You don’t say?
I could have told you that. That’s why, like every other good mom in America, I buy an insulated lunch bag every year for child #2—child #1 is almost an adult and usually purchases her own lunch so she’s on her own—which inevitably gets misplaced around November 15th, only to reappear around February 1st, between which dates we’ve already purchased a brand new insulated lunch bag. Or two.
This, like many other reports that come out, always give me a chuckle and begs the question: how did those of us born before the year 2000 survive to adulthood?
Here are some things that we used to do as children:
1. Ride in cars without seatbelts.
2. Not ride in car seats.
3. Play stickball in the middle of the street only moving when a car approached.
4. Lay out in the sun (ok, that’s a bad one and something that almost killed me—glad we don’t do that anymore!).
5. Eat lunches that had been prepared either the night before or in the morning, shoved into a brown paper bag, and carted around in the overheated school building until it was time for lunch. Said lunch was consumed with a warm carton of milk that cost ten cents.
Consuming a warm—and in this case, I mean “not good kind of warm”—lunch day after day at a barely clean lunch table surrounded by other children eating the same was a routine back in the day. I can trace my hatred of onions back to one particularly gross offering of egg salad mushed into two slices of Wonder white bread into which my mother—in a fit of pique obviously brought on by watching Graham Kerr’s “The Galloping Gourmet”—had the idea to spice things up by chopping up little pieces of white onion and putting them into the egg salad. Call me crazy, but when I bite into something that is supposed to be smooth, don’t mix things up and put something crunchy in there. Ever since that day, I amuse/bore/offend anyone I’m dining out with (I’m looking at you, Northern half of Evelyn David) when I ask my intrepid server, “Does your ___________________ have onions in it?” Northern half of Evelyn David is now so used to this that before I prepare to order a chicken salad on rye with lettuce and tomato at our favorite Kosher deli, Epstein’s, she pats my hand gently and says, “Remember. There are no onions in the chicken salad.”
But back to my original question: How did we survive? And beyond that, what are we supposed to do, now that we know that all of the lunch food our kids are eating is probably contaminated? I’m drawing the line at sending the kid to school with a Playmate cooler and since he walks, it probably isn’t realistic to put ice packs in his lunch; he’s weighed down enough as is with massive tomes of fantasy books for “free reading time.” There are just so many days in a row you can eat peanut butter and jelly before you start to go mad and I refuse to send him with those prepackaged lunches that contain more nitrates than anyone could ever consume in a lifetime, let alone during a twenty-minute recess. Sure, they’re safe…for now. But who knows what they’ll do to your internal organs down the road?
Like with most topics/revelations that inconvenience me, I’m choosing to ignore this and continue to send child #2 to school with a lunch in an insulated bag. I could always do what my mother did for as many years as I brought lunch to school: on Sunday, she would purchase two pounds of baloney (and I refuse to write “bologna” because it’s not pronounced that way so I’m not spelling it that way), two loaves of the aforementioned Wonder white bread, two boxes of Devil Dogs, and put my grandmother to work. Grandmother would make twenty baloney sandwiches on white bread, put them in plastic bags and stick them into the freezer, where the Devil Dogs already resided. In the morning, each of the four of us would come down for breakfast and right before departure, grab one frozen sandwich and one Devil Dog from the freezer. We had already been given our dimes for the lukewarm milk, so we were ready to go! By lunchtime, depending on the weather, your sandwich was somewhere between semi-frozen and overheated to the point of almost being a baloney Panini, its flatness only rivaled by the steam coming out from between the two slices of bread.
I’d like to say that it was a little slice of culinary heaven, but I can’t. It was horrible. I can’t imagine giving my kids something like it. But to my mother’s credit, it was brilliant. No more making lunches at seven in the morning. No more wondering if one of the four kids needed something different; everyone got the same thing. It was budgeting and time management at its finest. But whenever one of my siblings or I think about taking a shortcut without kids and stress about doing so, we can always comfort ourselves with the fact that we’ve never sent any of our children off to school with a previously frozen baloney sandwich made by our septuagenarian mother after Sunday Mass.
Food-borne illness be damned, I think we need to harken back to the days when everyone pulled a flattened pbj, or a onion-speckled egg salad sandwich, or a cryogenically frozen baloney sandwich out of their Partridge Family lunchbox and wouldn’t think anything of shoving the whole thing in their mouth while talking about the latest “Planet of the Apes’” movie and washing it down with ten cent warm milk. Because those, my friends, were the good old days. Not only did we not know what food-borne illness was, we wouldn’t have thought of bringing an insulated lunch bag to school, for fear of a schoolyard beat down. Who needs an insulated bag when you’ve got a frozen sandwich?
Tell me, Stiletto faithful, do you have any tricks for keeping your kids’ lunches fresh and tasty? Or like me, and my mother before me, do you think your kids will be fine with whatever they pull forth at the noon hour?