Your Lunch Looks So Good. Can I Have Some?

If thou shalt not covet thy neigbor’s lunch were a commandment, I would still be atoning for my lunchroom jealousies from 6th grade through 12th. I salivated for Rosemary Antonuzzo’s lunch every single day. Made by her Mom Millie Antonuzzo, Ro’s lunches represented to me the best possible ingredients ever to have been placed between two slices of bread (make that Italian bread) and packed into a brown paper bag.

While most of us scarfed down the standard bologna, PB&J, ham and cheese or tuna, Rosemary nibbled on meatball or eggplant parmesan sandwiches coated with the best sauce to be found outside of Italy. Even her tuna sandwiches weren’t standard issue, made instead of the more tasty Italian tuna. I sat next to Ro many a lunch period eating two big pieces of cafeteria chocolate cake sprinkled with powdered sugar, ready to pounce on anything she left over. I wanted my mom to pay Millie to make me lunch too.

These were, of course, before the days of the microwave, high school kids vacating the premises for lunch, take-out salads and takeout everything else. These days I often watch my daughter or son-in-law preparing lunch for my grandchildren, ages four, six and eight, whose tastes are narrow and whose princess or Power Ranger or too-cool-for-all-that lunch boxes come home, often barely touched. They contain everything from fresh berries to yogurt, ham rolls to tuna, cheese sticks to cut-up melon, chopped vegetables to cottage cheese to you name it and, of course, snacks.

With school having just opened or about to depending on where you live, I conducted an unscientific study of kids of both sexes in the early grades. “What would be the ideal lunch?” I asked, “if you could have anything?

Ruthie, 7, from Chicago “doesn’t really like sandwiches,” so she’ll be taking a bag of cut-up cucumbers, a granola bar, a cheese stick (cheese sticks are a big favorite), strawberries and a drink on her first day of second grade. Her friend Mia is big on soup in a thermal cup. Remi, 8, a Long Islander will be toting a tuna sandwich, a pear, and a bag of bar-b-q potato chips. Chad, 6, is a dairy man, who would be happy with a lunch bag full of cheese sticks. The bottom line? No need to knock yourself out. The favorites have remained the same for three generations – turkey tuna, turkey, and ham sandwiches.

The easiest thing, of course, is to get your child to agree to buying lunch in the cafeteria – one less thing you’ll have to worry about the night before.

For those resolving to send their kids with something special for lunch, here are some ideas:

· Lunch kebobs. Put combinations of foods your kids like on a skewer along with bread cubes. Instant sandwich on a stick.

· Pinwheels. Flatten a soft bread with a rolling pin. Place cream cheese and bacon on top. Roll up into a log, freeze, and when ready to pack, slice as you would a cucumber. They will be defrosted but still firm at lunchtime if you pack in a cool pack.

· Make a pita pocket. Mix tuna with chopped salad or any other combinations of things your kids like into a mini-pita into which you have cut a small semi-circle for food loading.

· Make your own salad bar. Pack individual mini containers of chopped peppers , carrots, cucumbers, string beans, corn, celery, cheese squares, croutons – combine some items to save your sanity – and a larger bowl with some lettuce. Kids can make a salad or eat veggies individually.

· Breakfast. Pack Cheerios with a plastic container of berries or raisins or craisins and a small container of milk.

Hint: there are great compartmentalized containers available