The Allure of School Lunch
August 5th, 2009 by Nancy
Here's my son with his lunchbox

Here's my son with his lunchbox

What is it about school lunches that compel kids to beg for them, even when they don’t like what’s served? Case in point:

One February, when my son was in second grade, he and his class took a walking field trip to the local art museum, about a ½ mile away. I carved out some time in my morning to join them, and we all had a lovely time, but on the walk back my son pleaded,

Mama, can I PLEASE get hot lunch today??”

I had (as I do every morning) packed a lunch for him in his Lunchsense lunchbox. This is the boy that likes routine, and his preference for lunch was a bagel (whole wheat – he didn’t get a choice there) with cream cheese, carrot sticks, and milk. We did not deviate from that meal for weeks, and while I know that variety is the spice of life, and believe in moderation in all things (including moderation – but that’s fodder for another post), I knew he’d eat it and be reasonably fueled up for the afternoon, so I didn’t argue.
The day was cold, we were already late for the lunch period, and personally, I was having visions of hot mac-n-cheese. Thus I reasoned that if he bought hot lunch that day, I could abscond with his homemade lunch and maybe even swipe a bite of whatever hot meal he picked up in the cafeteria, so I obliged him and said,

Sure, you can have hot lunch today.”

School lunches vary greatly by region, and I give my local district lots of credit for trying to make them appealing, nutritious, and full of color and variety and at least some freshness. Besides the daily offerings they provide a salad bar with fresh fruits and veggies, yogurt, and whole wheat rolls – this is not what I recall from hot lunch of my youth, indeed. However the staff is just stretched too thin to provide much guidance in portion control, which is both a problem for kids with weight issues and often results in a great deal of food waste.
Lunch also costs $2.10. That’s a good price for a meal, but I have three kids and it works out to over $125 a month. It’s more than I’m willing to spend, especially since I can pack a lunch for less than half that price.
But I understand that kids often pine for what they don’t have, so I am willing to let them have hot lunch about once a month.
My son and his class marched off to the cafeteria, and after I checked in at the school office and picked up his lunchbox in the classroom I headed to the cafeteria to join them. Said boy had just sat down with his hard-earned, once-a-month, pick-whatever-you-like hot lunch tray when I came in.

Guess what he put on that tray:

A whole wheat bagel with cream cheese, carrot sticks, and milk.

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