My toddler started Montessori–and with that, school lunchbox preparation commenced in our household. She isn’t too much into sandwiches and while she eats most anything, her tastes are still fickle; loves peas one day, wants nothing to do with them the next and loves chicken apple sausages for lunch, doesn’t touch any for dinner. Fun times.
I am driven crazy by the lunch making. Constantly making the lunches! The upside: I can take pictures of the lunches. So I take pictures of.the.lunches. That’s the thing with motherhood pictures; we are with our kid/s all day, and sometimes the only relief is taking photographs; kid just dumped food all over their head? Dammit. Gotta clean it. Gotta re-prep the food. Because kid will still be hungry. But–picture!
I get up early each morning with my kid. Usually this means around 7am, but sometimes it’s as early as 5:30am if she’s teething or going through a moody phase. I give her a sippy cup of milk. And then I take out the yumbox bento thing.
When I was a kid, lunches were a very political thing in the cafeteria. Not political in the strict Republican/Democrat sense, but political in the way when meaningless things can affect status. Like how lunchboxes were key in first grade, and how by sixth grade you were carrying lunch in a brown paper bag. And whether or not you had a Twinkie or Doritos, something that you could trade. Nevermind that you traded a Twinkie for a Zinger or Doritos for Cheetos, and the two things were pretty much the same–just the fact that you had something of value made your lunch and thereby you, more interesting, more valued.
I could never clearly explain the above to my mother, who packed my lunches for a short while. “Twinkies are important!”
“No,” she would say.
And she was right. They weren’t really important. But at the same time, they were.
I always put some pasta in my kid’s lunch. She, like so many toddlers, likes pasta. It’s a safe bet. Sometimes I will put in mini farfalle, other times annelini or ditalini. Maybe soba.
Toddlers don’t trade food, of course. During the first few days of transition, I watched the school eat; shoving fistfuls of food with trembling hands into their mouths, or maybe they would miss, and get part of their cheek. Half the food would fall onto the tabletop. They would try again. Like old folks, some of them. Random wailing, then random laughter.
In the meat compartment, I sometimes put in some sliced framani salami, or mini chicken sausages. Or leftover meat like diced steak. My kid likes her protein.
When I moved to California as a kid, I lived in a largely homogeneous neighborhood. I was one of two Korean kids in the whole school. One of three Asian kids. One year, there was a new kid who had just moved to the U.S. from Korea. He spoke no English. Here, said the teacher, teach him English.
At that point, I’d forgotten my Korean. I spoke no Korean, either. But somehow, I accepted the fact that it was my responsibility to be that bridge. I was eight years old. I took a yellow crayon, pointed to it and said, Yellow. I pointed to the words on the crayon label, and said, Yellow.
John (not his real name), brought lunch to school. He had kimbap in his lunchbox–everyone stared. The teacher pointed and said, “What is that? That’s beautiful!”
I knew what it was. I loved kimbap. But I would never dare bring it to school. I figure in our heads was a mixture of interest and awe. But then someone said, “Ewww!” and then everyone else said “ewww!” and that was that. He never brought Korean food to school again.
I also give my daughter vegetables and fruit. She loves legumes. Kidney beans. Edamame. Black beans. And also peas. Not so much broccoli, even though she loves saying the word broccoli. Also, all the fruit. Especially berries. I do not know what I will do when berry season ends. Though she does love frozen berries, and that will see us through winter.
Eventually, I asked my mother if I could just buy lunch. That way I could be part of the masses. Everyone complained about the school lunches, but I liked them. My mother did not make me spaghetti or lasagna or enchiladas or anything Western at home. And I relished the cafeteria food. I liked the trays.
My daughter is fickle about cheese/dairy. She does not like yogurt, except when mixed into her sippy cup with milk. No cottage cheese, either. Sometimes she will eat cheese. She drinks enough milk, so I do not worry about her calcium. So sometimes I will put diced tofu in the dairy slot of her tray.
In junior high, there was a concession stand. No more cafeteria lunches. I would take my money and buy whatever I wanted. Usually, chili cheese fries. But then I started worrying about my weight. So when Big Debbie wanted my lunch money, I would give it to her. She was kind of a bully, but at the same time, I didn’t really eat, so I didn’t see it as a big deal.
My friend Toni and I sat together everyday for lunch. Sometimes we sat with Big Debbie and her friends. I didn’t sit with my classmates–Big Debbie was a year older, and her friends were kind of tough. Their frosted hair stood straight up with the aid of Aqua Net. They ate the cream filling out of Twinkies with a straw. I learned to swear.
In high school, I stopped eating altogether. I sat with my classmates by then. We sat adjacent to the rally court, on the risers. I sipped my diet coke.
The daycare provides a report with what my daughter eats each day. None, half, or all. She always eats her meat. Mostly eats her pasta. Some of her vegetables. Sometimes all or half of her fruit. Usually, none of her cheese.
Everyday, I wash the yumbox. And then the next day, I make her lunch again.