Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

School Lunches, Now and Then

If I were a 30-something super-mom instead of a retired public school teacher, I might put some credence today’s Roanoke Times Extra section front page story: "Healthy School Lunches." However, I know from many years of required lunchroom duty on the junior high and middle school level that toting a lunchbox is anything but cool. I also know that the recipes included in the article lack kid-appeal. And they contain some esoteric and/or expensive ingredients.

Note: the story, which originally appeared in the August 6 Sun Sentinel, was illustrated in the RT by a HUGE picture of a metal lunchbox, which is probably illegal to carry to school nowadays because it’s a useful weapon for bashing another kid in the head.

Now, let it be know that—in early elementary school—I carried a lunchbox to school on the few days that I didn’t go home for lunch, an act that required me to run the three blocks home and back so I could scarf down Mama’s home cooking. This is probably why I was so skinny when I was a kid, a condition that no longer applies to me.

I still have my lunchbox:

. . . and the matching thermos:

. . . and my name is still affixed to the outside (beside the air vent):

The edges are a little dented and scuffed. Wonder how that happened?

Of course, nowadays many kids cannot be out of range of parents or guardians unless they are equipped with a cell-phone, GPS, and bullet-proof garments, but in the 1950s kids were just instructed not to talk to strangers and to come straight home.

I can remember my packed lunches (which I carried in a brown bag from third grade on, because NO ONE with any social sense still carried a lunchbox) because they never varied: a sandwich consisting of sliced-chicken and white bread (nothing else), a handful of potato chips, and sometimes a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The sandwich and chips were wrapped in wax paper. No one particularly cared about nutrition then; the main thing was Will the kid eat it and not waste food? Also the ingredients had to be readily available and cheap.

Here are a few reasons why the lunchbox and healthful recipes idea in that article won’t work:

1. Kids don’t like to carry lunches; they have enough to carry these days. Check the weight of a typical kid’s backpack—books, notebooks, sometimes a laptop, well-hidden MP3 player and cellphone, some sugar-laden snacks and gum, etc. They certainly don’t want to add to their loads.

2. Even if they could tuck the lunchbox into the backpack, a half-day of slinging the backpack around won’t leave the lunch in good shape—especially if mommy has made the “Bone-Building Lasagna” (with extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic, tofu and other stuff) and packed “a slice of the lasagna in a small, reuseable container with carrot sticks, your child's favorite dip and an insulated container of unsweetened herbal ice tea.” By noon, that lasagna will be in an unrecognizable wad, the dip will dripping all over, and the “herbal ice tea”(!?) will be leaking out. I don’t know about kids today, but the idea of eating cold lasagna makes me want to hurl.

3. C’mon—how many kids do you know who drink even regular tea, much less the herbal kind? I know from personal observation—while on lunch duty—that the kids are gonna hit the juice machine and get one of those 40-carb (Yes, I’ve looked on the can so I know.), fructose-laden concoctions that will give them a sugar-high for the next couple of hours before they get sleepy. (Yes, I’ve taught those kids.)

4. The writer thinks kids will be responsible for reusable containers, no less! If the kid doesn’t toss the reusable container, odds are good it might sit in the bottom of the backpack or locker until the residue it contains is suitable for a science project.

5. Will kids actually eat more than a few bites of the “Fiber-tastic Burger”? “Pack it with a favorite bread or roll (preferably whole grain, which will add about 3.2 grams fiber), a bag of baked sweet potato chips and a container of cold, low-fat soy milk,” the writer suggests? That burger is made from beans, for goodness sake! That’ll make the kid the butt (no pun intended) of jokes for weeks. And by lunchtime, odds are good that the “low-fat soy milk” won't be cold.

6. “The burger can be put on the roll and eaten as is or microwaved for 10 to 15 seconds. Even fast-food junkies will appreciate this meal.” Two problems here: kids don’t have access to a microwave at school, and fast food junkies want actual fast food.

7. Will they even look at the “Peanut Butter Banana Dog” sprinkled with yogurt-covered raisins and served on a hot dog bun—whole wheat, no less—without going “Eeewwww!” This has to be one of the grossest concoctions imaginable. Any kid who unwraps one of those things in the lunchroom will be made fun of for at least a month. Possibly socially ostracized for the year.

