Matthews: Lunch boxer rebellion

Aug. 26, 2014 @ 10:50 AM

My poor mother.
Growing up, I tormented both parents.  Criminally lazy, I did my very few chores only after the threat of bodily harm. I took evil delight in pushing my brother’s buttons (most of which I’d installed). I’d try to see how many kids I could drive with in my 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger, Lancelot (the record stands at 11). My religion was “Question Authority.” 
You get the infuriating picture.
But what made Mom the most cray-cray was breakfast. I cannot eat right after getting up. The thought of food then is revolting. And since I’m also not a morning person and was literally yanked out of bed mere seconds before I had to leave for school, nourishment was habitually evaded.
Mom was desperate for me to eat in the a.m. She was constantly trying to tempt me. If I mentioned something, she’d make it. If I had asked for unicorn stew topped with Smurf berries, my mom would have figured out a way to rustle it up.
Finally, in high school, we discovered that if she sent me to school with a tuna sandwich, by the time I arrived, I’d be awake enough to eat breakfast. I know, weird.  But it worked.
Lunches though, weren’t a problem. Most of the time, I liked the cafeteria food. My little brother, on the other hand, took his lunch. The same thing, day after day, year after year: a dry bologna sandwich with lettuce, a Space Food stick (the bizarre hybrid of pudding and a Slim Jim), and a fruit Snack Pack. To me, one of those repasts would have been one too many.
The Kid wasn’t fond of school fare. Consequently, lunches were prepared at home and carried to school. So I have filled many, many lunch boxes.
The goal is to get some relatively healthy grub into the student’s body, and to keep something on their belly until they can get home and raid the fridge. If they don’t like it, they won’t eat it, and the exchange rate for lunch trades varies wildly from school to school.
Drinks and cooling — they’re one and the same. Whether they want a bottle of water or a juice or milk box, freeze it overnight and when inserted into a lunch box, will thaw slowly enough to keep the food cold ‘til it’s time to eat.
If your scholar wants a sandwich, mix it up. I used to make homemade rye and pumpernickel bread for The Kid, but you don’t have to go all Grandma Walton. Go take stock of your store’s bread aisle. Bagels, wraps, even hamburger and hot dog buns are fun — just sneak in the whole grain version.
But it doesn’t have to be a sandwich. Buy a wide mouth thermos, and send them to school with soup, chili, even leftovers. Get the food good and hot in the microwave and put some boiling water into the thermos to heat it before filling.  The contents will still be warm at lunch.
Since the frozen beverage gives you a cold lunch box, salads work well. For green salads, send the dressing separately, so it’s not all slimy and wilt-y when it’s time to eat. Humus or bean dip, along with some fresh veggies, is also fun and unexpected.
Everybody likes to end a meal with something sweet. Fresh fruit works, but a mix of nuts and dried fruit is yummy, and travels better. Or maybe send a little something homemade.    
There’s one last thing. 
Somewhere in the lunch, I always left a silly note. Usually I’d get a Sharpy, and write it on the plastic wrapped sandwich. Something demented like, “Never buy an ostrich high heels.” The Kid loved it. Everybody at the lunch table looked forward to seeing what nutty thing I had written each day.
I took lunch to my child a couple of weeks ago, bearing one of my loony messages, and even though The Kid is a bona-fide grown-up, it still elicited a big grin. I just love getting a glimpse of the little kid that my big kid used to be.
As for me, I still can’t face breakfast, but Mom lives in Greensboro, so what she doesn’t know…
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is