Family life

Why school lunches aren't as bad as I thought

Susan Goldberg takes over lunch duty for the first time — and discovers it isn't all that bad.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

Several years ago, Rachel and I entered into a pact, and that pact was this: I would take sole responsibility for all laundry in the house, while she would be solely in charge of school lunches.

Read more: 7 back-to-school lunch ideas >

It was, as far as I was concerned, a pretty sweet deal. Laundry, at least to me, is fairly mindless and soothing. It fits in well with my home-office existence — wake up, throw in a load of dirty clothes, transfer them to the dryer as a little break from work, sort, fold, put away. No one ever complains about having clean clothes, and the job has become a bit easier ever since I started insisting that the boys fold and put away their own freshly laundered duds. (Of course, they have long since stopped folding and simply shove the clean clothes into their drawers, but that’s not really my problem.)

Lunches, on the other hand, are fraught with angst. The thought of trying — daily! before 8 a.m.! — to slot various healthy foodstuffs into tiny Tupperware containers in a pre-caffeinated fugue seemed, well, stressful to me. My kids aren’t big sandwich eaters, which is pretty much a moot point since we can’t pack peanut butter or tuna fish in any case. They’re both good eaters, but they tend to eat entirely different things. And then there’s the balance between sending them a lunch full of food they will actually eat and sending them a lunch full of food that is actually healthy. There’s the pressure to go litterless. And there’s the planning: nothing worse than facing a nearly empty fridge at 7:48 a.m. on a Thursday and trying to figure out if marinated artichoke hearts and some canned corn will cut it.

Read more: School lunches: Fun printable meal planner >

And yet, over the past year, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, the idea of making lunches has become more appealing to me. So much so that sometime in August I made the mistake of musing, out loud, in front of Rachel, about the idea of taking over lunch duty.

You know how that ended, don’t you?

So, I am now the resident lunch-maker of the household. And because I am me, this means that I have to win at lunch. Not win against Rachel at lunch — just win. Against the world. Or my own meticulous standards, honed from reading countless articles about taking the stress out of school lunches, and all those blogs where parents take pictures of little Cody’s pristine bento box with hand-rolled sushi and asparagus foam.

So far, so good. It’s been a little over a week and I haven’t heard any complaints. Although I haven’t yet posted a neatly typed list of lunch options to the refrigerator wall, I do have a fairly legible handwritten tally going. I have kept children in two different flavours of muffins (banana chocolate-chip for Isaac and blueberry-oat for Rowan). I have eliminated disposable yogurt containers in favour of vanilla yogurt (cut with plain yogurt — don’t tell my kids) in, yes, those mini Tupperware containers — and I have even taking the lunch-geek step of prepping a week’s worth of those yogurt containers and pre-packing all those muffins, just like the articles tell me to. And yes, it does make life easier to simply pull them out in the morning and stuff them into the lunch bags.

Today, I sent Isaac with a banana protected from the slings and arrows of his backpack by encasing it in an air-fill plastic bag. His eyes lit up.

Rachel tells me I’m becoming much more territorial about leftovers. “Can I eat this piece of pizza?” she asked me, carefully, this morning — likely the result of my careful hoarding of Sunday’s leftovers of shepherds pie. “Yes,” I told her. And then I handed her an extra muffin that I had held back just for her.

I’ll keep you posted on how this goes. Who knows: by mid-November, I may well be packing them yogurt tubes and artichoke hearts and stale hunks of mouldering bread, but for now I’m feeling the lunch win.

And I have to admit, it’s awfully nice to find my clothes, freshly laundered, folded neatly on my dresser.

 

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