Lunch packing a lesson in people pleasing

One of the most dreaded aspects of my children’s fall return to school was the lunch packing. While I don’t consider them particularly picky eaters, perhaps I just don’t notice it when we are all eating together at home for breakfast, dinner or weekend lunches. An abundant refrigerator and pantry allow for substitutions. But packing a school lunch is playing for keeps.

I tend to pack lunches the way I like them: Ever-changing and fully of variety. My husband says he appreciates opening his lunch and finding something different each day of the week. His only request is yogurt not be more than a few days past its expiration date (forcing me to take the extra step of scratching the damning inked evidence off the containers’ lids) and vegetables not be thrown in loose with his sandwiches due to time and space constraints. It’s different with my kids.

Connor is compliant by nature, so during his first year of carrying a lunchbox, he ate whatever I put in it. By second grade, some savvy kids in the lunchroom turned him on to the fact that needn’t be the case. He had many choices of which his mother had not informed. Anything he didn’t like could be either traded or tossed. So I continued packing the same items as always, blissfully ignorant they were falling into unknown hands and garbage cans.

I helped accelerate the sandwich sleight of hand when he one day didn’t like the bologna and American cheese on whole wheat with mayo creation I packed, so he simply didn’t eat it. I may have carried on a bit too much about food waste and starving people in other countries when I found it stinking up his sandwich keeper the following morn. Finding himself sandwiched between the unpalatable lunch baloney and Mom’s baloney, Connor simply went underground with his actions. We’ve all been there (and still go there). Don’t ask, don’t tell.

I admired his ethics when he took me aside at the start of third grade and stated he wouldn’t eat anything other than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and could I please put them on white bread? While I was at it, I should stop sending juice boxes because they are way too sweet for his liking, plus he’d heard they weren’t too healthy, either. How about he just buy milk at school? He’s basically a meat and potatoes kind of guy, like his dad.

The new system seemed to work for Connor. Not that I would ever spy on my children, but reliable sources at the school indicated he was eating his sandwiches and his school lunch account balance continued to lower in 35-cent increments. He’s expanded this year to salami and Swiss on rye.

Kate couldn’t be more different. She regards lunch as a form of self-expression and is willing to eat just about anything I dream up. Not content with mere sandwiches, she’s become a powerful foe in the fight for last night’s dinner leftovers.

The difficulty with Kate lies in packaging. How do you ensure black bean soup survives excessive jostling and subsequent sliming the rest of her lunch? Or keep a pear Waldorf salad from decomposing? And who knows if lemon-peppered Tilapia can withstand room temperatures and still be relatively bacteria-free by lunch? Just to be safe, I try not to send expired yogurt the same day. The only lunch commonality my kids share is a failure to bring home the spoons I send. Ticks me off!

My mom went through a phase of trying to save time by making our sandwiches ahead and freezing them. Unfortunately, it aligned with her gourmet cooking phase, when she experimented with new concoctions, including a tuna, Swiss, sour cream and garlic sandwich and an apricot with cream cheese variation on normal. The thawing ingredients turned the bread into a soggy mess, rendering lunchroom trading out of the question, even with foreign exchange students.

It’s taken extensive therapy to eradicate that episode from my mind. Hopefully, I’m providing my kids with sound nutrition sandwiched on rye between their future memories of palate abuse. If not, they’ll just have to trade.

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