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VOICES

Parenting No more school lunches to be made? Praise be!

Mum Margaret Lynch says she’s tried every which way to make healthy lunches for school, but has had to just admit defeat.

LAST UPDATE | 1 Jul 2023

AS THE FINAL graduation balloon pops, and we lose the last glimpse of the school bags beneath the clutter under the stairs, I can start to breathe a sigh of relief.

The school year is finally over. No longer will I spend my mornings overheating while I race around trying to get everyone sorted, and myself out the door.

Even more importantly though, I have two months where I don’t have to fill lunchboxes. No more washing, peeling, chopping or prepping. No more disassembling 16-level lunchboxes, with more corners than should be possible, all involving increasingly more difficult catches and clips. Oh, let me count the ways in which I hate packing that box of food that always returns to the house in the exact same condition it left; full.

Child of the ’80s

When I was at school, my mam sent me in with corned beef sandwiches and a bottle of diluted orange every single day, all the way from Junior Infants until I took the reins. I still cannot look at either. Unsurprisingly, I went on hunger strike quite early on, and just left them sitting in my bag.

My parents still fondly recall pulling out my school bag on a Monday morning, with a week’s worth of grey, dusty sandwiches built up inside. I can still vividly remember the smell.

Anyway, I was determined to do better with my kids. When they started school, I wanted to be a Pinterest worthy Mom. I wanted them to have the best. I imagined the gasps of appreciation when they opened their lunchboxes to show freshly chopped fruit, and fun, creative sandwiches. While my first mistake was setting the bar too high, my second was completely misjudging my audience.

I ordered shape cutters on Amazon, along with a stack of brightly coloured boxes. I sent in highly entertaining, but likely very inefficient lunches. Everything had 47 different safety latches, and nothing worked properly. They needed help with everything, and I still feel the need to apologise to their teachers for this.

Too much

Lunch boxes were regularly returned uneaten because of how hugely impractical they were. Sure, the Hello Kitty-shaped sandwich looked great, but the bread-to-jam ratio was way off. They took way too long to open, and I don’t know about your kids but mine are definitely the ‘lose all interest after one attempt’ kind.

No matter how hard I tried to make it look appetising, once you put it into a school bag, on the back of a small child, it might as well go into a cement mixer.

By the time they come home, it’s like a hurricane has ripped through it, and I can’t even begin to describe the smell. Even though they are only unrefrigerated for a couple of hours, they always come back smelling like dead feet. What an absolute joy then, to empty out the contents that were so carefully gathered and assembled, and begin the daily ritual of washing all 87 compartments, so that we could re-fill it for the next day.

It just wasn’t working. I scrapped the whole thing and went back to the drawing board. Hours of research later, I began putting together lunchboxes with snack foods they typically ate. How could this go wrong? I sent in salads with boiled eggs, pots of tuna, leftover veg from the night before. Very simple, and only took 3 – 5 working days to make each lunchbox. Which was definitely worth it then… when the lunchboxes still came home uneaten. It looked like they opened them, took a dainty nibble, and then violently shook them for the next few hours.

‘This has gone too far’

Eventually, the younger one came home one day and said that everyone had been trying to locate the source of an awful smell at lunch. ‘And the smell was my lunchbox!’ she said accusingly as if I had done it on purpose. The boiled eggs and broccoli were to be banished. (Again, I send my apologies to the teachers).

Around this point, I decided to try thermos flasks of hot food. I envisaged a healthy soup, or pasta dish that I could make in bulk and then have enough for the week. Simple, right?

The crucial step that I forgot to account for though, was heating things up in the morning. As you are all aware, any job left until the morning quadruples in the amount of time it takes. So when I found myself making carbonara dishes at 7.50 am I realised things had gone too far.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t even rock bottom. We went on to have multiple incidents where flasks weren’t closed properly, and school books never recovered. If you look closely on the road outside the school you can actually see a trail of tomato soup leading all the way back to our house. The main downfall was that this was around Covid time, so every day became a new chance to make an exciting potion out of whatever was in the flask and hand sanitiser, plus anything else they found from the classroom (and yard). Also fun to clean up.

Rock bottom finally came when the youngest forgot to bring a spoon for her chicken noodle soup. When she came home that evening she told me it was fine, that she just used her hands. Noticing the look of absolute horror on my face, she quickly assured me that no one noticed. It was finally time to admit defeat.

Each year I tell myself that September will be different. That this will be the year I finally get it right. But this year I really do think I have the right idea. I am going to invest in some pieces of wax fruit like they have in Ikea, and just send it in to get it out of the house for a few hours.

I’ll pair it with a standard ham and cheese, because who among us doesn’t have a childhood trauma stemming from a particular food? It’s a rite of passage. It’s character-building. The only part left to figure out then is telling my mam she had the right idea the whole time.

Margaret is a busy mum, working and living in Kildare. 

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