Podcast Ep. 9 Kids and School Lunches

Happy Day's Lunchbox

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As any kid who’s toted a lunch box to school can attest, this is no mere container for transporting nutritional sustenance to an educational institution. It’s an expression of self. And if your childhood was anything like David’s and mine, you wore your rebel yell on your lunch box. David’s was a thunderous yawp like that of Tarzan. For me, it was the Fonz’s purr-like “Ayyyy.” This wasn’t expressed everywhere in our lives, mostly just in our reaction to the lunches our mom packed us. But it’s what we had.

Tarzan Lunchbox

These days, though, it seems everyone—parents and picky eaters, principals and political officials—has a rebel yell about school lunches, whether the brown-bagged sort or the cafeteria type. The entire topic is a maze of mishaps waiting to be averted. Nut allergies. Vegetable quotas. Gluten sensitivities. Budget cuts. Chicken nuggets. Crusts or no crusts.

Sensing your barely contained frustration, we sought the advice of Debbie Koenig, a Brooklyn mom, blogger, cookbook author, and lunch-box whisperer. (She had a Hardy Boys lunch box. Ah, Shaun Cassidy.) She’s seen it all—the morning bickering about what’s for lunch, the vegetables that come back home untouched, the tears that accompany the wrong sandwich, and those oh-so-suspicious words “I bought the cafeteria lunch today.”

In our newest Small Bites podcast, Debbie talks us through some of the tricks she’s learned to help keep her son, Harry, fed during the week. Decently fed, mind you. Just as important, she divulges how she manages to do so without losing her sanity. After all, she gets parents, if you can’t tell from the title of her book Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals, and Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents (William Morrow, $16.99) which we included in our list of the best cookbooks of the year in 2012.

Take a listen, if only for the relief that comes from knowing you’re not alone in what seems a constant lunch tussle. That and the realization that chances are pretty darn good you have it easier than Momma Leite did back in the day. I mean, seriously, can you imagine packing lunch every day for David?

Tell us, what was your lunch box of choice when you were a kid?

And if you had it to do all over again, what would it be nowadays? Let us know in a comment below.

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Comments
Comments
  1. Melissa Maedgen says:

    Mine was plaid. Seriously, a classic red and green tartan, on the standard (back then) metal box. With matching plaid thermos. I’m sure I wanted something “cooler,” but now I’d give anything to have a plaid lunchbox like that.

  2. Teresa Wise says:

    Gosh, I have no memory of my lunch box although I know I had one. I remember the inside and the thermos very well. My goodness, brain freeze up.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Perhaps it’ll come back to you next time you have a PB&J or bologna and cheese or carrot sticks, Teresa…

  3. Martha in KS says:

    I don’t remember having a lunchbox. With five kids, my mother didn’t have time to pack lunches, so we had “hot lunch” at school – oh those glorious yeasty warm rolls. Guess who stayed after to wash cafeteria tables to get an extra cookie (and avoid recess)? I think I could’ve eaten grilled cheese sandwiches made with Velveeta and Campbell’s tomato soup every day. I do remember packing lunches to take to day camp in brown bags with our names written on them. It was usually white bread with a slice of cheese & mustard (which I hated) because you couldn’t let mayo sit out in the heat all day. It was such a treat to get little bags of Fritos, and there was probably a store-bought cookie too. They always had orange drink in little cartons. Wow – blast from the past!

  4. Diana D. says:

    I had a blue plaid Holly Hobbie lunchbox and hated it. HATED IT. I tried to lose it, but everyone knew it was mine and kept bringing it back. I wanted the Muppets and now everytime I see one in an antique store these days, I am tempted to buy it.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Ugh, Holly Hobbie! Think you should get the lunchbox next time you see it, Diana D.

  5. Susan says:

    Oh, man..so many memories of school lunch! In early years we were allowed to go home for lunch (1950s) and my Mom insisted we do that. In my entire public school life we had real cafeteria kitchens where hot lunch was prepared every day. Kids would gripe about the bad food and parents, too, but after what is served in school today, those years and that food is looked back on fondly by many. There were occasions that I begged to be able to eat at school; sloppy joe day and spaghetti day. These were two items my Mother never prepared for lunch or dinner and I loved them. In junior high and high school, we had to remain on campus so I brown-bagged it and bought milk only. Well except in JH, they sold the best peanut butter cookies on the planet, so I bought one every day! Mom packed my lunch with one PB&J and one tuna salad sandwich Every day. It would sit in my locker in an unairconditioned school, for several hours before it was time to eat. And I’m still here to tell of it!

