School Lunches – To Pack or Not to Pack?

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school lunches

Ahhh school lunches, from junior kindergarten until ….? It is our responsibility to send our dear offspring to their daily grind with a box full of nutritious food that will sustain them throughout their entire day of learning and play.

It has to be durable, fresh, be quickly accessed and consumed, healthful, be without excess litter, and without contaminants to other children. It has to last through two lunch breaks in the school day, and it cannot be laden with sugar, sodium, preservatives, plastics, artificial colours or flavours. Oh yes and it has to hit all the food groups according to the Canada Food Guide sent home from the school or the kids are criticized by school staff – but if it’s too healthy they are criticized by their peers – AGH! No wonder I have grey hair.

We are in our ninth school year, surely we have the hang of it by now. Not quite – every year the end of June brings rejoice from the kids for the end of school-confined days. Celebration also rings out from the kitchen as I dance around shouting YEAH NO MORE SCHOOL LUNCHES!

Inevitably, September rolls around again and we are back to the bag lunch; end of summer freedom, stress-free picnics and platters of snacks on the go for busy kids. Watermelon on the beach is apparently WAY better than watermelon cut up in a container, it is always mushy or bland, same with raspberries: no no, that 15 bucks worth of fresh berries is sugarless coulis by the time it spends the morning in the backpack container. Fragile fruit does not suffer well the grade-school traveler.

Salad? Soggy. Veggie sticks? A fortune in dips. Boiled egg? Allergens. Cold meats? Nitrates. Sandwiches? Not for my Lovelies. The list goes on… I have consulted every cookbook and website imaginable for tips and tricks.

Over the years I have sent everything possible, home made every option just to go back to varying with store bought goodies, have even have talked my kids into “liking” cold leftovers from dinner. Many times.

We have brainstormed, argued, and grocery shopped together, I have asked the kids to make the lists, I have even sent the kids into the STORE with my debit card!

And really, they are not picky eaters, it is just the limits for what stands the test of school lunches – it can bring an iron mother down.

After much coaching, some expensive mini cans of sodium-light V8 juice in the fridge, and a weekly pot of homemade soup for the thermoses, the girls finally became 100% in charge of packing their own lunches. Grade five, and sin of sins, I transitioned them into being solely responsible for the task.

There was even a time not that long ago when I worked early mornings, left for work before the girls awoke, and they were ultimately incumbent for their day’s provisions. They didn’t mind, after some grumbling and a few hungry afternoons they began to trust my advice and seven and a half years’ experience in lunch kit packing, and they rationed out their supplies like good little growing soldiers. This went on for a good year or so, and then…

I got cancer. I regressed…things changed, and I am now home much of the time.

Somehow I have landed myself back in the hot seat. I was up at 6 a.m. today bagging muffins and washing strawberries before basketball practice. Me. Coffee getting cold, hair sticking up, holding yogurt cups calling out “blueberry or vanilla?” to the almost-teens in the bathroom.

What have I done??

Please understand, I love my daughters to no end, and it is because of this love and deep concern for their future well-being that I feel it is an important aspect of my role to teach them independence. Surely once a child reaches the age where they complain about washing the dishes from the meal they ate, they can be active participants in the tasks involved in feeding them all damned day.

But I love buttering muffins and washing strawberries… and I’m here anyway, resting, drinking my coffee, “being present in the moment” and “making the most out of life.” I may as well be practical while I’m just hanging around!

They didn’t ask me to do it, and I don’t feel obligated, but it is a funny situation to be doing it again, and as I sip my now cold coffee after the stress of them running out the door, I wonder where the shift occurred.

Is it because I just love them so much, or because there is likely only one more grade after this to pack school lunches in anyway so why not just enjoy it? Is it because I want to make their lives just that little bit easier now that they have extra stress imposed upon them by my health problems? Or because I can’t stand the bickering and butt-dragging that goes along with most chores for a teenager? Perhaps because I just need to keep my hands busy or I’ll go nuts.

Likely all of those things. But… Have I done something bad? Maybe they have pulled one over on me and one day my grandchildren will curse my name because their mothers do not know how to pack proper lunches for school!

Or will the girls and I be happy that we got to spend this time together again, me at home with them, me being their mother again. Me not exactly teaching them how to balance work and home, but at least them having a fresh chicken salad wrap and clean fruit.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do laugh at myself, thinking I will likely someday come to appreciate the lunch kit stress that I get to exchange for kisses on the cheek and sweet voices saying “Thanks Mom.”

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About Author

Natalie Richardson is a mother to identical twins, writer and melanoma survivor. When diagnosed in 2014, her initial reaction was that it’s “just skin cancer.” Today, after going through multiple surgeries, a clinical trial and experiencing the devastating impact the condition can have, she regrets this misperception. She now advocates to raise awareness about this deadly disease and has been sharing her journey on her blog, The Impatient Patient.

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