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Challenge: Life Changes

Who Else Is Savoring The End of School Lunches?

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With the school year drawing to an end, there is much to celebrate: no more homework, or after school activities, or daily drills of “Where are your socks? Do you have your backpack? Are the forms in your bag? Why don’t you have socks yet?”

But there’s one ending I savor most: the end of making school lunches.

By this time of year, most parents I know develop a certain distaste for toiling over school lunches. While it doesn’t literally require slaving over a hot stove, the monotony of daily production still feels like death by a thousand sliced-bread cuts.

In the fall I set out to produce a healthy packed lunch for my children. The theory is that homemade is better than store bought, or school provided. Yet in this ongoing battle, most lunches come home half eaten. (Or is that half un-eaten?) I can’t be certain, but this may be what Fitzgerald was referring to when he said “To the victor go the spoils.”

My son’s recurring excuse is, “I didn’t have enough time.” However, having witnessed the speed at which he can put back a Happy Meal, this argument carries little weight.

Adding to the difficulty of finding brown bag options, our school also has allergy restrictions. The zero tolerance policy with nuts, for example, eliminates one of the easiest protein options — the peanut butter sandwich. On more than one occasion I contemplated sneaking in a little PB&J — my own double-blind immunotherapy program. I thought I had a solution when a friend gave me a jar of Wow Butter, the soy equivalent of peanut butter. It looks and tastes the same — so they say. My kids — connoisseurs that they are — can tell the difference, proving the dictum that there really is no free lunch.

As the school year drags on, my zeal to provide healthy options wanes and I settle instead for pretext. Some weeks I leave the same five uneaten carrot sticks in the lunch bag all week. By the third day, a white film covers them like chalk dust. Fortunately, the parched sticks are not visible through the container — merely a blurred orange illusion of healthy vegetables lovingly packed. I’ve considered using this recycling trick with my son’s ham sandwich. Of course there is a slight chance he might actually take another bite from the almost untouched slices, and I would hate to be called after he develops a case of listeria.

Once a week I delight in a glorious reprieve: hot lunch day. I have heard whisperings of a fabled land where nutritious school lunches are supplied everyday... where trays of healthy food, colored like the rainbow, issue forth like Manna from the heavens, to be joyfully devoured by sated children. My school offers chicken nuggets and pizza. Yet, it’s a small pleasure for which I am willing to make the trade-off.

Recently, a friend was called aside by her child’s teacher. “Suzy isn’t eating her lunch.” The teacher narrows her eyes, assessing whether this is an act of wilful malnourishment. Or perhaps she assumes my friend has no idea her daughter is going hungry all day. Really? Who does she think makes the food, unpacks it and throws the remains into the compost bin? (Or back into the lunch bag — see above.)

The teacher offers “suggestions” on healthy options that Suzy might like. My friend, playing along, packs the exact items specified by the teacher. She feels a tinge of vindication when the same items return home untouched. Again, it’s the small wins that get us through the year.

After all, of the thankless and often unproductive exercises parents submit to over the school year, making lunch, well, takes the cake. So as the warm sun of summer beckons, let us toast to the end of lunch. Relish the days I say!

Happy summer and bon appetite.

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