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A Toast to the End of School Lunches

As Summer approaches, we can't help but think most moms and dads are ecstatic about the end of school lunches. Mom and blogger Ann Cinzar explains why she's more than ready to hang up her chef's hat for the next three months.

With the school year drawing to an end, there is much to celebrate. The end of homework, after-school activities, and the daily drill of "Where are your socks? Do you have your backpack? Are the forms in your bag? Why don't you have socks yet?" While all these endings come none too soon, there is one I savor most: the end of lunch.

By this time of year, most parents I know develop a certain distaste for toiling over school lunches. While it doesn't literally require slaving over a hot stove, the monotony of daily production does hasten a slow leak of the soul — right onto the kitchen floor. It is death by a thousand sliced-bread cuts.

Evidently, lunch is an issue even in the White House, as Michelle Obama has been vocal in her campaign to get healthy food in every school. (Incidentally, I'm pleased to know it's not just at my home that lunch accountability falls on the mom's plate.)

My opening position in the Fall is to produce a healthy packed lunch for my children. The theory is that homemade is better than store-bought or school-provided. Yet in this ongoing battle, most lunches come home half eaten. (Or is that half uneaten?) I can't be certain, but this may be what Fitzgerald was referring to when he said, "To the victor go the spoils."

My son's recurring excuse is, "I didn't have enough time." However, having witnessed the speed at which he can put back a Happy Meal, this argument carries little weight.

Adding to the difficulty of finding brown-bag options, our school also has allergy restrictions. As a result, the zero-tolerance policy with nuts, for example, eliminates one of the easiest protein options — the peanut butter sandwich. On more than one occasion I contemplated sneaking in a little PB&J — my own double-blind immunotherapy program. I thought I had a solution when a friend gave me a jar of Wow Butter, the soy equivalent of peanut butter. It looks and tastes the same — so they say. My kids — connoisseurs that they are — can tell the difference, proving the dictum that there really is no free lunch.

As the school year drags on, my zeal to provide healthy options wanes and I settle instead for pretext. Some weeks I leave the same five uneaten carrot sticks in the lunch bag all week. By the third day, a white film covers them like chalk dust. Fortunately, the parched sticks are not visible through the container — merely a blurred orange illusion of healthy vegetables lovingly packed. I've considered using this recycling trick with my son's ham sandwich. Of course there is a slight chance he might actually take another bite from the almost untouched slices, and I would hate to be called after he develops a case of listeria.

Once a week I delight in a glorious reprieve: hot lunch day. I have heard whisperings of a fabled land where nutritious school lunches are supplied every day . . . where trays of healthy food, colored like the rainbow, issue forth like manna from the heavens, to be joyfully devoured by sated children. My school offers chicken nuggets and pizza. Yet, (the First Lady's efforts aside) it's a small pleasure for which I am willing to make the trade-off.

Recently, a friend was called aside by her child's teacher. "Suzy isn't eating her lunch." The teacher narrows her eyes, assessing whether this is an act of willful malnourishment. Or perhaps she assumes my friend has no idea her daughter is going hungry all day. Really? Who does she think makes the food, unpacks it, and throws the remains into the compost bin? (Or back into the lunch bag — see above.)

The teacher offers "suggestions" on healthy options that Suzy might like. My friend, playing along, packs the exact items specified by the teacher. She feels a tinge of vindication when the same items return home untouched. Again, it's the small wins that get us through the year.

After all, of the thankless and often unproductive exercises parents submit to over the school year, making lunch, well, takes the cake. So as the warm sun of Summer beckons, let us toast to the end of lunch. Relish the days I say!

Happy Summer, and bon appétit.

Image Source: Corbis Images
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