these days to choose from that can take a lot of pressure off parents' shoulders.
JayDee Vykoukal of Health Means Wealth recommends involving the kids in the lunch packing for the ultimate hack. “Ask them for input on what they would like to see in their lunch and let them help with the preparation. Parents will be surprised how much more likely kids are to eat their lunch when they perceive it's a choice.” It is also a great way to promote healthy eating habits and independence in children.
Trading Lunch Prep Stress for Empowerment
Acknowledging the struggles of packing lunch boxes, finding solutions, and supporting parents alleviates some of the pressure and stress associated with this daily task. Understanding that lunchbox packing is not a science is key. It’s an ongoing process of trial and error that will ultimately empower parents to take control of this task and make it their own.
With the right tools and tips, packing lunches can become less of a chore and more of an opportunity for creative expression and healthy choices for children and parents alike.