Making the kids’ lunches. Lord, how I hate making the kids lunches. It’s a task more tedious, taxing, and thankless than any other. Gone are the days of a brown bagging a PB&J, a cookie and apple . No – making a lunch is far more complicated than that. I’ve seen lunch making evolve over generations too – since my oldest daughter just turned 26 (ahhhh! I know, scream with me!) and my youngest is just 9 – I can tell you – times have changed.
Let’s start with the lunches I went to school with. I lived in a rural community and I walked home for lunch from grade 1-3. My mom always had home cooked meals waiting for me when I walked in the door (she happens to be Midas in the kitchen). The upside – amazing meals and a connection to home midday. The downside – not only was I late most days when school started, but was late after lunch too, giving my teachers a great reason to go for a second round of apeshit angry. What can I say – bulrushes, ice puddles, and grasshoppers are distracting for a kid with ADD. It’s like I travelled back and forth through wonderland a few times a day and was expected to rush back to be put in lockdown. It’s a miracle I ever made it back to class. As an aside – I think it’s very interesting that the teachers (except one) never made a stink to my parents about me being late – which I think in retrospect means my absence from the structured classroom, even for fifteen or twenty minutes was a welcome break.
I digress. Junior grades – I came home for lunch. From grades 4-8, I rode the bus to a school further away, so no coming home. I brown bagged it in an actual brown bag – although I do remember a yellow handled metal lunchbox for some time – have no idea what it had on the front. Maybe Fat Albert? Maybe Bionic Woman? Regardless, it was short-lived (I probably broke it the same week I got it), and I remember unfolding the top of a small brown bag for years of lunch time meals. My mother was into healthy (non-processed) eating so you could always find carrot sticks (not the baby carrots, but the whole carrots, peeled and cut), a piece of fruit, a home-made cookie and a sandwich in the bag. I only had two kinds of sandwiches I would eat – peanut butter with grape jelly or bologna. The bologna had to be between two slices of plain white wonder bread. No butter, no mustard – nothing. I still remember how it tasted in mouth – which makes sense – because I probably ate about 2000 of them during my school years. And as much as it pained my mother to send such a pithy of a sandwich when my sister went off with cream cheese on rye, or a thermos of something warm, bologna was alright by me. I do remember envying two classmates with working moms who came with pre-packaged hostess cakes, but since that was a main staple of their daily brown bag, they were always eager to trade them away for a homemade chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie. Ahhh, the simple days.
Flash forward to my daughter Heather’s lunch days. She had the metal or plastic lunch boxes with whatever fad was current, and got a new lunch box every year. In terms of eats – she was the kind of kid who was more than happy with a PB&J most days, though she always did favour a warm soup in a thermos. Again though – pretty easy -she liked the same stuff everyday. It probably helped that on and off over the years I lived with my parents – which means my mother would have been packing the grub for her as a favour to me – which let’s face it – is the easiest way to get through lunch making. The great thing about these lunch making days though – there were no restrictions about what you could and couldn’t bring, and no expectations about what they should or shouldn’t have packed in there. And lo and behold she grew up healthy and normal! Go figure!
Let’s look at the lunch routine of my two kids at home now. They’re both in public school and bus it – so no cafeteria and no coming home for meals. I pack them a lunch (in a trendy and multi-pocketed insulated lunch bag) that matches their backpack, and normally has to be replaced by the end of the year based on how ripped to bits it starts looking around March. We can’t send peanut butter (or anything with peanuts or nuts in it or near it). They get two nutrition breaks which are 20 minutes each, but that includes going into the hall and getting your lunch, bringing it back to your desk, deciding what to eat out of it, eating, and packing up again to go outside. So the kids today get about 4 minutes to wolf down something twice a day. The school requests you bring garbage-less lunches, which means you are taking pre-packaged stuff out of the package at home and putting into plastic containers, not a Ziploc bag (which is garbage) and you do this so you don’t look like a hater of the environment. The school wants the kids to have healthy choices – so you have to pack “good enough” stuff that your kids will actually eat it, but “good enough” stuff that the school doesn’t accuse you of feeding your kid all crap.
I’ve heard stories of teachers confiscating certain items out of lunch bags – deeming them “bad choices”, but that has yet to happen at our school or to my kids It’s too bad in a way, because on occasion I like the excuse to go totally postal – and that would certainly be the ticket to get me there. I admit – I don’t send my kids complete garbage like candy or chocolate or deep fried sandwiches to school – but I can tell you that if I did, my kids would have the right to eat it, or by god – someone would feel my mama bear wrath.
On top of all the restrictions and requirements imposed on families by the schools these days, I also have an in-house struggle with lunch making. My kids don’t like the same thing every day. They have their favourites – Lainey loves a bagel and cream cheese, Sam loves a tuna fish sandwich, they both love a veggie fajita, but they don’t want any two lunches the same in a week, and as a must – neither of them wants deli meat on a bun more than once a week. So every day I have to think of another great plan for the lunch menu. It’s exhausting and quite honestly I live for pizza day, hotdog day, pita day or any other day where I can send a few bucks and get a break from being the lunch lady.
If we look at the change in schoolyard lunches as a measuring stick for how much our world has evolved – I’d say things are going turning to muck. Like a processed pudding cup left out in the sun. I long for the lunch days of bologna and plenty of peanuts. Where have those good ol’ days gone?