Thanks to former First Lady Michelle Obama, nutrition has become an even more important part of our kids' school lunches. There are healthier choices available to them, and they're learning more about what good food actually means (sorry, kids, but juice boxes and fruit snacks do not count as fresh fruit). Eating healthy foods has become so important and widespread that I've actually read stories about kids being shamed by school officials and other kids for not bringing totally clean and organic meals in their lunchboxes. But during my son's kindergarten year, he was teased for his healthy lunches, and my first reaction was, "Wait, what?"
As we sat together and ate the delicious food, his friend asked me, "Why don't you ever pack Joey any junk food in his lunchbox?" I couldn't believe it.
It started a few weeks into the school year. I was packing his lunch before our busy morning commute. In his lunchbox sat string cheese, almonds, a mixed veggie and fruit pouch, an apple, and a bag of popcorn. While eating his breakfast at the table, my son asked, "Mom, can you pack me some yummy junk food in my lunchbox today?" "Um, no," I responded. "Why?" "Well, all of the other kids get to eat junk at school. Their moms pack them chocolate and chips — stuff like that."
As I questioned my son more about this lunch dilemma, he ended up telling me that his lunch was "nerdy." "How could a lunch be nerdy?" I thought. While I felt badly for my son, I did my best to explain to him that eating nutritious foods is important for his growing body and mind. If he ate junk food every day for lunch, he would likely feel sleepy and sluggish once he went back to the classroom. He was blessed to be able to eat healthy food! Rolling his eyes, he begrudgingly accepted my lecture.
The funny thing is is that I'm not a huge stickler when it comes to healthy eating, either. Yes, I do my best to give my kids nutritious foods, but they are by no means deprived. We let them have desserts and treats, and in the Summer, they get to indulge in popsicles and s'mores far too often. But I also try to educate them about the kinds of foods they need to properly fuel their bodies. Overall, our family abides by the "everything in moderation" motto.
So, one day I decided to bring my son's lunch to his school. It was a special treat for his birthday — cheeseburgers and French fries. We sat at the round table and waited for my son and his friends to come join us. As we sat together and ate the delicious food, his friend suddenly asked me, "Why don't you ever pack Joey any junk food in his lunchbox?" Again, I couldn't believe it. This kid was trying to guilt me into packing unhealthy stuff, too? I simply responded, "Because it's important to eat healthy food so that you can learn and grow." The kid didn't say anything.
But then I looked around the cafeteria. The majority of the kids were eating the unhealthy food my son told me about. Fruit Roll-Ups, Doritos, and all assortments of Little Debbie treats were being gobbled up by the kindergartners. I felt slightly guilty for making my son the odd man out in this situation. Did he get tormented every day for his lunch? Were his feelings hurt? Did he dread opening up his lunchbox in front of his friends? Did all the other mothers get together and talk about how silly my lunches were? Did the school employees roll their eyes at my efforts? Despite my moment of doubt, I knew deep down it didn't matter. I needed to trust my judgment when it came to his lunches, no matter what anyone else said or did. And I haven't budged.
I still want my son to eat a well-balanced meal every day. Yes, sometimes I drop in a piece of chocolate or a bag of chips, but for the most part, we keep it healthy. And you know what? He's fine! My son's friends are still his friends, and I feel good about the food he eats to get him through a day of learning and playing. Even if he sometimes questions the lack of junk food, I know I'm setting him up for a healthy life, and that's something I'll never feel guilty about.