Rediscovering the Homemade Lunch
By Laura Pasetta
Web Exclusive, July 3, 2006
When I was a child, I was lucky. My mother prepared a homemade lunch for me to take to school every day. And even though I wasn't always excited about the carrot sticks or oatmeal cookies, her attention to detail made me feel special and loved.
I never truly appreciated what a gift Mom's boxed lunches were until she passed away when I was a teenager. I clearly remembered one day, after her death, choking down a generic, school-provided hot lunch while my friend unpacked her mother's homemade sandwich and fresh cookies. It was in that moment I truly understood the impact a simple act like a homemade lunch could have. Then and there, I made a promise that when I became a parent I was going to carry on my mother's tradition of making lunch. A lunch built with my own two hands: a simple gesture of love and care for my own children to carry off to school.
Years later, I became a mother to two school-age girls and quickly realized what a juggling act homemade lunches can be. Two children (with polar-opposite tastes) meant preparing two lunches every morning.
I'd barely established the tradition of homemade lunches in our household before both girls began to complain. As the school year wore on, more and more of what I packed returned home untouched, or was traded away on the lunchroom "black market." It was a losing battle and I was losing patience.
It wasn't until a few months later that the true crux of my problem hit home while my husband and I went hiking with the girls. After a morning of strenuously walking, we settled under a tree for lunch. I proudly pulled out the meal I'd made that morning - and was dismayed by what I saw!
The sandwiches were smashed and oozed filling. The crackers, pulverized. The water was hot and had developed a distinctly plastic flavor. It was the most disgusting meal I'd ever eaten—and I had made it. I was about to make a soggy-sandwich joke to lighten the mood when my daughter said, "This is how my sandwich and water get at school."
My mouth literally fell open with shock. Her lunch couldn't possibly be this bad! All those mornings I woke up early to make homemade lunches—this inedible rubbish was the result? I nearly cried with frustration.
When we got home that afternoon I escaped outside to my hammock, closed my eyes and meditated back to childhood: a school day spent concentrating, playing with kids, surviving emotional schoolyard ups and downs. I imagined opening up my lunch box in the midst of all this chaos—ready for a reprieve from my hectic school day. What foods would I most want to see? What would make me smile? The ideas started forming so quickly, I dashed for a pen to write it all down.
From then on, I made it my personal mission to prepare a healthy lunch my kids would look forward to opening—a bright spot in their school day. I interviewed my children and others. I tested new recipes on my family. I studied books on food presentation and storage techniques. Through time and effort, I became a one-woman boxed-lunch expert and my kids loved it.
Now, when my girls come home from school, they regale me with stories of how other kids beg, plead and barter to get their hands on my daughters' lunch. No matter the offer, my girls never give in.
Although I feel for those other kids, with their soggy sandwiches and warm drinks, I'm proud to carry on my mother's tradition of packing homemade love in a lunchbox. She taught me that a little time and effort are the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones; and that the only lunch worth packing, is a lunch that's been packed right. Thanks, Mom.
Laura Pasetta, a health & nutrition expert and mother of two, is the founder and co-owner of The Visual Guide—a video production company offering the best in educational DVDs and free web downloads. Her latest DVD "The Visual Guide: How To Make A Healthy Lunch For Kids", along with demos, recipes and shopping lists, can be found at: www.thevisualguide.com.