Specifications for Packing My Child’s Lunch

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My son’s grandmother did me the favor packing his lunch the other day.  (In a nutshell, I’m sick.)  All she required of me was his Monsters University lunch bag/box/whatever you want to call it (it’s one of those insulated softies), and I ended up throwing in a box of V8 Fusion.  My mother was doing me a favor, so I wasn’t about to lecture her on the specifications of packing my preschooler’s lunch.

I go all out with my kid’s lunches.  I like to be creative and make things fun.  Bagged lunches can be boring, so I like to include variety.  I also like to zazz things up with fun character or holiday-themed paper products (plate and napkin), colorful zip-lock bags (available at Target), and character-themed tupperware containers.  I’ll periodically rotate in special food themes –– “China food” or “Mexico food,” or even “spooky food,” and on the rare occasions that I throw it a dessert, I’ll find some way to make it literacy based.  (This used to be a major hobby of mine.)

I also make a point of including “love notes” in his lunches.   Even on the day that Grandma packed it for me, I made a point of slipping a little heart-shaped sticky note into his lunch box with an excuse explanation as to why everything looked so dull different.  (Wasn’t it NICE of Grandma to pack your lunch today?)

I’ll scribble down a few sentences worth of well-wishes, interesting facts, useful information, or suggest social prompts.  Some notes will have it all.  And every note contains an integrated “sight word”, which I also make a point of S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G O-U-T. It sounds crazy, but the kid loves it, and his teachers find it adorable.  (There are only six other kids in his classroom, so they can afford to give him a little extra attention.)

So this got me thinking… what if I had left my mother an exacting set of instructions on how to prepare and pack my child’s lunch?  There are plenty of parents out there who obsess over what they feed their kids, and god help you if you accidentally feed them inorganic produce.  Some insist artificial dyes were responsible for their children’s behavior problems; others seek to “cure” their kids of autism Jenny McCarthy style (which evidently involves removing gluten and casein from their diets).  More still have taken it upon themselves to “diagnose” their poor kids with multiple food allergies and intolerances before subjecting them to rigorous dietary restrictions.  I can only imagine the enormity of the written instructions these parents must leave their child care providers, who may not even be able to make the distinction between quinoa and couscous.

Grandma ended up sending the boy in with beans, spaghetti, and the V8 juice I’d given her.  Not quite the lunch I would have packed, but certainly delicious and nutritious enough to keep my child satiated and content.

But if I had left her a list of specifications for packing my kid’s lunch, here’s what it would have looked like:

1. THE LUNCHBOX: Dimensions of lunch pack should be approximately 7.5 inches in height, 9.25 inches in width, and 3.5 inches thick.  Must come fully insulated with zipper closure, top-carry handle, and suitable for children ages three and up.  Acceptable designs include Monsters Inc, Mickey Mouse, Toy Story, and Dora the Explorer.

2. PAPER PRODUCTS: One (1) round or square dessert-sized plate to be placed beneath one (1) full-sized paper luncheon napkin.  Plate and napkin should coordinate, thought the designs need not necessarily be identical.  For instance, a Minnie Mouse napkin may be paired with a Mickey Mouse plate, provided they are similar enough in coloring.  Solid-colored napkins may also utilized, so long as they are appropriately matched with a character plate.  For example, a red napkin may be paired with a Lightning McQueen plate.  Under some circumstances, it may be permissible for a solid-colored plate may be utilized, but in these rare instances, the corresponding napkin had better be pretty spectacular.  Under no circumstances may a solid-colored plate be used with a solid-colored napkin.

3. PLASTICWARE: If plastic spoons and/or forks are needed, it is essential that they not be permitted to violate the integrity of the plate-napkin color coordination.  Due in part to the vast under-representation of forks and knives in children’s lunches, it is not always economically feasible to have all plasticware match the paperware.  Still, a diligent effort should still be made to ensure that the colors do not clash.  If a suitable green or yellow spoon cannot be located for my kid’s yogurt, a black or white spoon may be substituted in its place.  (Note: metallic-looking plasticware should only be used with space/futuristic character themes, and clear only goes with winter themes.)

4. THE DRINK: Include 6.75 and 8 fl. oz of organic whole milk or V8 Fusion.  MIlk must contain at least 32 mg of DHA per serving.   Acceptable brands of milk include Horizon Organics and Stonyfield Farm.  The preferable flavor of V8 Fusion is pomegranate-blueberry, but strawberry-banana is also acceptable.  Kefir is also an appropriate beverage.  Milk and juice must be contained within an appropriate air-tight sports bottle (suggested design: Monsters University) and twice tested before being placed into the lunch pack.  Kefir is best stored within 8-oz plastic tumblers, preferably clear to make the flavor more readily identifiable.  Due to the thick nature of this beverage and its potential to ruin and entire lunch, tumblers filled with Kefer are required to be check thrice.

