Sunday, September 1, 2013

What was/is your school lunch profile?

What was/is your school lunch profile--or your child's?

1. The OCD

Flickr: Cross Duck
This kid eats the same lunch every day for years, probably peanut butter, some kind of a fruit or vegetable (apple or carrot sticks), and juice or milk.  Maybe a cookie, although the kid probably isn't much of an eater.  Always eats it in the same way, which may mean eating down to the crusts, rolling the crusts into balls, and then folding up the tinfoil or plastic of the sandwich into a specific shape and stuffing it into the drink carton.  Mom worries that the kid is malnourished although is secretly also relieved that she doesn't have to put too much thought into what her child consumes every day.

2. The Princess Lunch

Flickr: Carol Brown
Little heart-shaped sandwiches, grapes with the stems removed, teeny crackers and cookies, and a love note from mom. Maybe a toy. And of course a pink lunch box. The actual foods themselves are pretty ordinary (for example, mom may have made adorable sandwich 'rolls' with bologna and American cheese) but the overall aesthetic says "I have no problem at all instilling unhealthy gender stereotypes in my child.  Even lunch must say she is an uber-girl."

3. The Bento

Flickr: Pretty daisies
Slightly more exotic, the true bento mama-san rises every morning to sculpt rice into intricate shapes for her child or, at very least, uses more Westernized substances to fill one of those cute little Japanese boxes.  The ingredients tend to be more wholesome or more exotic than the Princess Lunch and indicate some frustrated artistic or competitive tendencies on the part of the parent.

4. The Functional Lunch

Flickr: bradlauster
The lunch box is cute but the lunch is uninspired.  More varied than the OCD, lunch consists of the same kind of sandwich on the same kind of bread day after day.  One day is tuna (with never enough mayo for fear of spoilage). The next day, turkey and Swiss cheese.  Then ham and Swiss cheese.  Then peanut butter and grape jelly.  Apple or banana.  Repeat.  Repeat. To make it 'healthy' it will be stuffed with iceberg lettuce hunks and flabby tomatoes, leaving the bread slightly wet and icy. This lunch says: "food is supposed to fill you up and be nutritious, it is not something that should be fun or entertaining or yummy at all."  Full disclosure: this was how my 'brought' lunches were until I shifted to...

5. The Throw-Away Lunch

Screw the starving kids in Africa/China/The Island of Lost Toys.  This lunch indicates a total communication disconnect between mom and kid.  Usually, the lunch is too drab to trade, so it ends up getting thrown out and the kid uses pocket change to buy an ice cream sandwich (hey, it is a sandwich, so it must be good for you, right)?  This was me for many years, but fortunately my elementary school had many order-out options and my mother eventually discovered the wonders of kaiser rolls and mayo on turkey sandwiches, fun-sized bags of potato chips, granola bars, and even desserts.

6. The Bad-Ass Dad Lunch

Flickr: Peter
There is always one kid who lives with his dad--alone--which means he gets to come to school with stuff like bagels, cream cheese, and lox (leftover from breakfast), cold leftover pizza, or stinky leftovers in a Tupperware tin (guy food like meatballs and garlic bread). There is always a can of coke in silver paper.  Never a lunch box, always a lunch bag.  One kid like this in my grammar school often bought onion and cream cheese on a bagel and made me feel kind of sad because when I offered my box of raisins (my hated 'healthy snack') for free, he always took them and ate them because he said he loved raisins and never got them at home.

7. The Totally Non-Parented Lunch

The parent of this child allows him or her to pack lunch completely unsupervised, which means that lunch often consists of a bag of corn chips (not necessarily a fun-size container), a Snickers bar, and maybe a little packet of fruit gummis.  Not necessarily a bad or a progressive parent, just based on the philosophy that "as long as the kid is eating something, it is all good."

8. The Un-apologetically Fat Kid (or Football Player's) Lunch

Flickr: Pabo76
Meatball or salami and provolone cheese hero sandwiches...or simply enough money to buy two lunches and several containers of milk from the cafeteria.  Usually no dessert, but at least twice enough food to make sure the child grows up 'big and strong.'  Or at least big.

9. The Neurotic Anorexic Mom's Lunch

Ms. Shepley
A very pretty lunch in a clear, nondescript container or bag (remember, food shouldn't be something you care about) containing fat-free string cheese, celery, a tiny apple, and maybe some sugar-free Jell-O or pudding.  The lunch requires minimal contact with mom's hands and while healthy eating is a good is important to remember that your six-year-old child is SUPPOSED to be gaining weight.

10. The Neurotic Dieting Teenage Girl's Lunch

Usually involves not eating anything at all and just a haughty stare at her friends while they consume food.  Sometimes she will gladly eat anything you can't finish because that doesn't count as eating.

11. The Carb-o-Holic

Usually a girl (okay, me, in high school), her lunch will be completely devoid of protein and consist of ice cream as the 'main' and some form of snack cupcake or salty treat as the 'side.' Then she'll fall asleep in geometry class and confirm all stereotypes that women can't do math in the eyes of the sexist teacher.

