Fruits and Vegetables in their Lunchbox

Growing up around teachers, I often heard them discuss what was in their students’ lunchboxes. Poorly chosen, pre-packaged contents were the root of all kinds of social, academic, and general confidence issues.

“Well, no wonder she can’t sit still.”

“The poor thing.”

“What is his mother thinking? Do you see what he brings for lunch?!” 

So as a mother, I know I may be judged by what I put in my boys’ lunchboxes. With that in mind, I include a piece of fruit or a little bag of celery and carrots nearly every day.

And every day, they come back home in the lunchboxes untouched.

Yet I soldier on, including these healthy snacks on a daily basis, purely to demonstrate my good-mommy skills for the teachers, knowing the effort is wasted on my kids.

I will put the carrots on the table at dinner or re-send the orange slices the next day, only to eventually have to throw them out because they have gone bad.

Apparently, my children haven’t learned the art of veggie-dumping, because I hear that school cafeteria trashcans are filled with uneaten healthy foods sent in by well-meaning, approval-seeking moms like me. I also know of kids who bully and beg for tastier snacks from classmates because their moms only pack nutrient-packed foods they won’t eat. Not today. Not tomorrow. Certainly not in college when they overdose on pizza, beer and chips because they’ve been staring down big plates of kale for eighteen years.

Maybe we have become so accepting of pre-packaged Lunchables that teachers no longer notice what’s in their students’ lunchboxes. Maybe teachers no longer sit at lunch with the kids they teach. So my efforts are as wasted as the rotting fruit. Maybe, as my boys claim, a twenty-minute lunch period is not long enough to chew on a piece of celery. They start with what fills them up. No time for an orange slice.

And yet, tomorrow when I open their lunchboxes at the end of the day, there will be an apple with one bite taken out of it, an untouched bag of raw vegetables, the same six slices of an orange that went in that morning. The cafeteria trashcan will again be filled with discarded vegetables. I cannot count the number of blackened bananas I have found days later in the front pocket of a backpack.

Still, the day after that, kids everywhere – mine included – will have to move the carrots out of the way to get to the sandwich. And maybe one day they will understand that our futile persistence was one of the weird ways we showed them we care.



A Perfectly Grilled Beef Tenderloin

The other night, we celebrated a first at our house. As I placed some perfectly grilled beef tenderloin on the table, my third grader pointed out, “We’ve never had steak at the kitchen table.”

True. I usually do not make steak when my husband is out of town, which is the only time we do not eat in our dining room. But he’s been traveling more than usual, and I was tired of pasta. So spread out on the kitchen table that night were steaks, a side of pesto pasta and salad with great tomatoes and ripe avocado. Something for everyone.

Then as the third grader served himself some salad, he said, “You know where they have the best salads?”

Clearly Mom’s kitchen table is not it. “Where?”

“School lunch.”

Out the window went my pride for the perfect meal.

“And their spaghetti and meatballs are awesome!” added his brother.

A crushing blow.

“Oh!” shouted the third grader again, “and the chicken alfredo!”

“The only thing is,” said the fourth grader, “we really need Mrs. X back.” The woman who runs their school lunchroom is on maternity leave, and I have protected her identity so another school doesn’t steal her away. “She is way nicer than the substitutes. The subs don’t let you have any food if you forget your lunch.”

If the other moms’ cooking is as sub-par as mine apparently is, when Mrs. X returns, there will likely be a dramatic increase in full lunchboxes stashed in nooks and crannies all over campus.

We’ve all seen them, actually, and we pass them by thinking, “who could possibly forget their lunchbox?”