    My kids (and mostly me) didn’t have the advantage of a working cafeteria kitchen at the school and peer pressure made lunch packing miserable for me their first year. Finally, like your guest speaker today, I succumbed to the reality that finger foods were the only thing that seemed to appeal. I fixed what I had termed “the smorgie lunch” It consisted of bread cut into small squares or whole grain crackers, cheese, lunch meat or real meat, cut bread sized, fruit in season in a little tub with various concoctions of dip to go with it. I’d slice carrots or zuchinni or cucumbers and serve those with ranch dip and I’d include bits of whatever dessert we had around to finish it off. It became the mainstay of school lunch through most of the remainder of their school years. And it was the lunch of choice at home, too.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      When it comes down to it, I guess lunch, as with most things in life, is a matter of resourcefulness, eh Susan? We do what we can to get by, and some days we excel and others we just barely subsist. But it sounds like you’re managing quite, quite nicely. Thanks for sharing.

  6. i am almost ashamed to admit that mine was very pink and had minnie mouse on it. if i could do it again it would have to be winnie the pooh. it seems to me that lunch boxes are on everyone’s mind these days. i recently wrote a post about school lunches on my blog.

    • David Leite says:

      mehrunnisa, there is nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to pink or Minnie Mouse. You were fashion forward, even then.

  7. Beth says:

    Loved this podcast! (Of course, I love every podcast.) I, too, David, had a Disney lunchbox, but this one — not the nifty schoolboy version.

    Disney Lunchbox

    Mom made great lunches. One day, I forgot my lunch so she called a neighbor and asked her to take a lunch to school for me. I was suspicious when my teacher handed the bag to me, so I didn’t eat lunch that day, but it was an anemic PB&J and a few cheese puffs. I realized that day how good I had it with mom sending soup in my thermos and all manner of interesting foods. If the stand-in lunch was representative of what most kids got, I was doing well.

    Although I *was* pretty jealous of anyone who got a Ding Dong. I was always fascinated by their shape and the thin foil wrapper.

    • David Leite says:

      Beth, thank you kindly. My mom made good lunchbox meals, except I was kind of a fussy kid. I didn’t eat peanut butter and jelly (have never been a big fan), but I remember loving Underwood Devil Ham sandwiches. And I begged her for Hostess cupcakes. I loved the swirly white icing on top. This is my lunchbox.

      Disney School Bus Lunchbox

  8. AnneS says:

    My very first, lunchbox was a metal Mary Poppins lunch box. I loved the movie and my mother had to hunt for my requested lunch box because they were not being made anymore. She found one with a thermos at a thrift store. My dad spray painted the inside of the box so it looked shiny and new. I was one proud second grader.

    Our lunches tended to be leftovers from dinner. Sliced chicken, turkey, roast beef, pork loin or tuna sandwiches. My mother loved egg salad so we saw that often. If not a sandwich there were chunks of meat, cheese and raw veggies in tiny multi-colored Tupperware containers. Toward the end of the month we might see a boiled egg and veggies. Milk was the only thing my thermos ever knew. The sweetest thing in the lunch was almost always fresh fruit. My sister and brother would get PBJ but even now I consider peanut butter a food of last resort– hurricane fare, something to eat if the power is off or it is the only thing left in the pantry.

    I lusted after chips and those Hostess cupcakes. Chips were party fare and the only time we would see them was after my mother’s Bridge parties. I remember getting a Hostess cupcake once as a birthday treat. If, and a pretty big if, I got a dessert it would be a home made baked good. My favorites were oatmeal cookies, a blond brownie, lemon bar or a slice of sweet potato pie. These made surprise appearances and now that I think about it had to be around holidays or when we had company and my mother baked.

    This was well before the days of microwaves in school lunchrooms so leftovers that were best heated were not an option. Today I do pretty much the same thing for my kids and the lunches I pack to take to work with three big exceptions. After preschool, I quit buying lunch boxes. Everyone gets lunch in a paper or cloth sack because they fit easily into a backpack then into the frig at school or work and do not cost a small fortune to replace. Milk is purchased at school or I send a milk box. I also pack leftovers that can be microwaved.

    • David Leite says:

      AnneS, I was fascinated by your story. Such a memory you have! I had a packed lunch only until third grade. Then we had cafeteria food, which at that time cost 25 cents. I can still see those pastel melamine plates and tan trays. The only drink available was milk. I remember little about the food except the mashed potatoes that were served with an ice cream scoop, and Friday’s pizza and blondies. How I lived for Fridays!

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