by Fran Brennan
Managing Editor, Food News Journal
I hate school lunches.
I know everyone’s on the school-lunch bandwagon right now. But I just want to jump ship.
School lunches strike terror in my heart, wake me up in the night in a cold sweat. Once, before I had kids, I was engulfed by a group of school children leaving the subway just as I was heading down. I think I suffered the one and only panic attack of my life when I realized then and there that I’d have to pack lunches one day. Every day. And make them interesting. And healthy. And probably in multiples.
It could be I’m haunted by the youthful memory of more than 30 brown lunch bags stacked on our kitchen counter every Sunday, ready for the week. I come from a big, big family and a very, very organized mother.
So I’ve tried. Today, my oldest son has homemade pizza with a super-thin crust and fresh tomato sauce. My middle daughter has a whole-wheat quesadilla stuffed with black-bean chili and cheddar cheese. Yay them. Yay me.
But my youngest? Well, he’s another story entirely. His elementary school just instituted a nut ban for the entire school. Peanut butter and jelly – that iconic staple of every childhood lunchbox – is officially verboten. And that’s really all he ever wants for lunch. Ever.
Now what? There are a few other options for him, I know. But if it pains me that peanut butter is the backbone of his daily diet, imagine how his dinner obsession with hot dogs hurts. Oh, and he does like salami quite a bit. But do I really want to make my seven-year-old son a poster child for the American Heart Association? Perhaps not.
I’m not proud of what a picky eater I’ve produced. I’m not even very sure how it happened. We’ve exposed him to the same array of foods we’ve given his siblings. They love sandwiches like ham, brie and apples with Dijon mustard in their lunches. Or pasta with pesto. Or sushi or tamales.
He likes peanut butter and jelly.
The most painful part? He, not the other two adventurous eaters, is the child I deserve. I eat (almost) everything now. But I tormented my mom when I was a kid, surviving on nothing but (sugary) breakfast cereal and Velveeta (yes, the skeleton in my closet is an inorganic shade of orange). I hid anything resembling a vegetable in my napkin and truly believed she wouldn’t notice. There was even a time when peanut butter and jelly made me gag, and I would knock on every door in our elementary school looking for the sibling who mistakenly got my processed cheese product.
So now I’m paying for the culinary wasteland that was my childhood. Paying for the hell I put my own mother through. I’m on pins and needles every time I try to sneak a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich past the seven-year-old censor, breathing a sigh of relief only when he doesn’t come home starving and pointing an accusatory finger. I considered it a major accomplishment last spring when he agreed to try almond butter – and liked it.
But now almond butter’s on the outs too. In fact, all nuts (and, according to school rumors, even most seeds) are on the hit list. No nuts. At all. Ever. I didn’t see it coming. Turns out my mom’s revenge is a dish best served from a plastic Ziploc bag.