Lunch used to be a simple affair. Mom (or grandma) would call us in from playing, OUTSIDE, to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, glass of milk and apple. Period. There were no menu options and there was no complaining. (once, when I complained that I didn’t want to eat my dinner salad, my grandma promptly poured the rest of the salad into my empty milk cup, put it in the fridge and it became my breakfast. We learned , quickly, not to complain about food!)
Once school started things changed very little. Mom was a fan of Adelle Davis, and we were sort of hippies, so I didn’t even know about processed foods like Kraft cheese or Wonder bread. We never drank soda or had candy, except the little bit of fruit shaped beauties in our Christmas stockings (which was SO special and still warms my heart to this day because my mom searched high and low to find them until I was in my 30’s!). Breakfast was usually oatmeal (the old fashioned way, big and chunky) because mom said we needed something to “stick to your ribs”. Some days she would make us a Tiger’s Milk smoothie with banana to wash down our chewable vitamin C tabs (I always wished for Flintstone‘s). Our school lunch was PB&J on whole wheat bread, usually homemade, an apple, and 2 cookies. Not 3. Not 4. TWO homemade cookies every time. We bought a carton of milk in the cafeteria to go with.
Every day, I watched my classmates blissfully eating bologna sandwiches on that fluffy Wonder bread, the perfectly wrapped Ding Dongs, or the creme filled Twinkies. Rather than milk, they often had soda in their brown bags.
I’m not gonna lie. I resented my mom for making us eat healthy food. Didn’t she know she was ruining my social life? Friends asked me, “why doesn’t your mom buy real food?!” I had no idea. I figured she just didn’t care enough to throw down for the amazing bread that, “Helps build strong bodies 12 ways…”
Nearly 20 years ago, when I became a mom, it all made sense to me. As soon as I found out I was expecting, I gave up meat and bought organic produce. When my son (and then 3 daughters over the next few years) started eating food, it was real food. Not those scary little vegetables and hot dogs in jars. I took whatever we were eating and blended it until they were able to chew. As a result, all 4 of my kids will eat most anything, have never had ear infections, rarely get the yucky colds that make the rounds at school, and are generally happy and healthy little (and not so little) humans.
During my Summer Farm Camps, I have been observing the kids and their lunches. What they like and how they treat their food. I see the difference between the kid who thinks nothing of throwing pretzels at a friend, and the one who drops her PB&J tortilla in the grass, picks it up, brushes it off and eats it. The girl who lets out a happy giggle when she opens her bento box to find big fat strawberries, and the one who takes 2 bites of her sandwich, then throws it away, calling the rest “crust”. My favorite was the 5 year old who opened his lunch box, showed me the variety of whole and healthy foods inside and said, “see, I told you my mom was the best!”
It makes me really sad to see kids lacking respect for their food. What it takes to grow, cook, and prepare it. What it means to have enough money to buy it and spend the time packing it into that cute little lunch tote. Even when I resented my earthy lunches, I knew how much it meant to be able to have it. That my mom wanted us to have the best she could offer and it was all packed up in that little brown bag, with love.
As our kids start a new school year, I hope that we can find a way to help them appreciate good, healthy, natural foods. To appreciate having enough, and not wasting it. And especially, to appreciate the person who packs their lunch, with love.
For lots of great lunchbox ideas, using real food, visit http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/