There is this thing that happens five mornings a week in my kitchen and, without fail, five mornings a week it gives me anxiety. This particular task fills me with such dread that I have developed a unique and totally involuntary physiological response to it: I sneeze. Not just once or twice, but incessantly. For about 20 minutes I’m just a non-stop sneezing machine.
So what is this terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad, sneeze-inducing task?
Packing school lunches.
Yep. School lunches. I don’t know why packing lunches for my kids is such a drag, but perhaps the fact that there are no fewer than 7,348 steps involved in the process has something to do with it. For those of you who need a little crash course in packing school lunches for your little darlings, it goes something like this:
- Open the lunch box. Discover that it smells like apple juice mildew and moldy bread, so spend the next 10 minutes washing and disinfecting this plastic-enshrined tomb for forgotten food scraps.
- Decide on a main course. Under normal circumstances your child will only eat marshmallows or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but schools are morally opposed to marshmallows for lunch and your child’s classroom is a nut-free zone, so both of your go-to’s are out. He also likes steak, but that’s just pretentious and probably wouldn’t taste any good by 11:13 anyway (P.S. Why are school lunches always at such random times???). He’ll eat lunch meat, but not as part of a sandwich because that would disrupt his dedication to no different foods touching in any way at any time. Decide to go the not-in-a-sandwich-lunch-meat route.
- Consider your options for packaging. I could put the lunch meat in a plastic baggie, but that’s just wasteful. If I put each individual food item in its own baggie every day, that amounts to something like 4.3 trillion plastic baggies over the course of his educational years. I love planet earth too much to subject her to such rash treatment. Decide on a reusable tin bento box: earth friendly and, as an added bonus, excellent fine motor skill development while the child struggles to figure out how to undo those awkward clasps.
- Pack a yogurt. 100% of the time one of the side items is yogurt because he will always eat the yogurt even when he refuses to touch the rest of the lunch. Yogurt counts as protein, dairy, and fruit so this is a good compromise. Plus, you can freeze yogurt the night before and it acts like a little ice pack in the lunch box. This makes you feel good because you already packed not-in-a-sandwich-lunch-meat, and that deserves to not be served at room temperature because E.Coli is not just a buzz word.
- Pack some crackers. Crackers are shelf-stable so you can buy the Costco box with 10 pounds of Goldfish crackers and not have to buy Goldfish crackers again until summer. This is why I win all of the parenting awards.
- Pack a fruit. He only likes fresh pineapple and mangoes when they are in-season, so pack him an applesauce squeezie pouch. Suffering builds character, and character builds society.
- Pack a sacrificial vegetable. It is required that you pack a vegetable even though you know he won’t eat it. You will be a terrible mother if you don’t pack a vegetable, so just do it. The good news is, since he will literally never touch this vegetable, you can actually just re-pack the same carrot sticks or snap peas every day until they start to go limp and somebody notices. It actually saves time and money in the long run.
- Pack a juice box. But not just any juice box. He won’t drink the healthy no-sugar-added-organically-good-for-you ones because he’s as stubborn and sugar-ly inclined as his mother. He also won’t drink certain brands because they “taste like tomato juice” or “leave a funny taste in his mouth”. Buy the ones that make the biggest mess if you squeeze them the wrong way, and just hope that when he does The Big Squeeze the straw is pointing away from his crackers because if they get soggy he won’t touch them.
- Pack a goody. If your school isn’t too stringent on their “no treats” policy, you might be able to sneak in a little goodie to serve as a chaser for their yogurt and Goldfish cracker lunch. Personally I like fruit snacks because they have the word “fruit” in the title and I still feel bad about forcing the applesauce on him again, but a cookie or a Rice Krispie treat would work just as well.
- Look at your mod-podge lunch and curse the moms who started this whole Pinterest lunchbox revolution. Why did somebody ever have to plant the idea that food should look like a dinosaur or a sunshine or a unicorn jumping over a rainbow? Why can’t we just put some food in a bag and pray that he’ll eat some of it like in the good ‘ol days?
- Write an encouraging note. I’m pretty sure he just uses the notes as a napkin but, hey, whatever works.
- Oh, yeah! Pack a napkin.
- Remember to put the lunchbox into his backpack. Because if you forget to put the lunchbox into his backpack then he’ll have to buy school lunch. And if he has to buy school lunch then all of your lunchbox packing was for nothing. And if all of your lunchbox packing is for nothing, then maybe you shouldn’t even bother…
- Add $3.50 to his lunch account, and munch on lunchmeat and applesauce for breakfast.
- Vow to spend this summer teaching your kid to pack his own lunch.
- Repeat steps 1-15 tomorrow and every school day for the next 13 years.
Go forth, and may the joys of packing school lunches be ever in your favor!