Making School Lunches, Making Me Crazy

When I was in my early twenties, I smoked cigarettes. I remember getting that feeling of dread as the pack started to run out. I’d hear the few remaining sticks slapping against the cardboard box as I walked. It felt like the ticking of a timer in my life telling me to go to the store and pick up more. It was all very Edgar Allan Poe.

Thankfully, it has been a long while since I smoked. In fact, my vices are all pretty much under control. There is really nothing that I need to do every single day that can produce that same visceral sense of worry when supplies run low.

Well, except for making my kids’ school lunches. It’s my edible nemesis and my new daily nightmare. Welcome to fatherhood, pops.

My two kids have a checklist of items needed each day for school. Ready? Four slices of bread. Four slices of cold cuts. Four slices of cheese. Two juice boxes. Two sweet snacks. Two non-sweet snacks. Two other rotating things – cheese stick, carrot, or applesauce usually. And two ice frozen packs.

lunch.jpgSound like an easy task? Sure does. Now realize that this easy task pretty much only takes place between the hours of 10pm and 6am. That’s the twist that makes School Lunches: The Game so difficult to master. The final boss is Father Time.

The difference between cigarettes and bread is that you can power through lack of nicotine with sheer will power. My kid’s lunches, I can’t. Skip a few of those and they send people to your house with a van to gather them up.

The first three items on that list all pertain to sandwiches –  the centerpiece of a school lunch. My son, in a pinch, can be given peanut butter and jelly. He doesn’t complain and, it’s not just because he’s non-verbal. It’s because he’ll eat anything. Of course, he comes home with it painted all over his face like a PB&J monster, so that’s a definite negative. The plus side though is that he doesn’t require an ice pack for it. See? It’s like playing Jenga. One piece in, one piece out.

My daughter never wanted Peanut Butter and Jelly because, at her elementary school, they made you sit at the “Peanut Butter and Jelly Table.” Citing allergies and reports of a tiny PB&J monster running around town, the kids who bring nut butter to school are exiled to another part of the cafeteria. She’s a creature of habit, so the option that sent her from her usual table was, well, off the table, so to speak.

Sometimes Olivia would get creative and start requesting random items to replace her sandwiches. She’d spin yarns from the lunch room that sounded like an explorer returning from foreign lands with tall tales of feast and fortune. They were stories of roasted pigs with apples stuffed in their mouths and Crème Brule slightly flambeed from the tattered torch of a local shaman all enjoyed by her classmates. I was treated to food fables that would make Emeril LaGasse feverish

These Joneses require a lot of keeping up, but I’m always up for a challenge. So, I would put on my invisible chef’s cap and decide to class the joint up. I heat the pasta until it’s just hot enough and stick it in her lunch thermos. Then I use spray butter without sauce, because “sauce is gross” – whatever that means. On the side, I enclose a tiny piece of Tupperware with Parmesan “shake” cheese in it. It’s a whole process. I imagine applause when I finsh. She heads to another day of learning with an artisanal experience awaiting munch time.

Upon her return, I ask how her special lunch was.

The pasta was mushy. Can you just make me a sandwich tomorrow?

In my mind, I take a sledgehammer to the walls of the house while screaming in tongues. Outward, I do the parent thing.

Sorry you didn’t like it. I’ll make you a sandwich tomorrow.

Two weeks later, she asks for pasta and the process begins again.

I know what you’re thinking. Why can’t my kids just get school lunch? When you factor in cost of groceries, a small fee every day for the ease of not packing seems fine. Luckily, it’s not about money for us. When it comes to school lunches for children, it shouldn’t be about money for anyone, but that’s another talk for another day.

It’s about their specialized preferences. My son will only eat brunch for lunch. It’s waffles and, I think, chicken. Maybe not. Either way, he likes it. They serve it every Wednesday. Unfortunately, I usually remember every Thursday.

My daughter is pickier. She hates everything they serve. Much like the vilified “sauce”, her meals from Lunch Lady Land comes packed with hatred and tales of woe. What’s the big deal, though? When I was a kid, I ate meatball heroes. Why can’t she? What in the name of parmigiana is so freakin’ bad about meatball heroes from school?

Daddy, no. Please. The meatballs are so gross. Marci threw one against the wall and it stuck there for the whole lunch period. We watched it slide down and then dared Nick to eat it.

OK, first of all, that’s disgusting.  Second of all, the melodramatic pleading gets me every time. Third, it defeats the whole purpose of having her buy. I need to feed this kid. If she’s throwing her lunch against the wall, then I’ll still be getting that van visit at some point.

So, there I am. It’s a quarter to midnight, I’m standing in front of a cabinet and cursing at the lack of Cheese-Its. Most days, though, I find them and lunch goes off without a hitch. That’s most days. We won’t talk about the few when they don’t. Instead, let’s focus on the positive. Lunches are ready for tomorrow and there’s nothing else to worry about…

Oh no. I forgot to buy waffles. They have to eat breakfast too!