From Goal to Reality: Lunch Planning Builds Executive Functioning Skills

This time of year, there’s lots of talk about setting goals and making life changes. It’s got me thinking about how we bridge the gap between knowing what we want and making that thing happen, and how we are modeling and teaching these skills to our children.

I often wonder how much our kids really understand about the process of visualizing an end result and then planning out the steps involved in getting there. And do we spend enough time teaching them exactly how to turn their goal into a reality?

I love the saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” often attributed to French author, Antoine Saint-Exupéry.  Being able to keep the completed goal in mind, and plan, organize, and execute the tasks involved to get there is a huge part of executive functioning—something we can help our children learn and practice through everyday activities.

Lately, my husband and I have been encouraging our boys to practice these executive function skills through something they care a lot about: their lunches and snacks.

Here are some food-related tasks that can strengthen your child’s ability to plan, organize, and follow through. Most kids will find this activity highly motivating, and it will be easy for them to visualize the end result of having favorite foods available to them.

Planning ahead for yummy food options:

  1. Before the week starts (we try to do this on Sundays), talk with your child about lunch plans for the coming week. Help them picture themselves at school during lunch or snack time eating the food that they desire. Explain that there is a process to making that happen.
  2. Have your child make a list of their favorite lunch and snack items. Some kids may need to state the list verbally for you to put in writing.  Photos can also help to visualize the items that are available.
  3. Next, list the ingredients needed for each lunch or snack item. For example, you’ll need bread, peanut butter, and jelly for a PBJ sandwich.
  4. Ask your child to check the kitchen to see whether you already have the ingredients on hand. If not, your child can start a shopping list .
  5. Go to the grocery store and have your child help find the items on the list.


Snack planning: The same process (picturing the items they would like to have available, creating a list, checking to see what’s already at home, making a shopping list,  doing the shopping) works for snacks.

Some kids may be able to go a step further by actually making their own lunches. This can become another opportunity to help your child plan, organize, and follow through in order to beef up their executive functioning skills.

To get your free printable shopping list, click the graphic below.

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