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Whether it’s multiplication or Medieval history, back-to-school is the time of year when your kids pick up a bunch of new skills and knowledge. But that’s not all that your children can brush up on. This time of year is a great time for the smallest family members, no matter their age, to learn about how to contribute in the kitchen. Here are some tried-and-true ways for getting kids involved in preparing and packing their lunches.

Related Reading: 10 Great Cookbooks Geared to Kids

1. Start early.

Think your kids are too young to start rolling up their sleeves and packing their own lunches?  Actually, little ones can get involved in formulating a menu even when they’re pretty small, says Cat Cora, first female Iron Chef, restaurateur, author, and mom of six boys.

Bento BasicsMarie Kondo's Guide to Bento Box Lunches Your Kids Will Love“Preschool and kindergarten is when I started to get my kids to ‘help’ me and getting their thoughts (funny ones too) about what they thought sounded good for lunches,” Cora says. “I remember for preschool the teachers would heat things up if you had a soup or other things for the kids. So I would send little containers of leftover gnocchi and things like that from dinner the night before. When they started preschool I thought it was pretty awesome to get those little gourmet lunches. Our oldest said, ‘Mom no more fancy food, just PB&J please! It’s embarrassing.’”

Cora recommends giving children a voice in their lunch and mealtimes as soon as you can carry on a conversation. Get ready for some (pretty funny and cute) opinions!

2. Get them invested.

Getting your kids into the routine of selecting their food can start even as you’re buying your supplies, according to Cora. “Take your kids grocery shopping with you and let them pick out healthy snacks,” she says. “Then add your choices for a healthy lunch. This makes them more invested and more excited about eating their lunch. It is fun to make it a ritual to go lunch box shopping to get their opinion.”

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3. Keep it simple.

The key to not going nuts after soliciting a number of opinions (and of course making sure that your fridge is stocked with food you want to eat, too) is making some smart decisions that will keep everybody happy.

Read More: Lunches You and Your Kids Will Like | How to Turn Leftovers Into Delicious Lunches

“Yes, your kids can help create ideas for a fun lunch and more importantly, one they will eat,” Cora says. “Do this together and have it be unanimous, not a short order from each child. For example, if everyone agrees on chicken, [make] burritos for lunch or a fresh-made sandwich. This makes it much easier on mom, especially when you’re making lunches for a lot of kids, like me!”

4. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Meal prep is not just for CrossFit aficionados—as kids get older, they can start getting in on the habit.

“This goes along with the once a week shopping trip,” Cora says. “This is easier with older kids if you throw in a stop for a smoothie or froyo. I think cutting carrots and celery sticks up for the week to go with almond butter and hummus is great bonding time with kids. Or recently, we had sushi-making with our sons that included cutting up cucumber sticks and fruit to roll to make a cooked salmon roll. It’s easier than you think and fun!”

Store snack jars with healthy snacks and put small storage bags in a drawer in kids’ reach so they can help pack those with you the night before (which can help save you time and stress in the morning), Cora says.

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“Also, make sure you designate a school snack space and let the kids know that you have plenty of fruit and healthy after-school snacks so that when you go to grab them in the morning for school you don’t find one left in the box (I found this out the hard way),” she says.

Related Video: What’s In Your Lunch Box?

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Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for a number of health and lifestyle publications, including Women's Health, Brides, and NBC News Better. Hot sauce, black coffee, and bacon make up 50% of her diet.
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