School has started and I can hear the children’s voices as they walk past our house to elementary school. The good news today in America is that in neighborhoods all across our country, schools are open and ready to educate children.
It seems silly now, but my biggest headache when sending my two kids off to school in the 1970s and 80s was packing their lunches. When I shared my thoughts about school lunches with my writer’s group, each of us had funny memories of peanut butter and jelly, Spam, bologna and ketchup sandwiches. Desserts of Twinkies and Scooter Pies were also stuffed into lunch bags in the 1950s.
Lunches today for our grandkids are hyper-analyzed for nutrition and minus any sweets. Sugary products make students hyperactive and are carefully controlled in most schools. Even the M & Ms in trail mix are a “no no.” Sensitive mothers, coping with school mornings chaos, pluck out the candy, and eat them for a needed energy boost with coffee.
When frustration over children not eating their lunches reached a fever-pitch in the 1980s. my daughter, in elementary school, soon learned what all kids do when confronted with a cafeteria food inspection: you drink your milk and stuff your uneaten food in the carton.
Life was so different when I grew up in the 1950s. Sweets were okay. In junior high my mother spoiled me with Twinkies or Snowballs. Sometimes I even brought a Pepsi from home.
My friend Andrea and her family lived in New Jersey. Her father was a baker and in the years before recycling was normal, she carried her sandwich in a blue and white waxed paper bakery bag. Adding to her embarrassment of being different from her classmates who had brown bags which they threw away, she was to fold the bag and tote it home to be used again. Parents who survived the Great Depression of the 1920s knew how to be frugal. Andrea, became a teacher and raised five children. When she found out they weren’t eating her lunches they were ordered to make their own. “I’ll buy what you want but it’s up to you to make your own lunch or starve.” What a smart mother.
Linda’s mother tucked sweet notes in her lunch. Donna walked home for lunch each day. Judy, raised in Arkansas, loved her peanut butter and mashed banana sandwiches. Peggy had peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches…really!
For my son and daughter, I made their sandwiches for a week and threw them in the freezer. I still remember spreading out 20 slices of bread on the counter, slapping on peanut butter and jelly or cinnamon sugar for years. Since making lunches drove me crazy, that’s why I begged them to buy their lunch on pizza day in high school. Somehow, in spite of my hatred of lunch packing, they are two of the healthiest people on planet earth.
My daughter became a teacher, raised three boys and became an expert lunch packer. By the time Julie’s boys were in middle school, they carried lunch in a plastic grocery sack which got smashed in your overloaded backpack. Pizza day was cause for celebration. They were so deprived, even if one had a peanut allergy, having to eat a mom-made sandwich, chips, yogurt and home-made cookies. Somehow, they managed to grow up to be big strapping boys.
Julie also shared some stories from her teaching experience. Today parents often go to extreme measures to buy expensive, ergonomically correct lunch boxes which tiny kindergartners lose parts of on the first day of school. The sandwich containers get left behind under lunch tables and are often thrown in the trash. Oh, the agony of motherly aspirations to win the “perfect lunch game” and desire to achieve the standard set by nutrition experts.
There’s a famous lunch story found in the Bible in John, chapter six. Jesus is speaking to a huge crowd and becomes concerned about their need for food. “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” he asked his disciple Phillip. You can imagine this disciple calculating the cost, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough.”
Andrew told Jesus and Phillip, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” (The Message Bible) Imagine a caring mother handing her son a lunch and saying, “Jacob, don’t lose this and stay out of trouble.”
Five thousand people sat down on the grass. Jesus took a simple, small lunch and gave thanks. All the people ate their fill with 12 baskets of pieces of the barley loaves left over.
I can see Jacob running home and shouting to his mother, “You’ll never believe what happened with my lunch!” Perhaps they did a happy dance and sang a song of joy. Yes, it was a miraculous lunch that fed a crowd.
Every day dads and moms send their children off to school with a lunch, hugs and prayers, a tradition spanning hundreds of years. What are some of your memories of lunches? Do you make lunches for your children? What do you make for them? Please share your thoughts with us.