When my daughter began preschool last year, my greatest anxiety was not about her sobbing uncontrollably at drop-off. (We’ve been calling her “the mayor” since infancy for good reason.)
It was about her lunch.
I had a wicked case of school lunch performance anxiety, and when you consider what’s at stake when packing your kid’s lunch these days, it just might freak you out, too:
1. The Nut Thing. Severe nut allergies are not effing around, and the possibility that something nut-contaminated might sneak its way into your kid’s lunch and harm one of their sweet little friends is terrifying. Most schools err on the side of extreme caution banning all nuts, nut butters, and commercially prepared products processed in facilities where nuts are present. Sourcing a granola bar that wasn’t processed in such a facility was like discovering the Holy Grail. (Hats off, Cascadian Farm.)
2. SunBummer. For children attending nut-free schools, a PB&J must be a SunButter&J. I am sure nut butter-alternatives like SunButter are miracles for parents of severely allergic children, but the burnt peanut butter flavor makes my mouth sad.
3. The Bento Box Trend. Spend two minutes on Pinterest looking up “bento box kids’ lunches” and you will freak the heck out. Super-agro parents utilize traditional bento box principles to prepare school lunches: compartmentalized containers, a minimum of five colors of food, and precious little flowers and stars fashioned with specialized cookie cutters. The idea is is a good one: children are surely more likely to eat fun, beautiful lunches. But the message the bento box movement sends to parents is a little more insidious: if your kids aren’t eating their lunches, it’s your fault, LAZY.
4. Hyper-Eco-Friendly Packaging. Forget disposable lunchsacks and ziploc bags; everyone uses stainless steel Lunch Bots, Foogos and kiddie Kleen Kanteens. (You already contributed to landfill enough with your disposable baby diapers, breeders.) I felt like a downright criminal the one time I ran out of compostable brown paper snack bags and had to send my daughter’s organic whole wheat pretzel crisps in (gasp) a plastic bag.
5. The Pressure to Be Healthy. No one wants their kid to eat junk, but can we all agree that it’s insane to send a lunchbox full of organic kale chips, grilled seitan, and sprouted gluten-free bread?
6. The Treat Conundrum. Will my kid be bummed if she’s the only toddler at the lunch table without a treat in her lunchbox? We’re not weird about sugar — she’s had it, and plenty — but dessert in our house generally means fresh fruit rather than cookies. Conversely, if I do send that cookie, will it be whispered at pick-up that I’m a sugar-peddling monster?
7. Is She Even Going to Eat the Stupid Lunch? After all of the effort to source nut-free foods, appropriate reusable packaging, and healthy options that won’t suffer from sitting in a lunchbox for hours, will your little darling even eat his lunch? I had visions of my already-lanky toddler wasting away until a dear friend (who is also a first grade teacher) told me that kids rarely eat at school, and if 5 out of 21 meals in a week are less than successful, your kid is going to be juuuust fine.