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In this episode

Have a question, query, or quagmire you’d like Renee and David to answer? Click that red button to the right, or click on this link to leave us a recorded message. Press and talk away and maybe you’ll be featured on the show!

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.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

Hungry For More?

Ep. 45: Chef Pati Jinich on Mexican Food

In this podcast episode, the charismatic Pati Jinich, Mexican chef, author, and star of the PBS series Pati’s Mexican Table and La Frontera, talks about Mexican cuisine.

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  1. 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.

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

  2. Oh, 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.