School Lunches

I do love writing.  When I have spare time I almost always spend it writing something for this blog, and when I do get something posted I always hope that somebody will read it and like it.  However, I’m very skittish about thinking of myself as A Writer because to me it sounds pretentious and also a little bit pathetic, like the high school lineman talking seriously to the career counselor about a pathway to the NFL.

Other than the fact that I occasionally neglect my responsibilities in order to write here, I don’t do much to indulge my writerly identity and ambitions.  Except for this one other thing: I recently bought Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and now I’m reading it.

Lamott tells her writing students that when they don’t know what to write, they should write about school lunches.  I found this advice intriguing, because in the seven years I’ve been writing here, this isn’t a topic I’ve thought to touch even once.  So in case I’m missing out on something really profound, I’m going to give it a shot.


I went to private school through the eighth grade, so I always brought a packed lunch from home. (At least until some genius began a hot lunch program on Fridays, where they brought in Chick Fil A sandwiches and Little Caesar’s Bigfoot pizzas on alternating weeks.  If I were to trace my sense of entitlement for weekly chicken sandwiches, it probably began here.)

Hot lunch days aside, my favorite treat was when we got to eat lunch outside on nice days, and three friends and I would each sit in a section of one of the four-square boxes painted onto the parking lot.  Abbey and Dawn were definitely in quadrants 1 and 3, but I can’t remember who sat diagonal from me: Heather, perhaps, or maybe Jennifer.  Knowing us, it’s quite possible that we actually made a calendar bestowing the honor of sitting in the fourth square on some lucky girls in an orderly rotation.

We’d lay out all the pieces of our lunches and I would be overcome with envy for the friend whose mom made sandwiches out of peanut butter and marshmallow cream, or the one who got Nacho Cheese Doritos in the snack-sized bag.  (On the rare occasions that I did get chips, my mom would have bought the big bag and given me a portion in a plastic baggie: Lame.)  The list of food items I remember coveting is actually quite long: Capri Suns.  Lunchables. A whole can of soda, wrapped in foil. A Star Crunch or both halves of a Swiss Cake Roll or Nutty Bar.  Pik-Nik potato strings. Fruit Roll-ups.  Those little individual serving cups of tuna with the mix-ins and the wooden paddle for stirring.


Dear Moms Everywhere: this is NOT a Lunchable.

I have this strong impression that my friends always got the delicious, unhealthy lunches while I always opened my lunch box to find a pita pocket stuffed with lean meat and veggies, with maybe a bunch of grapes on the side.  In retrospect, I have a hunch that this probably only happened once, and my ungrateful response convinced my mom that it wasn’t worth the effort to be creative with my lunch ever again.  But the fact still remains that the most vivid details in my memory are the contents of everyone else’s lunch box.  (Sorry Mom.  I love you!)

Now, of course, the tables have turned, and I’m the Lunch Packer.  Twice a week I send Abby to school with some uncreative combination of lunch meat, cheese, apples, carrots (unpeeled), and maybe a fruit leather for dessert.  In other words, the sort of lunch that would have made ten-year-old me cry toxin-free tears of disappointment.

Preparing my own lunch is my least favorite part of the day, and almost every day I wish that a simple, balanced, guilt-free lunch would magically appear in my refrigerator WITHOUT me having to do the work of grocery shopping and ingredient assembly.  A pita pocket, perhaps, stuffed with lean meats and veggies, with a bunch of grapes on the side– it would be a dream come true!

Clearly, youth is not the only thing wasted on the young.


11 responses to “School Lunches

  1. This is awesome. I am having the same issue now that I have to prepare a lunch to take to school EVERY DAY. Thankfully, we usually have leftovers in the fridge that serve as wonderful (and EASY) lunch options, but on the rare occasion that I have to actually think up something to put in my lunchbox, I long for someone else to do it for me. Today, however, I procrastinated in packing my lunch (because I was reading Allegiant), and I ended up with my first sandwich of the school year. Oh well. At least Mom isn’t around to tell me that Nutella is not an acceptable thing to put inside of that sandwich.
    Thanks for the profound thoughts on school lunches!

  2. Carolyn Dickinson

    This was terrific. I think you are a great writer! School lunches!! Your memories mirror mine even though they are decades apart. My lunches were lame, aka healthy, while i coveted others. Then I became The Mom and did the same thing to my kids. As a teacher, I lamented the junk filled lunches of my students which ensured a miserable afternoon for me. Ha! What a topic!!

  3. First of all, I loved Bird by Bird. I often resonate with her words when I finish a rough draft…of anything. 🙂 And I think our mothers were cut from the same cloth…the height of our lunches were the baggies of a few chips or half of a Nutty Bar package. Of course, we did have pizza on Thursday nights for dinner, so at least — in retrospect — I should be grateful for all of my Fridays’ worth of pizza leftovers!

    And secondly, I can’t help but think back on LOCS…

    I still remember looking down the bag of one 7 year old’s lunch at his white bread sandwich, a full can of soda, and an entire sleeve of oreos. I think I balked at that for years. Now, I’ve decided that a babysitter must’ve packed lunch that morning or something.

    And I think about the fact that THERE, “hot lunch” meant all kinds of good things that almost no one in the world actually gets to experience for their school lunches.

    And of course, I think about the goodness that was LUNCH BUNCH. Sigh…I still wish for it about every other day!

    • Yes, reflections on school lunches from a teacher’s perspective are quite different. Like Carolyn mentioned, I’d always watch those sugary lunches with a wary eye, and don’t even get me started on the kid who used 9 minutes of his 20 minute lunch period to microwave his Lean Cuisine…

      And, Lunch Bunch. I miss it so much.

  4. I am so happy I’m not responsible for packing lunches yet… but yeah, I’m totally going to be the “mean mom” that packs healthy food while everyone else gets glorious junk food. Last night I met a friend at Burger King to let our kids play in the indoor playground (gah why is it so cold?!?!?) and my 3 yr old promptly informed my friend that the burger she was eating was “junk food.” Which, yes, I know he picked up from me, but… hmm perhaps we need to start working on tact?

  5. Is fruit leather dentist approved?

    Clint Sent from my iPhone


  6. Is fruit leather dentist approved?

  7. I always wanted Spaghettio’s or Beenie-weenies in a thermos, Funyuns, and a Squeeze-it! PERFECT! Never got it, but my mom did try to make faces with food. I always wanted what my friends had, even if it was something gross like bologna, kraft singles, and mayo. Today, I look at my kids 1/2 eaten lunches and scarf it all down!
    The pita with lean meat and veggies sounds pretty delicious! That, and the fruit leather for dessert, of course!

  8. Ah yes, Lunchables! Everyone loved those! I remember how the kids who brought their lunch would trade with the kids who bought their lunch for things like the macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets. The grass is always greener…

  9. So, no surprise, Anne Lamott knows what she’s talking about! Thanks for all of your lunch memories. What a fun topic after all!

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