May 26, 2024
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The No-Lunch Lunch Plan

“Who can give me an example of a protein?” I quizzed the kids. It was the beginning of the school year, and they decided they’d like to be on the school’s hot-lunch program, which meant that they’d be responsible for making healthy food choices and eating well-balanced meals. I figured I should educate them first, and so we made a list of possible options, referring to a food guide pyramid.

“If you are going to eat a sandwich, which bread do you think is better to take?”

“For sure the white one!” the kids screamed out. “It tastes so much better.” I shook my head and explained that the “brown bread” will make them feel fuller longer and is a smarter option, but ultimately it was their choice. One child snuck away from the table and attempted to sound out the letters for “white bread,” and wrote it on my shopping list that was hanging on the side of the fridge, hopeful that I’d start to buy it for the house, in addition to them eating it at school. The kids could not wait to sink their teeth into the forbidden bread.

“Should we say shehechiyanu on it?” another kid asked, and I explained that it’s only on new fruits or vegetables, and once again, bread with more color will have more substance. This fell on deaf ears.

For the first few days, I questioned the kids about what they had eaten, asking them which vegetables they had selected (none), protein (is butter a protein?), fruits (nothing good), and arrived at the quick conclusion that they were indeed just looking at the vast selection, turning away and eating their snacks. I stopped asking.

A few weeks later, I asked again. I turned to my son and inquired about the day’s menu. “Oh,” he said, “I just had an apple and some water.” His collarbone protruded in a particularly skeletal fashion, as I noticed his lack of caloric intake.

“Really?” I asked. “Is that why I pay for the lunch plan? So you can eat an apple?” This seemed like one expensive fruit. “What about some protein?”

“Well,” he explained, “I was too lazy to get up and get other food, so I just ate the apple. I’m starving. What’s for supper?”

It is unclear to me what is a better option. We had done home lunch for several years. This, too, had failed me, and after spending extra hours in the kitchen preparing lunches most nights before school, the lunch would often come home entirely uneaten, except for one bite of the sandwich. Another child came home with a completely empty lunchbox, but that didn’t mean that the garbage can wasn’t full.

Home lunch also had rules; nothing hot in the thermos because it made food taste rotten. No bagels because they were too hard. No tuna because a friend once said it smelled. No fish sticks because they “cause bad breath.” No hard-boiled eggs because my kids just play with them and make dust out of the yolk. No fancy bento-box lunches because they just want a regular lunch like everyone else. So that left me with sandwiches. And they only like peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches, both containing nuts, so we opted for sunbutter and pareve chocolate spread. Still, they were untouched. If I made lunch, it went uneaten. If I paid for lunch, it went uneaten. There was no solution.

But to my dismay, recently my girls begged to be removed from school lunch, after almost an entire year of nightly freedom. “Most of my friends get home lunch, and they get to sit at a separate table,” my daughter rationalized, “I want to sit with them.” This seemed like a bad reason to me, and so I ignored the request for several weeks, pretending like I was going to “contact the school,” and never really did. But then one day she was at home sick and spent several hours following me around, reminding me to call the school to switch her onto home lunch, and I had no choice but to acquiesce. I was very much hoping they would say no, but they did not, and so alas, I have unearthed the lunch boxes and resumed my nights staring into an open refrigerator, wondering what to pack. A week later, and my second daughter decided to drop the plan as well. At least my son was kind enough to stay on, even if he just eats the apples.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected].

By Sarah Abenaim

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