Admiring her new Hello Kitty lunchbox recently, my daughter asked if this year I could “try and pack decent lunches?"
She actually thinks I’m the problem. In reality, feeding a picky eater like Lily is difficult to begin with, as I wrote about in . Add to that the fact that lunchbox meals must sustain five-hours inside a locker, are best not to include stinky foods such as garlic or hard-boiled eggs, and must adhere to the school’s increasingly militant zero-waste policy. That doesn’t leave a lot to work with.
“Just be glad we don’t live in Japan,” my friend Michelle said, trying to offer up a positive spin. “The moms there engage in competitive Bento box packing, cutting tangerines into swan shapes, and strategically placing curled carrots to look like Kio.”
That may be true, but here in the Valley most moms have lunchbox burnout by the time their kids finish kindergarten. The task of conjuring up a healthy, kid-friendly menu five days a week is drudgery akin to sitting in traffic and folding laundry. What’s more, the job needs to be done either after cleaning up from dinner the night before or in the morning while nagging the kids to hurry up.
Despite that, my failing grade isn’t for a lack of effort. I’ve devoured plenty of articles on how to “Pack a Lunch With Punch” or “Win With Brown Bag Favorites.” Some kids may really go gaga for pita pockets stuffed with fat-free refried beans and hummus, but mine ain’t one of them.
Lily starts fifth grade this week and I’m completely out of ideas with legitimate potential, and frankly, motivation, too. Occasionally, she has made her own lunch with spotty success. She’s limited by the same lack of choices that I am. Sure, she’d have more if I were willing to buy Lunchables, Uncrustables and Pop Tarts. But I draw the line at Go Gurts and chocolate chip granola bars.
It’s a dilemma even professionals struggle with. My daughter’s school is on its third lunch vendor in four years, in a quest to offer healthy food that kids will eat at a price parents are willing to pay.
On the upside, even if the kids don’t like the vendor’s food, at least moms don't have to face their child’s lunchbox at the end of the day. My daughter's lunchbox routinely greets me with slimy, half–eaten fruit and globs of yogurt. Still, the prize goes to my son whose lunchbox I opened the morning of the first day of school last year and found a sandwich leftover from the previous June.