Last year we had 165 days of school here in Eugene, Oregon. My oldest son managed to get perfect attendance (he was singularly focused on this goal as the last day of school approached, despite my killjoy assurances that he would in fact not be featured in the local paper for his stunning achievement), and he never purchased a meal from the school cafeteria. That means I fixed him 165 school lunches throughout the year ... and here's my humiliating confession: he had the exact same lunch every time.
That may be a slight exaggeration, but when I say slight, I mean slight. His main entree never changed even once. It was a PB&J, on whatever that creepily soft white-yet-whole-grain bread is. The peanut butter brand never changed. The jelly was always blackberry. My son's lunch was like Steve Jobs' famous closet, only instead of black turtlenecks and jeans, it was day after day of the same old sandwich.
I ... okay, I'm not particularly proud of this.
In my defense, my son is annoyingly picky, and I had no intention of fixing him a variety of things that would inevitably get thrown in the dumpster. I'm also not a terribly creative lunch-packer: you know those bento lunches with the foods shaped like panda faces and whatnot, and there are like 43,640 different ingredients in each adorable pint-sized container? Well, let's just say I am not drawn to attempt those lunches. Let's just say even seeing a shared photo of one of those lunches kind of makes me want to poke a panda right in its stubbornly-refusing-to-mate hind end with a pointy piece of bamboo.
Anyway, I felt like I'd settled on a fairly nutritious lunch menu, if not organically ideal or Paleo-friendly or served with a chilled thermos of kefir and chia seeds. He had the peanut butter and jelly sandwich: carbs, protein, fat. And yes, sugar, but shut up. He had a squeeze container of unsweetened applesauce and a handful of baby carrots. Lastly, he had unsalted almonds or peanuts in the shell (and no, there were no nut allergy kids in his class).
And he loved it. Ate every bite. Was 100 percent happy to have it again the next day and the day after that and the day after that. Was there really any compelling reason to rock the boat and insist that he try different things during the one meal I didn't preside over? I felt like I had enough to focus on with school -- was he happy? Liking his teacher? Making friends? Doing okay academically? -- without fretting over whether he was properly refueling during their short lunch break.
But I realize it's kind of a weird thing to admit, and truth be told, I do feel a little guilty. I don't know any parents who admit to doing an instant-replay on lunch throughout the entire school year.
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The question is, what will I do next year? My youngest will be in school full-time too, which means twice as many lunches, and of course they don't like the same things. Maybe it's time I branch out from our PB&J-slathered rut. Maybe I'll make them eat the cafeteria lunch, which is inevitably far more diverse than what they normally eat. Maybe they'll create their own lunch ritual (my youngest has been in a cheese quesadilla phase for YEARS, although I don't imagine that would hold up well in a lunchbox). Or hey, maybe I'll actually get on board with the cutesy bento routine! Or ...
Give me a read on the craziness of sending in the same school lunch over and over. Go ahead, don't be shy, I KNOW you've got opinions on this one.