12. The Creative

Flickr: amanky
As a kid, I was always jealous of students who brought Spaghetti-O in their thermos (a processed food my partially Italian-American mother declared verboten).  Or salads with little bottles of dressing and bacon bits.  Or cereal in a container and a banana, so the kid could have 'breakfast for lunch.'

13. The Fad Eater

Flickr: amanky

The trend-setter--the first kid to bring that new kind of Tastycake to school, or hard-boiled eggs, cold pop tarts, an odd flavor of Snapple or Combos. 

14. The Sharer

Flickr: Scarlatti2004
I remember one girl bringing a whole Entenmann's golden chocolate cake to the lunch table for her birthday, to share with all of us.  That was just the best. lunch. ever.

15. The Ethnic Lunch

Flickr: flakyredhead
This kid comes from a recently-arrived non-Caucasian family that has no concept of what a 'typical' American kid's lunch is supposed to look like. The kid becomes emotionally scarred because of the teasing he receives by racist, peanut-butter sandwich-toting white kids but grows up to write a best-selling memoir about his life in the food industry and has the last laugh.


  1. I think my lunches were a combination of a lot of these. This actually makes me want to write a post of my own thanking my Mom for all those years of lunches and every one of them coming with a note on my napkin :). I went through the PB&J (Jam, not jelly, and strawberry) phase in Grade 3. Most of the time afterward it was some type of single meat sandwich on a nice bun, mustard, no cheese unless it was a good cheese (I didn't and don't like processed cheeses on sandwiches) and not cheddar. Then some type of healthier snack, a less healthy snack and probably a juice box :). I miss those lunches :). The odd days were some type of chef boyardee in a thermos, and the best days were cold pizza :). Except when your mom would surprise you with McDonalds, then you were the envy of the class.

    1. It is pretty amazing to contemplate how many lunches mothers make--particularly mothers with multiple children. I am not surprised that you went through a pb&j phase, given your love of peanut butter. And yes, I always preferred (seedless) jam to jelly. I totally agree about McDonald's days--we had McDonald's carry-in once a week (you gave your money to the teacher and a room mother would buy it and bring it to the class mid-day). It was the lunch highlight of our week.

      All in all, my lunches weren't that bad but of course I envied the girls whose moms used white bread rather than rye, gave them mini-bagels and other exotica, and of course the girl who got Butterscotch Krimpets (snack cakes) every day.

  2. I was a Functional Lunch person when I brought lunch from home, which I think stopped in about the 3rd grade and then I started buying the school lunch. Even as a kid, I wasn't a big lunch eater, so the lunch from home was usually just a chicken or ham sandwich and a thermos of milk or sometimes soup. The other kids seemed to think that this was pitiful so they'd give me their fruit or sandwich bags full of chips or even their Hostess cupcakes, none of which I ever wanted although I think I ate at least some of it to be polite. These days, I rarely eat lunch and when I do I end up dragging through the afternoon.

    1. I tend to be more of a grazer than a meal-eater nowadays. I went through phases of loving lunch and not eating lunch when my schedule was more conventional. Sometimes I wish I ate lunch like a normal person from a lunch box, but being able to cook my own food while working from home is probably healthier. If I am out, I often just have a snack until I can come home and make a real meal.

  3. I think in the 50's, all lunches were functional lunches. I know sometimes my mom packed something hot in a thermos for me (and I invariably dropped the thermos and broke its internal glass), but mostly I recall trading everything in my lunch (except the cookies) for others' milk. As a parent, my kids and I would go over the published lunchroom menu, and for the days they did not want to eat in the cafeteria, I made functional lunches. At one point, I tried to get my son to make his own lunches, but he let me know (not in so many words) that my making his lunch made him feel loved. I kept making his lunches.

    1. I agree that the visual appearance of lunches used to be much less ambitious--although, oddly enough I have read some memories of great, home-cooked cafeteria food from some bloggers. I think going over the menu with kids is a great idea and reinforces the need to be healthy--but also the fact that they have a choice in terms of what they eat.

  4. I was probably a combination of some of these at various points in my life...although I do remember all these types of lunches around my elementary school lunch table!

    1. The bento is a little bit after my time...but I was several of them...

  5. My son is starting school next year... and I reckon his lunchbox will be the ethnic ones... Ops! - LOL! My boy doesn't like sandwich and likes noodles and rice! I will probably make rice balls and noodle salad for him :)

    Btw, do you think the mum that made Neurotic Anorexic Mom's Lunch will get update when she sees your post???


    1. Haha--well, as long as he likes it, that is the important thing! I think it is great to have something besides a sandwich for lunch--probably healthier!

      I found (and credited the original photographers) those lunches on Flickr, so I don't know the real stories behind them...

  6. My kids love a variety of homemade lunches....they pretty much eat anything that I packed, from sandwiches to bento boxes. There's an "order" option from school but the kids aren't too excited about those. :)

    1. That's awesome that they love a variety of lunches--I would feel bad if I was a mom and 'had' to pack the same lunch every day. Heck, I would get bored!