5. THE DAIRY: If milk or Kefir have been packed, move on to the next step.  Otherwise, a Dora the Explorer (strawberry) or Cars (vanilla) yogurt cup should be included in the lunch.  Alternatively, you may substitute a quarter cup of shredded cheese for the yogurt, but only if the meal is Mexico or Italian-themed.  Monterey jack or a cheddar-jack mix would be an appropriate accompaniment to a Mexican lunch, while parmesean, romano, and asiago cheeses may be paired with pasta, either independently or as a mixture.

6. THE FRUIT: A fresh banana (neither too green nor too brown) or a packet of ascorbic acid-treated apples will fulfill this requirement, as would half a cup of seedless, tricolored (red, green, & black) grapes.  Grapes should be washed with a special fruit & vegetable rinse (available in most produce sections) and cut in half the morning of school.  Dried fruit (such as craisins and raisins) are also acceptable, as are “monkey chips” (i.e., plantain chips).  It is important to observe that my child DOES NOT eat banana chips.  If V8 Splash has been packed (see Step 4), a full serving or fruit may not be necessary.  A few grapes may suffice, or a vegetable (such as corn on-or-off-the-cob), or perhaps even a small dessert as a stand-in.  (See Step 9.)

7. THE ENTREE: The entree should ensure my child a balance of all three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and quality fats.  (Whole grains whenever possible/tolerated.)  Acceptable entrees include but are not limited to a turkey “sandwich” (the low-sodium turkey breast must be packaged separately from the whole-grain potato bread, as they are not actually consumed as a single unit), Spanish rice (Uncle Ben’s brand) and beans, spaghetti with tomato sauce and a TON of cheese (which would also fulful the dairy requirement — see Step 5), rice and “Mexico” cheese (ditto on the dairy), lo-mein noodles (be certain to supplement with milk), and turkey sausage or meatballs with a whole-grain potato roll on the side.  There needn’t necessarily be a discernible entree, so long as reasonable protein and caloric requirements have been met.  For instance, a lunch consisting of V8, rice cakes, yogurt, craisins, and shelled sunflower aka “sunny” seeds would be perfectly acceptable — and is a great favorite.

8. GOOD FATS: Seeds and seed oils are some of the best sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids available.  (Please note that my child has a nut allergy.)  Every lunch should help ensure that he is getting sufficient amounts of these in his diet.  Sunny seeds and/or sesame oil (over noodles) are a great supplement to any meal, but chips cooked in certain oils — such as sunflower, safflower, or canola — may also suffice.  My son eats both yellow corn chip and “monkey chips,” and he has never met a potato chip he hasn’t liked.  Also, as discussed in Step 4, all milk should contain at least 32 mg of DHA per 8 oz serving.

9. THE DESSERT: Desserts are optional and should appear sporadically.  They should be small, preferably free of artificial dyes and ingredients (my reputation with his teachers is at stake here), and serve to both educate and entertain.  Trader Joe’s Cinnamon School Book Cookies are ideally suited to this purpose, although it is crucial to take the time to securely wrap each individual word in aluminum foil so that my child is not forced to deal with a jumble of letters.  Also, the word must plainly match the word-of-the-day in the note.  (See Step 10.)  Fortune cookies make great accompaniments to “China food.”

10. THE NOTE: To be penned on a single heart-shaped sticky note, preferably red, though pink would also be acceptable.  Holiday-themed sticky pads may be substituted whenever appropriate.  Due the inherently unreliable stickiness of Post-It notes (as well as the cheap knockoffs), the note should be secured with tape to another lunch item — preferably a container, but a ziplock bag will also suffice.  Note the note should never be attached to cold item due to the risk of condensation-related water damage.)

The lunchtime love note should begin with a formal greeting (either ‘dear’ or ‘hi’ will do) followed by my child’s name, and end with a ‘<3 [lunch packer’s name].’  Black or blue ink.  If the sticky note is a color other than red, the heart should be shaded in with red ink.

The body of the note MUST contain a three or four-letter sight word suitable to the content of the message.  This sight word should highlighted (either underlined or all in capitals) and then S-P-E-L-L-E-D out, either immediately following the sentence which includes the sight word (i.e., “have a good day today!”  D-A-Y) or just before the signature.  As mentioned above, the body of these love notes should include well-wishes, interesting facts, information, and/or social prompts.

The love note is — and ought to be recognized as — the most essential component of my child’s lunch.  Because without the inclusion of that red (or pink) heart-shaped (or Christmas tree-shaped) sticky note in my son’s lunch bag (or box), my child will feel as if he’s been abandoned, his teachers will assume he is being neglected, I will have failed in my duties as a mother, and Child Protective Services will undoubtedly crucify me.  Which is why I make a point of being the BEST. LUNCH-PACK. EVER.

