Mom vs. the school cafeteria

Sep 11, 2011 by

Mission control – we have a problem.  Here’s the long and short of it.  My girls, 5 & 7, are BEGGING to eat cafeteria food at school. GASP!  They are relentless.  Even after a staying up late, watching youtube clips of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, they implore me to allow them the thrill of going through the cafeteria line like cattle being led off to slaughter.  My line of “I just love you too much to allow you to eat cafeteria food” has fallen on deaf ears.

Things really came to a head this week.  My Gracie, my sweet fragile kindergartner, left her lunch at home.  I was at work so there was nothing I could do.  When her teacher called, she told me that Gracie was crying because she said “my mom won’t allow me to go through the cafeteria line.”  Of course I denied, denied, denied being opposed to that hideous junk the school district calls nutrition and told the teacher “oh, don’t be silly… of course she can eat in the cafeteria.”  Of course, I knew that Gracie was just covering up.  She was just scared and sad not to have the delicious lunch her mom made her with her own two hands.

All afternoon I longed to hold my sweet little girl in my arms and tell her how sorry I was that she had to endure such stress at school.  When I picked her up, she had a huge smile on her face; not the whimpering, mournful look I had expected.  And when Ella showed up, things went downhill fast. Ella: “Gracie, what happened today?  I saw you with your teaching heading to the principals office.”  Gracie: (full of elated giddiness) “Mommy forgot to put my lunch in my backpack so I got to eat in the cafeteria!!!!”  Ella: “I knew it!! Not fair!!!”  Gracie: (with a smile that could hardly be contained) “hehehehe, yep!!”  This conversation continued for the entire walk home and into the evening.

I had never intended on putting one thin dime in their cafeteria accounts.  In a weak moment, I told the girls maybe we could allocate $20 a month and allow them to go through the line once a week.  This was before I downloaded and printed the menu to review our options.  As soon as I did that, I began to back peddle with the “well,  we’ll see…. I need to talk to your daddy about this… I have to figure out how to get money into your account…”, etc. But Ella is implacable.  She is not going to let me back down from the compromise I suggested, regardless of what vulnerable state I was in when I did so.

So on Friday, as I lamented my little girls drooling over Wednesday’s “breakfast for lunch” involving french toast drizzled with high fructose corn syrup, I realized that I need to come out fighting.  Google to the rescue.  I began googling creative lunch options.  I have long wanted to get rid of plastic baggies and I’ve even sewn my own snack bag that we all love – but I’ve only made one.  The more I googled, the more excited I got…

I discovered Bentos!  Here’s the best defintion I could find:

Bento is the Japanese art form of making a packaged lunch. They have taken a meal and turned it into an occasion, with beautifully designed lunchboxes and food that is so fun it resembles culinary art. Traditionally in Japan a bento consists of rice, fish, and seaweed. In recent years Americans have taken the concept of the bento lunch and run with it. New American Style bento lunchboxes have hit the market and kids all across the country are eating bentos at school. Gone are the days of boring brown paper bag lunches… here comes the bento!

And after looking at all the cool online options I discovered my favorite which was laptop lunches.  But OUCH on the price!  There is simply no way our family could justify such an expense.  So my mind began racing about how I could create such a lunch experience on a shoestring budget.

Laptop Lunch

And so the hunt began.  I found cute insulated lunch bags that the girls liked with a big flat bottom at Home Goods on clearance – 2 for $15. I bought them each a Sistema Lunch Cube at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $4.99.  And, I found some super cute shaped silicone baking cups also at Home Goods, a dozen of them for $3.99.  All total, $30 or $15 each.  Not too shabby.

There are other options out there.  The brand that really caught my eye was Fit & Fresh.  Lots of good options and the prices aren’t bad.  But bad enough for this cheap mama.

My sister, who is in Korea teaching English, is now on the track down for some other cute accessories to give my girls a seriously unique and enviable lunch experience that truly trumps anything the school has to offer. (hoping, praying…)

So tomorrow begins my Bento adventure.  Mom’s lunches rule! School’s lunches drool!

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