Sack Lunches: A Mixed Bag for Mom

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July 2012

Food, notorious, FOOD: a four-letter word that frequently garners hair-raising reactions from parents. Consumption-related issues stir up a buffet of parental feelings like guilt, concern, dread, elation and utter madness. Newbie moms jump chest first into sustenance stress over breastfeeding: Should I? Shouldn’t I? Can I? Is it enough? Too much? Next, stir crazy and high on Desitin, first-time mommies attempt dining out with infants, thereby experiencing second tastes of food-induced tension. Before real napkins unfold, previously unconscious angels awaken mid-shriek, and green flags posing as hot entrees signal the start of Hunger Games, Young Family Edition. After inhaling a few mouthfuls of the first meal in weeks that they didn’t prepare, moms race to relieve hungry dads who’ve been pacing restaurant parking lots trying to comfort squirming air raid sirens.

As kiddie appetites develop, dinnertime evolves into a whinefield of explosive, “You always make that!” or “I told you I hate it!” and the ever-popular “Make something else!” So, mom-magicians conjure up ways to disguise vegetables, creating illusions that they taste better than the last time dramatic little critics spit them out. Admittedly, I unwittingly created this crumby situation, but even parents who begin their journey riding the holier-than-thou, all-natural, organic, no-nugget train eventually disembark. Once child No. 2 doubles the motherload, Ronald McDonald transforms from antichrist to savior. 

Food is also an efficient way to screw up kids when used as bribes, rewards, solace, guilt trips or scare tactics involving infamous “rickets,” which, like elusive permanent records, nevertheless inspire trepidation. Some parents are conflicted in a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do way. They truly want their kids to buy into your body is your temple self-love, yet they’re simultaneously starving themselves on trendy diets, unintentionally passing along future weight gain in pounds and emotional baggage.

Like thighs and cellulite, food and fear are forever linked. Nowadays, parents worry about obesity, pesticide and preservative use or eating disorders. My parents’ generation read price tags, not labels. They didn’t know a trans fat from an heirloom tomato, and they suffered no qualms serving meals from cans, boxes or cardboard buckets. Somehow, kids survived. Apparently, ignorance is blissful and immune to high fructose corn syrup.

My gastronomic Achilles’ heel has always been school lunches. Raising a posse of persnickety palettes thwarted me from simply popping three of everything into three sacks. Instead, my daily doom included making three entirely different lunches. Only cafeteria pizza days provided breaks. Pizza, claimed my cuisine connoisseurs, is part of the essential group, Normal — adjacent to Regular — on the Food Pyramid, Kid Edition.

Still, I didn’t shrink from all munchkin lunches. Throughout my battles with brown bags, I’d occasionally join my child for lunch at elementary school. However, it wasn’t the menu, but the entertainment that drew me. The deals dinky diners negotiate across sticky tables for 16 would impress Donald Trump. I saw kids trading, selling and trashing lunches, and discovered which lucky students wound up with my blood, sweat and tears in Ziplocs. For dessert, children clean up after themselves! For parents, that’s better than French pastries … in France!

Veteran suggestions before you go:
• Bring earplugs. They’ll dull ear-piercing to a comfortable roar. (Lunchroom personnel are either Zen masters or deaf.)
• Wear old clothes. Beware spills, spews and splashes.
• Surprise children. The food-between-their-teeth smiles upon spotting you guarantee an instant good mood.
• Don’t attempt at middle schools. Been there, done that, cried all the way home.

On parenting “importance meters,” organizing sack lunches may barely surpass removing chewed gum from wastebaskets. Although, similar to a witness forced to testify, I was a hostile short order cook because the alternatives were harder to swallow. Kids packing their own provisions or skipping meals altogether only serves up new courses of trouble. Parents acquire pet peeves, and this peeved me. I figure, had I been compensated monetarily for time spent planning, shopping and assembling paper bag lunches, I could’ve hired Wolfgang Puck to take over.

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