Submitted by Mari Farthing, OWB Admin
In elementary school, I had a red Snoopy lunchbox. But I didn’t carry it to school—I used it to hold my crayons. We had a small table in our big lunchroom that held the “cold lunch” crowd—meaning the kids who brought their lunch from home. The table held a certain mystique for me, as I was a “hot lunch” kid and sat with my tray among the unwashed masses.
This was back in the day when you ate what was put in front of you and did not toss your tray if you didn’t eat your vegetables. Hot lunch was where I developed my love of powdered-sugar topped crispy edged brownies and pear halves in syrup. My personal favorite lunches were rectangle pizza day and mock chicken legs—as I understand it, mock chicken legs were vaguely chicken leg-shaped patties of breaded ground meat (possibly veal), served with mashed potatoes, chicken gravy and other things that escape memory. Mock chicken leg day always meant double lunch.
I do recall bringing cold lunch once or twice—usually featuring sandwiches of white bread, bologna and thick American cheese (not the individually-wrapped singles) or Skippy Super Chunk and raspberry jam. The allure of the accessories of the cold lunch table was strong. Those shiny lunchboxes and stout, short thermoses called to me! The cold lunch table was an exclusive little table tucked into an alcove, holding fewer people than my own dining room table at home (we were a big family). Of course, when I would eat at the cold lunch table, it just wasn’t the same. All my friends were eating hot lunch, and I would look longingly over to them, missing that conversation. And yes, there were a few kids with shiny lunchboxes, most of us had brown paper sacks (well worn in many cases) or old bread bags to carry lunch.
Junior high I seem to have blocked from memory.
High school was remarkable only because of the bank of vending machines along the wall, where I would get my daily can of soda and bag of chips. Along with the lunch line, there was a portable salad bar where you could load up your plate with salad. Popular with the girls, because we would pool our money after buying sodas and chips and then share a giant plate of salad. That didn’t last long until the staff caught onto our ploy. No sharing!
Nowadays, my fifth grader buys a hot lunch every now and again when the menu piques her interest (steak fingers are the new mock chicken legs), but mostly packs her lunch. Blessed with foodie parents, she often carries leftovers in her stout little thermos—sometimes daddy’s fried rice, sometimes mommy’s pesto chicken—or a pasta salad in a plastic container. And yes, occasionally, even a bologna sandwich.
My new seventh grader, the one who wanted to use the fancy lunchbox last year, now eschews the accessories in favor of an unobtrusive brown paper sack. He has a freedom I don’t remember having, bringing part of his lunch from home and spending a buck or two on pizza or sandwiches brought in from local fast food joints.
Both kids are happy to take homemade “lunchables”—basically cheese and crackers with fruit and pickles. They are thrilled and think they’re getting a treat but I know I’m hitting all the food groups. Win-win!
What’s in your lunch box?