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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Can't Compete With Pizza

Sometimes I have thoughts that originate outside my kitchen. Sometimes. This is one of them. Kind of. It's still food related, but... um... aw hell. Alright, I confess, this is kitchen related, too.

Last week marked a very special occasion in our household. My five year old son, Monster, is officially a kindergartner. His first day, I completely embarrassed myself while becoming a living cliche. I got out of my car in the circle drive as I dropped him off to wave and snap photos, with parents behind me in their minivans, huffing and giving me the stinkeye for holding up the line.

Since then, I've taken a lot of pleasure in the little things--packing his afternoon snack into his Toy Story lunchbag, reading enthusiastic correspondence that come home from his teacher in his folder every night, secretly throwing away the endless piles of coloring book pages when he's not looking, and best of all, being able to drop off my kid while wearing the comfy pajama pants with the hole in the crotch, flip flops, and no bra. Oh yes. This is the high life, friends. I'm living the dream.

You see, in preschool, parents walked their tots to the door, buzzed them in, and walked them back to their classroom. Because I had to interact with real people who might judge me for traipsing around in my bunny slippers, I had to actually DO stuff in the morning, like brush my hair and wear pants. I'm not good at those things. It's a flaw, I suppose, but I don't believe you can get paid to make candy for a living if you don't secretly harbor a perpetual 7 year old somewhere deep down inside.

And anyway, my semi-homeless appearance aside, I wanted to know the opinions of other moms out there on school lunches. When we were buying supplies, Monster excitedly told me he wanted to pack his lunch. He'd spent all of preschool eating the mandatory school lunch, so a lunchbox of his very own was hip beyond belief. (Not to mention, it features Buzz Lightyear, and everyone knows Buzz is the lunchbox kingpin. You don't get cooler than that.)

So with more maternal glee than is probably natural, I spent a great deal of time planning creative lunches and putting together easy-to-eat items. In true Happy Baker fashion, I handcrafted shortbread cookies decorated with royal icing to pop into his lunchbox along with little cartoon notes from home to make him smile. And it didn't matter.

One week in, Monster climbs into my car after school and announces with a dramatic sigh, "They're having pizza for lunch tomorrow. I guess I won't get any." I raised an eyebrow. Passive aggression? Already? I must have missed that on the syllabus.

The next day, I enclosed a check in his folder for lunch money, and he bought pizza. He never went back to the ol' lunchbox. Buzz now hangs on our coathook, lonely and unloved, and probably slightly ashamed to have lost out to canned green beans and instant pudding. I miss making his lunches at night, and I miss sneaking little treats and surprises into his bag for him to find. My heart twinges to know my wee man is now able to make decisions and purchases all on his own, and that from 8:30 to 3:30, I hold no place in his day.

Then of course, there are the practical issues. I know a major concern is whether school lunches are even remotely healthy. Fruit products made with corn syrup, veggies packed and canned with salt, deep fried foods, everything with ketchup or cheese... it's worrying. I'm fortunate that Monster is a healthy kid. He's slender, super active, and not picky with food, so I don't worry too much about what he eats for one daily meal, but I will keep my eye out for any unhealthy habits that might arise and nip those in the bud.

Of course, there's the financial aspect, too. Lunches are up to $2.10 per day. That's $10.50 a week for someone else to feed him. I remember they were $1.25 when I was a kid, when I had to walk to school barefoot. Uphill! Both ways! In the snow!

When I think about it, though, I might actually save money by paying for lunch, instead of buying the groceries. I admit, with him eating lunch at preschool for the last year, I was a bit surprised by how much it costs to make 5 extra meals every week, plus his afternoon snack. Doesn't sound like much, but it really affected my already-tight grocery budget in a big way. I hadn't expected that.

So moms, what about you? Does your kiddo bring or buy? What's his favorite thing to eat? What was YOUR favorite lunch item when you were in school? Do you think buying a hot lunch is less expensive than packing one? Why or why not?


  1. Awwwww I LOVED reading this!

    I was never allowed to buy lunch at school. My mum said it was all "unhealthy, junk food". I remember being SOOO jealous of all the kids on Friday's when it was pizza day - and the cookies!!!! *Sigh* One could dream, right??

    I guess the grass is always greener though. I remember switching my 100% pineapple juice for a fruit rollup with Amy (then Venebel), and BJ giving me rolls of pennies to buy a 50 cent cookie! Other then that, I made do with my whole wheat sandwich, HALF a package of swiss rolls (yup - you know those little debbie snack cakes that come in pairs... my mum read on the side that a serving was ONE cake, so that's what I got!) and a piece of fruit.

    But, back to your questions, I think buying might actually be cheaper then packing. $11 bucks a week for lunch? Even if you did sandwiches, chips, a sweet, fruit and juice, the total of buying all those items (the bread, the fillings, the bags to put them in, etc) would probably be about $15. That, and don't they have nutritional standards they have to keep???

    Anyway, I have two crabby, clingy kiddos wanting my attention, so I'm going to just submit it! Thanks again for writing this! I loved loved loved it! :o) Rebecca

  2. That would hurt my hear too! I think it would be fun to come up with fun lunches.

    But I can remember being the kid who had to bring lunch and being jealous of all the overcooked canned green bean lunches. No one ever wanted to trade with me!

  3. I hate packing kiddo's lunches. During the last school year, I only did it on field trip days, but I've had to pack every day through the summer for camp. It's such a hassle, and I either feel guilty for using a bunch of ziplocks, or I have to buy a million tupperwares because he loses them. Plus, it's just one more thing on the to-do list. There's a lot of pressure to come up with things he likes, but not fall into ruts, and what he likes this week will be different next week.

    Like you said, it's one meal out of an entire day. Seattle's school lunches are relatively healthy, and they offer plenty of (often local!) produce options that my kid loves. It's so much easier to just let him buy. The only thing I really dislike is that he drinks chocolate milk every day - I wish they would get rid of that option.

    Unfortunately, my kid LOVES packed lunches. We've made a deal for the upcoming school year that we'll check out each week's menu, and he can pick 1-2 days per week that I'll pack his lunch. I fully realize that's backwards compared to most people, but that's how my family rolls :)


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