Never mind homework and exams. School lunches create as much anxiety for school moms at the beginning of each school year. Trying to juggle the tuck shop, your kid’s nutritional needs, your time, the odd hangover as well as your shopping planning (or in the case of my sister, forgetting to shop and raiding my fridge in desperation) is no easy task.
A few years ago, I read countless articles on “healthy school box lunches” and laughed at the mere suggestion of sandwich fillings. Sandwich? My child ate her first sandwich at the age of 12.
Every school day, I did the walk of shame, delivering my child with her strange lunch box, wondering what the teacher thought of this so-called “cook” and her dreadful lunch boxes, sometimes filled with only white rice.
But, I downloaded Martha Stewart’s lunch box notes and each day packed one into my tactile-defensive daughter’s blue Tupperware lunch box, along with her white rice.
She attends high School tomorrow, her eating habits and appetite are normal (often adventurous) but while she has little memory of eating the same meal, once a day for 6 months, she always reminds me of her “ lunch box love letters”.
Luckily I now have a little toddler whose favourite meal is broccoli and mealies but despite this I will continue to create magical moments and memories with her lunches. I will cut her white bread and sugary peanut butter sandwich into hearts and I will let her eat cupcakes without the icing, as she likes it, just as I let my first-born eat the icing without the cupcake. I will not stress about exams, homework or have lunch box guilt because these will not form part of her idyllic and nostalgic childhood memories.
This excerpt from the recipe book, Apples for Jam, resonated with me because as a child I remember reading the Famous Five, by Enid Blyton and wanting to try all the food she so beautifully described in each book: Tongue sandwiches, hunks of gingerbread, tinned sardines in tomato sauce, liquorice candy, fat fried sausages, potted meat and scones with clotted cream.
I ate Bull Brand (potted meat sounded better) anchovy paste, cooked tongue and gravy and spaghetti in tomato sauce because even though it did not match her description and my imagination, it made me feel sophisticated, magical and fortified to unravel any mystery.
But that was my memory.
My job as a school mom is not to create a picture-perfect balanced guilt-free lunch box but a positive relationship with food, beautiful memories of opening the lunch and magical moments spent eating it ( even if that entails only white rice).
An excerpt from Recipes for Life (Tessa Kiros, Apples for Jam).
“I love the collage of it all-a little bit like dancing together-the mixing of a child’s soul and tastes with your own, and adding a squeeze of lemon and a dash of creativity.
As a child I wanted fizzy orange and special sandwiches held together with mystery. I wanted tiny coloured cakes and other things that I’d read about that impressed me. These are the things I want my children to have now-now, as I watch them lying in the grass hugging only this moment, while my mind is spinning with the washing machine and wondering what school lunch should be tomorrow.
For a lot of the time I feel as if we are in a relay race, swapping batons just in the nick of time, trying to get it all going a little smoother. But children are just so now. I try to take lessons from them-they want it now, to eat what they want now, to have fun now.
I will not force them to like the smell of boiled cauliflower, but I will paint better pictures in their bowls, let them make their own sandwiches, have apple bread when they come home from school, ratty and ravenous, and tell stories while we eat, and love them all the same whether they like meat or not. I will try to compliment them on their differences and insight and hold them up to the light of other moons, and maybe hand sew their marble sacks if they will have them in florals-just like the dresses I wanted to sew for my dolls, while I made mud pies and dreamed of being part of the circus.
I wanted to be confided in by other girls, wanted the teacher to love me, wanted to eat home-churned butter and cream and have my sandwiches made from farmy things.
And now I carefully weave things into lunchboxes: I give them chocolate bread with butter, fish pie and bright coloured fruit salad, roast chicken and crumpets. I will give them the things I dreamed about on my walks with my brother and sister. It is what I can give them from the depth of me..because I want to give them my best. My BEST chocolate cake.
I want to wash their sheets so they smell of tumbling hills and blossoms, and roll out crisp beautiful pastries; boil up bright and floral strawberry jams.
Let me forget and giggle with them, and leave apples lying around the house, with just a couple of bites taken out, and fly with the winds of now as I collect the pearls that spill from their mouths.
Let me scatter some inspiration onto them and hope to see it in their drawings-hope their suns are smiling, and that I am always drawn next to them.
Let me sprinkle some more cinnamon sugar on their paths, and hold hands as we collect apples and bright berries and watch them all joining together in the pot for jam.
Have I added to their building blocks, shoring them wih strength and their own magnificence?
Have I shown them enough colour?
Did I let them have enough ice-cream and leave them alone enough without my anxieties?”