Monday, September 3, 2007

Lunch Variety, Schmariety

Recently, I was looking at a web site that talked about “bento box” school lunches. The idea is interesting – basically, you use a lunch box with lots of little compartments for different types of food. Supposedly, having mini compartments for mini portions of fun finger foods makes lunch more interesting, so kids eat it. Some suggestions included sandwiches cut into cookie-cutter shapes, veggies with dips, and wraps cut into 1-inch lengths and stabbed through with fancy toothpicks.

It’s a good idea, but it would be wasted on my son (aside from the fact that arming him with fancy toothpicks out of my sight shows questionable judgment).

School lunch at my house consists of three options:

1. Pasta with non-dairy margarine in a thermos
2. Salami sandwich (dry)
3. Sunbutter sandwich (SunGold Foods’ Sunbutter is a peanut butter look-alike that’s made from sunflower seeds. I swear it tastes and feels like the real thing, and it’s completely nut-free. Their web site is, and I promise they don’t know me from Adam, so this isn’t a paid endorsement! But if you’re missing peanut butter in your house, even your non-allergic picky Aunt Freida will love this stuff.)

Of those three options, my son really only wants the noodles. The other two are the emergency “I forgot to buy more pasta” options.

Variety is just not important to some kids. We adults have a hard time accepting that, the same way we insist our child needs a sweater if we happen to be chilly ourselves.

Although my son is only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, the main reason the selection is so limited is because his best friend is allergic to milk and eggs, in addition to peanuts and tree nuts. My son and his buddy sit together at the “allergy table” at school, and my boy refuses to eat anything at school that might make his friend sick. So that eliminates all cheese, which is his primary staple at home – he’s the only 8-year-old I know who stops at the cheese table at the grocery store and begs for mozzarella balls, brie, gouda, and bleu cheese – yes, he actually likes bleu cheese! It also eliminates most breads. But we have found one brand of milk-free and egg-free bread and a couple of brands of egg-free pasta, so we can do sandwiches and pasta.

He likes grilled meats, such as chicken, pork chops, and steak, but not if they’re cold and sliced on a sandwich. He also hates all sandwich meats except for salami. I used to pack a veggie or fruit in his lunch, but he refuses to waste time eating them, because he wants to get outside and enjoy his recess. So I stopped wasting perfectly good carrots and bananas. I figure the pasta will get him through the afternoon, at least until he gets home and I can feed him something healthier.

So all those great ideas for bento-box variety simply won’t fit into my son’s little mental compartments. The only variety he cares about is the shape of the pasta he picks each week.

Fortunately for me, he views lunch as fuel, not as an event. So while I worry that he’s sick of the same old thing, he isn’t yet. And until he complains, I guess I won’t waste time or energy trying to force more variety into his lunch box. And I sure won’t spend $30 on a cute little compartmentalized Japanese-inspired bento box lunch pail (although my son would think that was WAY cool).

That leaves me extra time to worry about introducing more variety on the dinner table, right?

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