The Power of School Lunch

by in Family, September 18th, 2012

school lunch box
My daughter played “What food am I?” in preschool the other day. When I came to pick her up, her teacher gave me an odd look. “What happened?” I asked. “All of the kids had to describe what kind of food they were today,” she began. “Most kids said apples, celery, oranges, hamburgers, tomatoes, etc., but your daughter told us she was a mix of quinoa and gooseberries…”

Good or bad? I wondered to myself. Probably some of both.

In my mind, that definitely tells me I’m going to be “that mom,” the one whose kid constantly feels embarrassed about. And “that mom” was originally my mom: the mom who dares to be different when, among other things, it comes to packing a school lunch.

My mother lovingly packed soggy, lopsided and sometimes grease-stained paper bags carrying oddball sandwiches or various leftovers from dinner.

Delicious? Totally. Awkward to eat? Totally. Not like any of the other kids’ lunches at a time when you did not dare to be different? Totally.

What was a classic lunch for me?

Soggy tinfoil containing meatballs and sauce, four slices of bread and a sandwich bag filled with broccoli in lemon vinaigrette. I would look over at my friend’s perfect peanut butter sandwich and my other friend’s thermos of soup and wonder what my lunch was trying to be. A sandwich of some sort? “You’re supposed to put the meatballs and the broccoli on the slices of bread to make a sandwich,” my mom later explained, “That way the sandwich won’t be soggy.”

That explanation helped. Assembling something right before eating could make a big difference in how the food tastes.

A few weeks later my mother packed me a fruit salad with a little bag of ice attached.

“The fruit needs to stay really cold until you eat it so it has that refreshing factor,” she told me. Somehow the fact that the fruit juices (and melted ice) leaked all over my bag mattered less when I devoured the still-cold fruit from the bag.

I started getting up on the weekends and scaling down recipes from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I baked coffee cakes for one. Cornbread. I even attempted (and failed) at a stack of pancakes (looks a lot easier to make than it actually is!). I sampled the cake warm from the oven and then again when it had cooled. Some days I overcooked it. Once I mistook salt for sugar. But it didn’t matter because all of those lopsided lunch bags and mismade cake experiments were some of the things that nurtured my love for cooking (and eating). Lunch can be a place to introduce your children to new things. It can also be a place of bonding and experimentation — it can also be just lunch.

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Comments (7)

  1. Thank you for this post. I was, and still am that kind of mom, sometimes I worry about it, but I am glad I am not alone;-)

  2. EZwellness says:

    Thanks for the fun article! A good reminder that being creative is fun and it doesn't have to be PB&Js every day.
    My 10-year old enjoys cooking with us, and we often make "creations" – sometimes good, sometimes "interesting"……

  3. T1D's Mom says:

    I was that kid too…homemade unsweetened applesauce mixed with plain unsweetened yogurt….homemade split pea soup in a thermos, etc. But I was also the kid that wouldn't trade my healthy snacks for wagon wheels. :) I am now that mom…sorta. we do store bought treats but lots of home cooking and my 7 yr old eats anything! Loves to cook and help in the kitchen and is game to try any food presented.

  4. Erica says:

    Love this! My daughter told me the other day, "Mom, most of the other kids just have a sandwich and a Capri sun." I asked her if she'd rather just have a sandwich every day and she told me actually she likes all my lunches. I think she just worries about being embarrassed when she pulls out refried beans, salsa, and organic tortilla chips instead of PB&J.

  5. At my kids school there is a wide demographic population , so lunches are very different form each other. And thats great, I think. Sometimes they ask me to pack certain food they saw on a fiends lunchbox. Over the years of packing lunches I think what works best for me is pack a healthy lunch that has different things in small portions.

  6. OldMom says:

    DO NOT FEEL BAD AT ALL! (Re your daughter's "unusual food choices"). My son was the winner of
    his Cooking class in school & before that, "I got a note from his 1st grade teacher" to come in; he had
    an unusual name that–removing one letter–made it another name; I was SURE they had the wrong
    child! (You know how we Mother Lions are). Come to find out, it was him: he refused to read the
    Basic Reader–said "that dumb book". I told them I didn't understand that because he had been
    "reading" for years! (Dinosaur & Golden Encyclopedias). They liked to fainted…but we found alternate
    "basic readers" for him. (No, he's not a "child prodigy", but like your healthier cooking, mine was
    reading). Keep it up–you may educate some teachers.

  7. burçlar says:

    great tips… I'll use it for my child

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