Here’s an idea: what if I were in charge of setting a state-mandated school lunch policy for ALL preschool children, and given unilateral discretion to determine what parents are required to send in with their kids — regulations which, if violated in the least, would end in confiscation, weighty fines, public humilation, suspension, and possibly even loss of custody for repeat offenders.  (Note to self: I’ve found my calling!)

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Gluten-Free Cured My Babbygurl of Cancer and Cerebral Palsy

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I would like to go on the record as saying that I only wish more people would “go gluten free.”  The gluten-free craze has led to a wider variety of tastier and cheaper gluten-free foods being made available on grocery store shelves.  In many instances, manufacturers take into account that food allergies and intolerances will frequently come in clusters (I’m gluten / soy protein / egg albumin; my son is cashews-pistachios-hazelnuts), so they’ll do their damndest to put out products that appeal to a wide array of consumers.  (Snyder’s of Hanover makes everything-friendly pretzels which are absolutely godly.)

It’s becoming what the low-carb craze was ten years ago, and I dread to think what may happen if or when it loses momentum.  Up until quite recently, every gluten-free packaged food with the exception of rice pasta (corn pasta ❤ was not yet around) tasted like cardboard.  And the thought of not being able to enjoy the foods I’ve grown used to is almost enough to put me into a Y2K mindset.  Hell, I’ve been buying corn thins by the half-dozen ever since Simply Organic discontinued our baking mix.  Last night at Wegman’s, my four-year-old went so far as to tell me that I had to eat what we had at home before we could buy any more.  (I need my fucking corn cakes!)   And don’t even get me started on chicken fingers and egg-free salad dressings (I collect them).

Steak vs Broccoli Meme

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The following image has been making its way around Facebook, thanks to New York Times best-selling author Joel Fuhrman MD, a self-described “doctor of nutritional medicine” who believes in treating disease with diet.

Broccoli was chosen for this meme for a reason: compared to other vegetables, it is one of the most abundant sources of plant protein.  What the meme fails to address (for clearly ideological purposes) is the QUALITY of the protein in question.

Vegetable protein is garbage protein.  Not only is it incomplete (lacking in essential amino acids), but the essential aminos that are present are only available in trace amounts.

Now, the standard rebuttal here is that plenty of mammals (e.g. cows and giraffes) live on diets of nothing but green leafy vegetables, and they do all right.  But such animals have the ability to digest portions of the plant that we cannot (such as cellulose), and from there they are able to synthesize the nutrients lacking in their diets.  It’s similar to how bacteria within the human gut produce Biotin and B12.

Bottom line: broccoli is a wonderful source of nutrition and is readily available enough to be included in near everyone’s diet — just not as a source of protein.

Americans Embracing “Gluten-Free Crap”

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I see no problem if someone wants to cut something out of their diet, but it pisses me off to no end when (A) they get all sanctimonious about it and (B) they fabricate a medical condition to go along with their decision.

That being said, this gluten-free craze is quite convenient, as far as grocery-stores go.  Have you see the gluten-free aisle at Wegman’s? It’s spectacular!  The variety, quality, availability, and price tags of packaged gluten-free foods have improved tremendously over the years.  The gluten-free gimmick has proven itself profitable to both manufactures and distributors, but if people quit diagnosing themselves with celiac disease (or actually bother Googling ‘gluten’ to find out what it is), the hopes and dreams of the 6% will be shattered. :’-(

But the Gluten-Free restaurant gimmick is something else entirely.  Restaurant employees know full well that the majority of people on gluten-free diets do not have a medical reason for it, so no one seems to give a flying fuck about avoiding cross-contamination.  Far worse, you’d be amazed how often a manager will admit that they sneak in “just a little bit” of flour — “for the pan” — or “just a touch of soy-sauce” for flavor.

Two-Thirds of a Pickle Spear

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So you’re always hearing about how restaurant portions are out of control, right?  I mean, I’ll go to California Pizza Kitchen, order a half-sized BBQ chopped salad, and be blown away by the amount of food they put in front of me.  But what about commercially-packaged foods, especially the heavily-processed and carb-laden stuff like cookies, crackers, pasta, etc?  Has anyone ever actually taken a look at what constitutes a serving?

Seven corn chips or one-eighth of a box of spaghetti?  Two-thirds of a pickle spear?  Eight miniature silver-dollar-sized pancakes?  One-tenth of a box of muffin mix when the end product yields twenty-four muffins?  Are you seriously fucking kidding me?  And have you ever seen how tiny the individual serving packets of instant oatmeal are?

