Lunch Bunch Samples School Lunches, Past and Present

by Kim Harding

Back to school means back to packing school lunches. Early morning arguments over the fact that lunch at school has to be cool, and who cares if it’s cheaper and easier to eat cafeteria food. That is simply not an option!

Our lunch bunch decided that this week we would grade the brown bag lunches that our parents sent us off with so many years ago, and sample the stuff we send for our children these days.  We also invited our kids to add in their two cents. ( We do understand that the semi- healthy food we pack is not always our little angels’  first choice.)

In Pamela’s elementary school, the gym doubled as the cafeteria, so everyone had to bring their lunches. At first, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches were her favorite, but then she hated how they got soggy by lunchtime. So Pamela’s parents instead made tuna sandwiches or ham and cheese: cut into triangles, crusts off, of course. At lunch, the school janitor would pass out boxes of milk (usually lukewarm) on a tray, and she drank hers begrudgingly. Her parents also never gave her the coolest snack food, so she was always trying to trade a piece of fruit for something better, like a Fruit Rollup.  Trading food seems to be my daughter’s favorite thing to do, too.  She always comes home with with mystery wrappers in her bag!

Elizabeth always wanted a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  (She has always been a little eccentric).  I opted for the simple turkey and mayonnaise on white bread. I ate that sandwich so many days in a row that I finally burst into tears and haven’t had another one since!  After my melt down, I was banished to the dreaded cafeteria lunch unless I wanted to pack my own.  For some reason this tactic doesn’t work with my own children.  No matter how many times I threaten to send them off with $1.50, I always seem to end up stuffing the Vera bags at the last minute before they run out the door.  They prefer chicken on white bread with the crust off.  No peanut butter because these days some kids have peanut allergies, and absolutely nothing healthy.  No fruit, no carrot sticks, just chips and swiss miss rolls.  Oh, and NO milk, just gatorade.

April follows suit with my parents.  She is all for packing a lunch, as long as you do it yourself!  April is a no nonsense kind of mom, just like her mother was.  If her kids get up early enough, they like to pack ham and cheese sandwiches plain with chips , candy (if there is any), mini cookies and either oatmeal crème pie or whatever Little Debbie they can find.  They like  two Capri Suns because they say they get really thirsty.

While what you bring for lunch is important, what is more important is how you carry it. Brown bags are so out: it is all about having the best lunchbox. In the past, we all carried metal lunch boxes. Care Bears, Smurfs, Strawberry Shortcake were some classics.  These days, brown bags are still out.  The cheapest option never seems to be the one that the kiddos go for.  Today, all of the “cool” kids carry Vera Bradley lunch bags.  Rossignol’s downtown carries lots of different patterns, but you must be sure that no one else in your school has the same pattern you do.  And then, of course, you must purchase the matching back pack AND overnight bag…

Two of Nancy’s kids are in high school and they are boys, so of course they eat the cafeteria food.  At this stage in life, there seems to be a coolness shift.  Now it is uncool to carry any kind of lunch bag.  Only a geek would bring one to high school!  You either buy something out of the vending machines, eat what is being served, or just skip lunch all together.  Who cares if you pass out from starvation, you are the coolest kid there.

After spreading out all of these different choices to be sampled on my kitchen table and taking painstaking bites of soggy, room temperature food, here are the results.

Must have:  Swiss Miss rolls.  (We had to agree with the kids on this one, even though it’s SO unhealthy!)

Can’t stand:  PB & J with too much jelly.  YUCK.  Also, none of the kids would even sample the peanut butter and banana since the bananas turned brown.

Good for trade:  Grapes.  Everyone loves grapes and you can always get at least half of a Swiss Miss with good grapes to trade.

Hide under the table so no one else can see:  sandwiches cut into cute shapes like hearts or stars.  How embarrassing, Mom!

We hope that our lunch bunch has enlightened your lunch packing world.   Good luck getting back to school, and getting back to sanity!

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