Friday, October 22, 2010

The School Lunch Icey That Took My Soul

It started when Lucy was in Pre-K. Back then, I always made her lunch. It was accepted that I would do it. Everyday. She had no interest in eating school lunch, even though one was available to her for free if she wanted it.

All the discussions of school lunch and how awful they are never really touched me. I cared about it, in theory, but I had certain assurances it would never really touch me - I could cook, my kids ate a wide variety of foods, they liked my packed lunches, which I tried to attack with a certain degree of creativity (hard boiled eggs formed in the shape of hearts and rice formed into flowers, c'mon who wouldn't like that?) - and I was pretty sure that I'd be making them wholesome lunches for the rest of their school age lives.

And then, Lucy went to kindergarten this year. And my bag lunches became, well, uncool.

The kids no longer ate in their classrooms. They ate with the big kids in the cafeteria. Set against the popularity chain of the cafeteria, my home-made efforts paled. Oh, don't get me wrong. We went through the machinations for awhile. Apparently, all the girls thought Lucy's ladybug lunch bag was "so cute!" and so, she dutifully took it to the cafeteria, over her shoulder, like she was toting around a beloved, hard-to-get vintage Coach bag, but when she got to the cafeteria, she stowed it under the table and got in the lunch line. She started asking me not to pack her lunch.

I totally played it cool. I mean, I know that's probably hard for you to believe, me, cool, not freaking out, but I did. I was, like, okay, just tell me if you feel like a lunch from home some day and I'll do it. Meanwhile, Edie had become invested in her lunches, providing detailed lists of what she'd like, new fruits, yesterday she asked for hot dogs, some days it's raspberry yogurt, no, strawberry, no, raspberry, she always wants a croissant. I focused my attention and my lunch packing on Edie, the good child...just joking. Through her, all my hopes and dreams would live on. I could breathe again.

Now, what you need to know is that our school is a small school set on the fourth floor of a big school. They operate separately from us, but share space. Our little school has very strict rules about what we can pack in a lunch or provide as a snack. They are very health focused. No HFCS, no sugar, no sugary juices, no chips, no crap, no processed junk. You will never see a Central Park East kid walking around the school grounds with a bag of chips. If Naomi, our super-tough, but very effective, principal sees that, she'll break out the whoop-ass and she won't even think twice about ripping the bag from your salt-covered finger tips and hucking it into a nearby trash bin.

This sounded a little "brain-washy, food-nazi" to me when we first started going there, I mean, they can't even have a cookie, for Christs sake?, but the strict rules keep everything even-steven. No one has to sit next to a kid with a Hostess Twinkie and wish they could have his mom. I never have to feel pressure to include Ho-Ho's in her lunch, although seriously, Ho-Ho's rock! Even I would want Ho-Ho's in my lunch. Still, my lunches were pretty wholesome.

So this week, one day, Lucy told me she wanted me to pack her a lunch. She also told me that this was not an everyday thing, just a today thing, and I shouldn't start getting excited that she wanted a lunch every day. I packed and kept my mouth shut. I tried not to smile while I did it. I acted like I didn't care. I handed her a great lunch and hoped it would re-ignite something.

But when she got home, she handed me her ladybug lunch bag and said that she only wanted school lunch from now on, no more packed lunches. She was retiring the ladybug. Really? Retiring? So definitive. So final. So kick-me-in-the-gut. What did I do? Was it something I packed? Can't we work this out?

Then, she told me about "the icey". The kids with school lunch got an icey. Strawberry or peach. It was a hostess Twinkie I thought would never rear it's ugly head. I was unprepared. And really pissed. I grilled her about the icey, until she wearily looked at me and said, Mommy, it's okay I didn't get an icey, I'm over it. But in her eyes, it was clear she thought I had lost my mind about the icey. To me, it was like they served her a martini with lunch. She had no idea why I was cracking up over this.

I called David and ranted on the phone. My kid doesn't want my school lunches because the school is offering up iceys as incentive. I imagined sending strawberry shortcake in her lunch the next day. Something big and grand and huge and sugary, but still home-made that would dwarf the stupid icey. But I didn't.

Instead I went to school early. I secretly conned my way into the kitchen, lying to some poor hapless lunch lady, telling her a ridiculous story about my kid's "food allergies", so I could see the icey for myself (my nemesis) and read the ingredients. It was all very 1980's Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. She never knew what hit her. The containers read: Strawberries and sugar. Peaches, sugar and a color retainer. Aha! Sugar!

I left fantasizing about speaking to Naomi, pointing out the obvious issues, showing her my rage, letting her know how unfair it was that the Department of Health could feed my kid sugar, but I couldn't, how tragic it was that my packed lunches had been rendered impotent but the icey's mere appearance. I had a speech planned. It was long and good.

I saw Lucy first, bounding out of school, throwing her backpack and herself into my arms. That's when she told me. She had the icey. She ate it. And it was gross. Gross! I could barely hide my glee! Then, reality: That didn't mean she wanted a packed lunch or anything, so I shouldn't get all excited and start buying stuff to put in it, because things hadn't changed that much, these things are baby steps, you know, but the icey thing was over.

That's my girl.

xo YM



Mardi Michels said...

I am kinda glad she didn't like the icey too ;-) Baby steps.

Sarah said...

I think you should be pretty proud that your efforts in maturing her palate have paid off. Its not often that a child as young as Lucy can overlook the allure of pure sugar and realize that the flavor of what she's eating is crap.

MommyLisa said...

This is totally undermining my thoughts of making lunch for my baby when she goes to Kindergarten. YIKES! I had cute Pouch Pals picked out and everything!

Christine said...

Weird about the lunch thing. Are the rest of the items served decent though? I guess that's really the key.

Although if you wanted to make me some over the top shortcake, I would not refuse. So you know.

Unknown said...

Ha, ha, ha! Loved it! Thanks for the great post!

Julie said...

Never fear! If my girls are any indication, the desire to bring lunch to school changes back and forth over the years. My oldest went from not eating any lunch to loving school lunch to hating it. And the little one has already progressed from enjoying school lunch to begging for me to pack lunch. I predict that before you know it, you'll be packing lunch again and for many years to come.

Michelle (What's Cooking) said...

I loved how this post made me guffaw several times - my daughter was innocently doing her homework beside me and kept looking over :-) I am thrilled that your daughter didn't like the icey - but really? It shouldn't have been served in the first place. There were cheetos in one of our schools the other day and I sent our food service director an email about it. She said they have now been banned. Not sure if it's true - but she has been meaning to fix the master order sheet - so I am keeping my fingers crossed. xo

Cheryl Arkison said...

She is so awesome.

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

Love this story. (Love it.) This is why I always let my daughter taste the crap stuff if she wants to (cheap chocolate, for instance, or orange puffy things at parties). Because there's no surer validation for real food than comparing it with the stuff that isn't.