What No One Told Me About Packing School Lunch
Written by The Editor
It’s the beginning of the year, and my husband and I are attending Parent Curriculum Night at our son’s preschool. On this special night, we have the unique opportunity to visit our child’s classroom and compare his shitty artwork (a scribble, one color) to the more intricate creations of his peers (rainbows, accurate representations of real objects, every color, etc.). Just as I’m fretting about why my child is the only one without a creative bone in his 3-year-old body, one of the moms that I am semi-friendly with comes up to me and says, “I felt like such a good mom the other day. I finally put a little note in my kid’s lunchbox."
Wait. A note? This is a thing? Something that other parents do?
Before I have a chance to ask out loud, she goes on to explain how all the parents are leaving surprises in their kids’ lunch boxes these days. Notes, drawings, grapes stuck together with toothpicks in the shape of a person. You know, easy to make stuff like that.
Let me just say that up until this moment, I have been feeling pretty good about my lunchbox packing game. I pack a variety of things that fall within the constraints of what the school allows children to bring—no meat, no peanuts. If I make sure to include in the lunchbox one food item that I know my son likes, I think, “Yes! Nailed it!” I use biodegradable tin containers for all of his food items instead of plastic wrap. He always has a couple vegetables and a vegetarian protein. When I pack “Oreo” cookies, they’re the organic kind.
I have already come to terms with the fact that I will never be a Bento Box Mom. My kids will never open their lunch bags to discover panko-crusted salmon, or sandwiches made with bread that I would have had to start baking at 5am the same morning, or little crudités with herb dips. I’ve made peace with these facts.
So while my lunches are not bento-box amazing, they’re pretty solid considering my own point of reference—i.e. the sad school lunches of my youth. I didn’t even have a lunch box growing up. My lunch “container” was a crumpled Bloomingdale's bag that would bust open if the condensation from the juice box inside made it too soggy. Other times I’d bring my lunch to school in a see-through Ziploc. My mom made me salami sandwiches on seeded rye (which I hated) made with too much mayo (which I also hated), and which always left mayonnaise glops on my clothing or face. (I was super popular, obviously.)
I made a solemn oath to myself that when I had kids, I would pack them wonderful lunches full of variety, and in containers with matching tops that wouldn’t fall off in transit, spilling everything all over their backpack.
But when I was handed the How to Be A Parent manual, I must have missed the part that said school lunches had to have an "extra special thing” that proves your love for your little one. When I hear about the sweet note that my friend has included in her kid’s lunch, I feel like all this time everyone else has been getting extra credit that I didn’t know was even available as an option. As Parent Curriculum Night wears on, I find out that other parents are sending their kids to school with carefully composed sonnets, sandwiches in the shapes of locally grown flowers, and tiny animals knitted from yarn. I think about what the teachers must be thinking about me, the heartless woman who has been sending her son to school sans love notes or a lunchbox with doves that fly out when he opens it.
It’s not even a month into school, and it seems that this is where I have failed motherhood. I wonder if I should give up completely, and enlist one of the better moms to pack lunch for my preschooler. I can’t even do lunchboxes right. I should just throw in the towel on being a Good Lunchbox Mom and acknowledge that Bad Lunch genes run through my veins.
I accept my fate, log onto Amazon.com and start stockpiling jars of mayo and bread that I already know my kid hates.
A version of this post was originally featured at on August 17, 2017.
Featured Image: Babe Paley, Photographed by John Rawlings, Vogue, 1946