8. The “Not Your Ordinary Spinach Salad” with added raisins, goldfish crackers, cashews (or peanuts), edamame (fancy word for soy beans), cheddar cheese, and low-fat dressing)—need I say more?

OK, I will. I have never known a kid under voting age to actually eat spinach of his or her own free will. The nuts will probably be used to throw at other kids. (I’m digressing here, but one of the most impressive food fights I ever saw in a school cafeteria involved peanuts. For some reason, one day the lunch ladies put a scoopful of peanuts on every kid’s plate lunch. After some kid threw the first handful, the cafeteria erupted in flying peanuts. The lunch ladies never served loose peanuts again, but we were served a lot of peanut butter cookies the rest of that year.)

9. Kids have no qualms about tossing whatever they don’t like. If I had a nickel for all the apples and other pieces of fruit I’ve seen tossed into the school garbage can (or thrown at someone), I could’ve retired way earlier.

10. All those “healthful” lunches require a pretty big investment of time on Mommy’s part. Wouldn’t it be better to supplement the school lunch (pizza and/or chicken nuggets—the kid favorites) with a bottle of water and a granola bar and hope for the best? Mommy could use her lunch box time to prepare a healthful dinner for the whole family, and then spend quality time with them.

Of course, if Mommy is busy picking up the kid at school and ferrying him or her to soccer/football/whatever practice—or maybe music lessons or tutoring or choir practice or Scouts, then I can see why Mommy can’t make dinner. Plus, after everyone is home, she has to do—er, see to—the kid’s homework, so she can’t even think about meals until everyone else has gone to bed.

I was kind of expecting the article to include info on what positive messages to include in lunch boxes so the kids would be reminded how special or unique they were (Have you seen that Hallmark card commercial?), but I guess the parents can just call the kids on their cell-phones during lunch and tell them.


Blogger Stephanie Faris said...

My mom would just put a sandwich and some chips in and call it a day. My boyfriend's daughter eats school lunches every day. We went to have lunch with her one day and I watched...she got the pizza and corn and ate maybe three bites of each. There's too much going on at lunchtime for her to eat much. I'm guessing she's like I was at that age -- she just eats a big after-school snack to make up for it!

3:59 PM  
Blogger Sweet Virginia Breeze said...

Oh my, I would have loved to have your lunchbox. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were my heroes. The best Christmas gift I ever got was a Dale Evans outfit complete with gun, holster, and hat.

Sounds like that article was written by someone who is not in touch with reality. I've never had kids, but even I know those lunch ideas are ridiculous.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Roanoke RnR said...

I didn't read the article, nor do I want to, but can speak for two teens who much rather bring lunch from home than eat the "school swill." The lunchbox has to be thermal-lined, as small as possible, and able to be squished at the end of the meal to come home in the bottom of the bookbag. A plastic sandwich protector is a must for my son as he doesn't like his bread soggy from the ice pack keeping the "gasp" Pepsi cool. Believe it or not over the last three years he only threw out one ice pack and one sandwich container. A granola bar and some other sort of "extra" rounds out his lunch. For my daughter it's just soup, soup, or more soup, or the occassional yogurt, or left over chicken cutlet thrown in. No bread, ever, so no sandwiches. No cheese, ever either. Bottled water or vitamin water only. (She's the thin one.)
I know from experience a mom does not try "something new and different" no matter how healthy it is, for their lunch as the risk is run that they won't be eating anything, and their days are loooong. And yes, every so often I do slip in a little piece of paper, or a simple hershey kiss, to give them a smile...

6:31 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

You should have written the article, Roanoke RnR! Your post is at least based on practical experience with real kids.

But you should read the article. It's worth a laugh (or several).

8:31 PM  
Blogger Roanoke RnR said...

Becky, what really gets me is that I am the demographic the RT is trying to appeal to. That they think that's the type of article that would appeal to me is insulting...

8:34 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

The RT, it appears, must please its advertisers more than its readers for that is where the money lies.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

Oh the saga of the RT continues...but the fact that you still have your metal lunchbox is super cool!

2:35 PM  

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