I Refuse to Make My Kids' Lunch When the School Does It Better

school lunch

Never let it be said that I am not willing to admit when I was wrong, or to change a routine that’s become as comfortable and well-worn as a beloved pair of jeans. Just a few months ago I waxed poetic about my approach to school lunches — specifically, about the fact that I was packing my two boys the exact same foods day in and day out with precisely ZERO regrets over their less-than-diverse meal selection — and now I’m here to tell you I had it wrong. I had it all wrong, because when it comes to sanity, nutrition, and forcing my kids to think outside the lunchbox, the school cafeteria lunch is where it’s AT.

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I know, I know — wasn’t I just talking about how I had made peace with the fact that my kids were happily stuffing PB&Js in their sandwich-holes every single day? I WAS. But here’s what happened: one day I was helping out in my 6-year-old’s classroom, and I decided to join him for lunch. We got settled on that long, uncomfortable cafeteria table bench, next to all his little crumbsnatcher friends, and I was able to observe how he dealt with all the various foods I was lovingly packing in his lunchbox each day.

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Does anyone know where this story is going? I have a feeling some of you are nodding with grim recognition: HE THREW MOST OF IT AWAY.

Not all of it, but almost all of it. The baby carrots, the almonds, the raisins: he just tossed all that stuff aside without a second thought as he tore into his sandwich. “Wait a minute,” I said, clutching my forehead. “Have you been doing this every day?”

He HAD. At least, he nodded with a guilty smile before hurriedly explaining that sometimes he ate it, he just wasn’t super hungry right then. Yeah, right.

Dude, not only was it kind of a giant pain to pack all those lunch boxes the night before school, but newsflash: those roasted, salted almonds you claim to love so much aren’t exactly FREE. (Asshole.)

So we had a come-to-Jesus moment about lunch, in the sense that I was no longer willing to pack his loaves and fishes if they were merely destined to meet their fate at the bottom of the garbage bin.

I had to come in and walk him through the school lunch-buying process (“Here’s where you get your milk, here’s where you get your tray, here’s where you punch in your 4-digit PIN that loudly slurps money from Mommy and Daddy’s checking account like a straw searching for the last drop of root beer ...”), but once he was comfortable with it, he started getting really excited about what the hot lunch menu had to offer.

There are cheese quesadillas on there, after all. And pasta! And pizza! And on Fridays they give out half a cookie! PRAISE BE.

Our school lunch menu is actually remarkably healthy and diverse, at least in comparison to some of the horror stories I’ve heard about other public schools. They always offer unlimited fruits and vegetables from the “rainbow offering bar,” similar to a salad bar; most of the produce is fresh, and a good amount of it is local or organic. Our district emphasizes local food sources when possible, and at least three lunch entrées are offered each day for the picky eaters. Bread products are more than 50 percent whole grain, and vegetarian options are available every day.

In other words ... well, now that I’ve switched both my kids to eating the school lunch, they’re eating way better than before. They get more options, and the options are frankly more healthy than what I was sending in.

Plus, it forces them to get a little brave about food choices. My stubborn boys who tend to freak out over unfamiliar meals are being faced with new things each week, and they’re seeing their peers eat them without a single complaint. WIN. And I don’t have to pack up their lunch boxes anymore! DOUBLE WIN.

In conclusion, I should have been buying the hot lunch years ago. But like I said, I’m always happy to change my parenting decisions — especially if doing so makes my life a little easier.

Do your kids eat the school lunch or lunches from home?


Image via usdagov/Flickr

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