When I went to elementary school, I never carried my lunch. Everyone except for an elite few walked home for lunch. If you lived within six blocks you ate lunch at your own home. My mom said I was lucky but I longed to be one of the "lunch kids." To sit in the gym and eat out of a little metal box, to play jump rope in the inner parking lot, to stay inside when it was a windy 25 degrees; I wanted to take my lunch to school.
I would envision the options I could carry in my Hopalong Cassidy lunch box: Ham and cheese, turkey on rye, etc. Recently, this subject came up at a friend and family get-together. Although surprised that I couldn't buy or bring my lunch, most people confessed going home might have been better than eating some of the lunches their parents had packed for them.
We had a great time, laughing and sharing lunch box memories. We talked about the criteria for a good lunch. Not nutrition, but taste topped the chart. Conforming ran a close second.
With three generations represented, it was fun to assess items that should never be packed and items that are always OK. One friend admitted her mom packed ketchup and butter sandwiches when they couldn't get to the store or there wasn't money to go to the store. Well, that was first on our list.
The current schoolers lead the conversation on the "never pack":
Never pack sandwiches in old bread bags. Comments included "It takes ten minutes to get into the bag," and "The crumbs fall all over the place," and "The bag is longer than my arm."
Never pack hard boiled eggs or anything "smelly." Onions are out. Bananas are bogus. Tuna is trouble.
Never pack foods that are unusual, even if they are delicious. Remember that every kid looks at every other kid's lunch. Unusual ethnic food was not welcome. Nuts meant for parrots were discouraged. Kids don't want their friend asking "What is that?" or exclaiming "Ugh!" No one wants a nickname like "Liverwurst Louie" or "Swiss Cheese Susie."
Never pack the whole jar or the whole package. One guest said her mom had a habit of sending the "end" of the container - the few pickles left in the jar, the big potato chip bag with a few crumbs in the bottom, or a box of Wheat Thins with only five crackers left. My daughter once sent the whole ranch dressing bottle for her daughter to use as a dip for her carrots. Not appreciated!
Never double-pack a sandwich bag. It is not acceptable to pack chips, carrots, crackers, cookies, apples in the same bag with a sandwich.
Never pack lunch in an outdated lunch box. There are strict, albeit unwritten, rules on who can carry what lunch box. Barney is out for first-graders, Thomas the Tank?Engine is out for second-graders, Barbie is out for third-graders, Transformers are out for fourth-graders and lunch boxes are completely out for fifth-graders.
Never pack anything that is juicy or dripable. No one wants to carry their lunch with them in the afternoon.
On the other hand:
It's OK to pack leftovers as long as the "never" rules are followed.
It's OK to pack good stuff - carrots, celery, apples with no spots and oranges already peeled, but not peppers, raw cauliflower or broccoli.
It's OK to pack chips. A ziplock bag is OK, but individualized packages are better.
It's OK to pack peanut butter and jelly. Nutella is always welcome.
It's OK to pack dessert. Sticky Rice Krispies treats are fine. Pies are fine. Crumb cake is fine. Desserts of any and all kinds are acceptable.
It's OK to pack anything that is advertised Nickelodeon!
It's OK to deliver McDonald's.
My group wasn't too interested in drinks. We all remembered fondly the small glass bottles with the paper top and slot for the straw. The current kids were not so excited about the cartons one way or the other.
"But," I asked, "if you could have anything to drink for lunch?" The answer was a unanimous "Kool-Aid."
Ending the conversation, I asked for the one item they would like to find in their packed lunch. One answer was cold pizza. Other answers included a chocolate donut, Lunchables, Bugles, and a Snickers bar.
Well, if I could have, I would have had a Skippy peanut butter and Welchs grape jelly sandwich on Wonder Bread with chocolate milk and a Twinkie. So much for nutrition.