Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hot Lunch is for Sissies

Last year, Eli and Natalie ate hot lunch everyday at school. They enjoyed it, but got bored with the rotating two week, kosher menu. I was grateful for the relatively inexpensive alternative to my packing their lunch, but was sort of disgusted by what they were eating for lunch.

The novelty of hot lunch wore off quickly when it became clear that the food was mostly “kid-friendly” processed, previously frozen, full of preservatives, and relatively mundane. Just because it is kosher does not mean, in my opinion, that it is healthy. My kids have never really eaten that kind of food, and they have somewhat advanced taste buds, so I was pretty shocked that they even wanted to have hot lunch.

At their school, hot lunch is cool.

The cafeteria at a Jewish school is set up differently. The kids either eat the kosher hot lunch or they can bring their own kosher (dairy only- no meat) lunch from home. This segregation is based on dietary law not a popularity contest.

Since CJ must maintain a gluten free diet, he did not have the luxury of choosing- for CJ it was packed lunch every single day and he could have cared less. He sat with the packed lunch kids, and the other two sat with the hot lunch bunch. I assume it is six of one, half a dozen of the other- in kindergarten there are not band geeks, jocks, Goths and stoners. Yet.

When the highlight of kosher hot lunch is called “Sloppy Jones” you can understand my reluctance to get on board. I did some checking and Sloppy Jones and Sloppy Joes are one and the same. Six year old kids hear things the way the want to. Regardless of dietary law, sloppy joes, chicken cutlets and pizza bagels are not something I would readily encourage my children to eat- at school, in a restaurant, or at home.

Trust me, my angels eat their fair share of pure crap at home and in restaurants, but even then, I feel like I have some control. I prefer to engineer the eating of the forbidden foods. With hot lunch, I was at the mercy of the institutional menu and that crazy train was stopping at the station.

I was already packing CJ’s dairy based, gluten-free lunch plus three snacks and Charlotte’s nut free, preschool lunch, so it would not have been that much extra work to make Eli and Natalie a lunch too- but I let them decide. This year, everyone is getting a lunch and three snacks from home. Gone are the days of sloppy jones and here are the days of fresh, relatively nutritious choices.

This comes at a price for me- the cost goes way beyond groceries. It takes time to buy, prepare, pack and plan four lunches, five days a week. It would be so much easier and probably more cost effective to let them have a cafeteria lunch- but that is not how we roll now.

There are three times during the 8-4 day where the kids can select a snack from their backpack or lunch bags. The school does not provide snacks and I am thrilled to be able to offer my own kids what I want them to eat. If the school provided three snacks a day I can assure you they would be kosher, preservative filled, food dye laden products that can be served rain or shine for pennies on the dollar. I am not complaining when I say I pack three snacks. I pack them to have a say in what they are ingesting.

I had awesome intentions at the beginning of the school year- only about a week and a half ago. I was going all granola, touchy feely, and green- I purchased re-usable containers, bento box,

laptop style lunchboxes and I was ready to conquer the world. (Until I worked 8 plus hours away from home and had to clean out, and repackage each crack and crevice of the BPA free lunch containment systems, that is.) That was what I would lovingly call, bull-shit.

To put an end to my misery, I rationalized the following: Buying the cheap-ass fold over sandwich bags, 500 for $1 at the dollar store, purchasing individually portioned containers of hummus and various dips, spreads and toppings at Costco, was actually a smaller carbon footprint than running the dishwasher an extra time every single day. Whether or not this is true; remains to be seen. I do not care.

You can’t put a price tag on my sanity. Period. You will not find me up until midnight wiping dried Greek tzatziki yogurt sauce from Tupperware or scraping crusted peanut butter from the 12 odd sized lids anymore. I did for a week and it is over. I am so over it. The 4 laptop lunch box systems are stacked
and sitting on the counter collecting dust. I will gladly give these to someone who has one child, or endless patience and an OCD personality disorder.

So I am clear: this newfound love of disposable, homemade lunches is about the value of my time and laziness. I mean really, wouldn't you rather waste time on facebook, and have dialogue with your fake internet friends than scrape bits of food from BPA free containers?

With all the work it takes to come up with a variety of kosher, dairy, gluten free meals that can sustain a backpack, I decided, hot lunch is for sissies. Real parents make their own kids’ lunches. Or two, three or four.

Someday, in the not so distant future, when my children are older and are trying to undo all the psychological damage I have caused, they will read the blog and learn the logic behind my decisions and choices. I can truly state that I cared enough to pack your meals, my precious children. Your mother made sure you ate well balanced, nutritious meals that filled your bellies and enriched your lives. She chose natural, whole foods over the microwaved garbage that was disguised as hot lunch. As you sat with all the other freaks at the packed lunch table, you can be assured, I meant no harm.

I still maintain that hot lunch is for sissies.


Kari said...

I agree that hot lunch is for sissies, but may I suggest that you let the kids learn to pack their own lunch? Mine have been dong it since Kindergarten (with my final approval) and they do a great job. Either way, I am completely with you on the baggies-vs-containers. Paper goods are much more environmentally friendly in my family. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Not to mention the sanity thing.

Helene Eichenwald Slutsky said...

Not yet. I barely let Jeff in the kitchen. There's no way. I'd willingly buy lunchables before I'd let them pack their own. Shudder. Maybe I'll prepack a section of the fridge and they can grab 6 bags plus a drink. Maybe.

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