These are perfect portion sizes for toddlers, but are in no way realistic for anyone over the age of six.  It pisses me off when manufacturers intentionally label their products to make them seem healthier than they actually are.  I mean, do they seriously think their consumers are THAT stupid, or are they counting on people not reading the labels?

I happen to be an ultra label-scrutinizer, but occasionally some things do escape me.  For instance, a few weeks ago I bought a box of gluten-free macaroni & cheese from Wegmans.  I’m not one for pasta (let alone mac & cheese) but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep it around for the sake of variety.  After giving it the quick once-over, I saw that there were 325 calories per serving, and three servings per box.  (To be fair, it was a fairly large box.)

Anyway, my cupboard is pretty bare right now cuz I haven’t been to the store (I ended up eating taco shells for breakfast), so I figured it was time to break out the mac & cheese.  It wasn’t until I’d boiled the water and actually opened the damned box that I realized the entire mix yielded only a single cup.  WTF??  First off, a thousand calories for a cup of anything is just ridiculous.  But more importantly, to claim three servings per box is absolutely misleading, and to package these two tiny little envelopes (pasta and sauce) up  such a gigantic box is nothing short of deceptive.

Yeah, I’m bitter because I ate it.  ALL of it.  I was hungry and out of taco shells.  And I’m now about to drag myself out to the store, if only to burn off some of these friggin’ calories.

But seriously, folks — two-thirds of a pickle spear?  Come on, already!

I Have a Dream

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I have a dream that one day the preschoolers of this nation will sit down and live out the true meaning of the phrase, “Sitting Down to Dinner.”

I have a dream that one day my son and the sons of others will be able to sit down with their families — AT THE DINNER TABLE — and remain seated for more than three minutes at a stretch.

I have a dream that one day even *my* child, sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be able to plant his little ass in his chair and eat whatever the hell I put in front of him.

I have a dream that my little child will one day judge his meals not by color and texture, but by their nutritional content and flavor.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, at a restaurant or at Grandma’s house — as Grandpa’s lips drip with soothing words of justification for outright defiant behavior — one day, right there at the table, my child will use a FORK to eat his fucking spaghetti and chocolate cake instead of his hands.

I have a dream today.

How to Feed a Toddler

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STEP ONE:
Select a delicious, nutritious meal to feed your child.

STEP TWO:
Sober up to the realization that there is no way in hell he would ever eat that.

STEP THREE:
Come up with a new meal featuring minimal (less than three) ingredients.

STEP FOUR:
Assemble the meal. In many cases, cooking will not be required.

STEP FIVE:
Present the meal in an attractive fashion (sandwiches shaped like zoo animals, pancakes decorated to resemble faces).

STEP SIX:
The sell. (“Oh WOW, these look sooo yummy! “ / “You’re a lucky [boy/girl] to get such a yummy [breakfast/lunch/dinner]!” / “OM NOM NOM!”)

STEP SEVEN:
Once the meal has been refused, stand firm in your resolve that THIS is [breakfast/lunch/dinner], there will not be an alternative [breakfast/lunch/dinner], and he will eat what you’ve made him.

STEP EIGHT:
The entire meal finds its way onto the floor. Luckily, you anticipated this, so there is an identical plate sitting right out on the counter. Clean up and replace lost meal.

STEP NINE:
Ignore your child’s frantic cries of hunger. You’ve already fulfilled your parental obligation to make [breakfast/lunch/dinner]. Go empty the dishwasher or read a magazine.

STEP TEN:
The cries get louder. Your child is clearly starving. Deny the pleas for Cheerios and Goldfish Crackers. He will eat what you made him or go hungry. You are strong. You are the one in charge.

STEP ELEVEN:
Disregard the pity in your heart for your starving child. Ignore the guilt you feel for imposing such suffering upon a small, helpless creature. Go do some laundry.

STEP TWELVE:
The cries of your child become unbearable. Over the sound of the dryer, you think you hear Child Protective Services knocking at your door. Beg your child to sit down and eat his meal. Offer him cookies if he takes just two bites — no, one bite — of his damned [breakfast/lunch/dinner].

STEP THIRTEEN:
Your child is wasting away. You are a horrible [parent/grandparent] for abusing your child so. Fearing [loss of custody/incarceration/eternal damnation], you allow him a belly full of [Cheerios/Goldfish Crackers] for [breakfast/lunch/dinner].

STEP FOURTEEN:
Break down crying as your child happily eats his snacks. By this step, you should feel guilt for giving into the demands of a fussy toddler and denying your child a healhy, balanced diet — he would have certainly eaten the full meal if only you had held out a little longer.

STEP FIFTEEN:
Child learns to get what he wants through emotional blackmail. As you begin to plan the next meal, so does he.