Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Lunch is lovely.

Lunch is your good friend you don't see so much anymore, but still treat each other on your birthdays. Lunch is the quick bite to eat with your co-worker that runs into a second (ahem...) glass of wine. Lunch is three women who are having a "meeting" about the school fundraiser, but talk about everything but. Lunch is you and your mom, with the happiest three-year-old sitting between her two favorite women. Lunch is your husband stealing home with chocolate in a pink bag.

Lunches, are a whole other ball of wax.

Lunches are what need to be taken care of on top of everything else. Lunches are what you spend time thinking about, shopping for and preparing, with no guarantee or confidence that they are getting actually, you know, eaten. Lunches are what you buy all sorts of cute, eco-friendly paraphernalia for, only to have them left in a locker for weeks.on.end. Yuck.

Lunches are also the gesture that you make so that they feel loved. That someone at home thought about them and sent an extra sweet. Bought that special sort of roll that they like. Remembered that they like sprouts, but not lettuce. Took the time to write a little note, or draw a little picture. It's the only way we can send a bit of our t.l.c. with them for their six or so hours away from the nest. Send them off feeling like you've done all you can; now they're somebody else's problem charge.

So, I make lunches.

I always make them the evening before. I have to. I can not imagine the extra task of putting together a lunchbox on a school morning. This way, I can take a little time to think it through, balance it out, get creative.

Because I have this theory about lunches; that while they won't eat anything weird, they are more likely going to eat something that's a little different. Novelty sells.

:: always at least one fruit; whole apples work, whole pears, not as well. Cut up kiwi, apple, cantaloupe. Or berries, whole. Strawberries get slimy if you cut them, but travel nicely, just stemmed. Apple sauce cups: awesome as a standby.

:: always some pretzels, with peanut butter, even. That, in and of itself, is practically lunch. Or tortilla chips and salsa. Rice crackers.

::Dry cereal or granola. Just plain. I bothered with a little box of milk for a while, until I learned it was routinely being given away.

:: always something else fresh: either carrots, celery, peppers...with dressing for some, hummus for some, tzatziki for others...plain vinegar for one, who shall remain nameless.

:: I've tried valiantly to send soup in a thermos, but it invariably either a) leaks out all over everything before or after lunch, or b) gets eaten successfully, but left to fester into a new kind of scary in the locker for a while before being returned.

I've decided they get enough soup at home.

:: Three of them love turkey with sprouts. Actually, it's sort of become turkeywithsprouts. Its own thing. Of course, then, there are still two of them who don't, so they get just turkey, no sandwich, and a pickle, please?

:: While we eat a lot of yogurt and cheese(except for one, who "doesn't like cheese," although she will eat pizza, lasagna, grilled cheese, and mac and cheese. Hi, Jo. I know you're reading this during Research Skills right now. Get back to work!) these items do not sell in a school lunch, for whatever mysterious reason.

:: And always a sweet. I may be a food tyrant. But I'm a generous tyrant. I'm not above a cookie. Or three. Or last night's brownies, wrapped in wax paper. I am completely not above bribing the kids in my life with food.

Here's the thing: I know that my kids may be the kids who are trading the organic fruit for Doritos. I suspect that some of them pull crumpled up dollar bills from their skinny jeans and buy a soft pretzel every day. I've already heard "Mom, everyone knows what I have for my lunch," and I hear the sound of crinkly wrappers in the back seat on the way home from downtown.

But this is what I can do. I can send them out the door with a healthy, thoughtful, organic, well-balanced lunch, with a silly little note and a recycled napkin. And hope for the best.

The best is that as they grow into their older selves, they will value good, fresh, food over nasty, processed, fast food. But mostly, they will recognize that healthy food is a choice they can make for themselves, and that my tyranny stemmed from love.

I've heard the groans. But the other night at dinner, I heard this:

In a discussion of the fabulousness of the brand new middle school cafeteria offerings, someone mentioned that there is a "top your own yogurt" station. And Callie said: "I would never eat cafeteria yogurt. I don't know where the cow's been."

Call her a budding food snob if you'd like, but she's really a nice girl. She's just a nice girl who wants to know where her food comes from.

For now, it comes from her Mom. That won't always be the case.

More tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

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Blogger Molly said...

Gorgeous post!
Thanks for a giggle and some 'lunch' for thought and some inspiration for my lunch-box packing future ...
Lunch v lunches - hilarious.

March 17, 2009 7:15 AM  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

Thanks for putting the daily work of so many lunches into beautiful perspective. If you didn't already have your hands full, I'd ask you to make one for me :)

March 17, 2009 8:00 AM  
Blogger Anna Ander said...

I love your reading, sorry meant, writing. I love to read what you write, this is what I'm trying to say. Over here children eat hot lunch at school (and pre-school, where mine are). Still, your lunches look pretty amazing to me.

March 17, 2009 8:18 AM  
Blogger Grey Cottage Studio said...

Such a great post. I fell into a lunch pit after my two year old was born, and let the kids buy their lunches. I have recently been making them again after they spent too many days eating bagels and jelly sandwiches from the school cafeteria. Thanks for the inspiration. Here here.

March 17, 2009 9:05 AM  
Blogger tangled sky studio said...

Have I told you how awesome your posts have been lately??? You rock!

ps...i too have a thing for lunches (i kept a great little write up on making lunches (from the times, i think) that i'll pass along if i can remember where i put it...hmmm

March 17, 2009 9:26 AM  
Blogger julochka said...

i love it!

i only have to make one lunch "packse" as we call them at our house, so i do in the morning. lately a lot of orders have been issued. pasta screws or bows with chopped up pieces of fresh carrot and cucumber is a hot item at the moment. tomatoes, even cherry ones, bite this time of year. and i always include a treat too ("far" on the other hand, does not, hence my lunches are the favorite). :-)

however, i think we should lunch one day. :-)

March 17, 2009 1:09 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I feel exactly the same way about lunches!!! Its so nice to hear someone's similar words!

March 17, 2009 7:06 PM  
Blogger Adam Glenn said...

So much love in a little lunch box! ... Thought of you when I read this interesting piece from yesterday's NY Times about the family "nutritional gatekeeper" -- it's even written by another Tara! It also includes a quiz to see what your cooking personality is. Enjoy!

March 18, 2009 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Alexis said...

Thanks for the inspiration! I generally hate making lunches because my kids like a really limited range of things and they switch what they like all the time. If I think of it as sending them off with an expression of my love, I bet I'll feel better about it.

March 18, 2009 2:40 PM  
Blogger 3BestFriends said...

I'm seriously jealous, your children get some of the most delicious lunches I've ever heard of. Keep up the good work!!

March 18, 2009 3:01 PM  
Anonymous emily said...

i love this post, tara. i pretty much hate packing lunches - which is ironic because of how much i love to cook. but it drives me nuts that food they love gets not-eaten, everything comes home but the cookie, one likes this the other likes that. add to that - at our school you can't take meat/poultry. anyway, i'm with you. and i LOVE callie's response to the school yogurt bar!

April 3, 2010 7:55 PM  

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