Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lunch machinations

Recently Miss B started waging a concerted campaign to take a storebought box lunch or “instant children’s meal” to school on occasion. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with these, it’s a prepackaged single lunch serving of, say, crackers, deli meat, and cheese. Sometimes there’s a juice pouch thrown in, or a small candy bar. Sometimes the main component is a pre-made sandwich, or a do-it-yourself mini pizza. In every case there is a considerable markup on the price of the individual components, and little control on the part of the purchaser over how the foods are processed and packaged. (Really, the only control you have is over whether or not to buy one. Once you are past that, your options are pretty limited.) One major food producer in the US has a monopoly on these products (at least where I live) and they are marketed directly to children. A number of Miss B’s classmates bring them to school regularly, so she’s been seeing a lot of them and was intrigued.

I don’t judge: everyone is entitled to raise, and feed, their children, as they see fit. But I think that, given my food sensibilities (which are well documented here), it will come as no surprise that I quailed at the thought of spending my food dollars on this particular item. Having said that, I firmly believe that forbidding things only makes them more desirable, and that Miss B would not be harmed if she tried one of these once, or even if she consumed them on a semi-regular basis. So I promised to select a few on my next trip to the supermarket and bring them home for her consideration, and duly did so.

This accommodation on my part did not mean, however, that I was prepared to meekly incorporate this development into the school lunch routine without some home-cooking pushback. The same day that I went grocery shopping, I also made sure to swing by Target—for the random variety of things engendered by any trip to Target, but particularly to search for a kid-sized Thermos. (I may not have mentioned before that Miss B’s favorite lunch is leftovers—particularly any involving pasta or noodles.) I found a nice one, so was able to bring it home alongside the storebought box lunches, and show all of them to her together after school. She was pretty excited.

I suggested that she take one of the box lunches first.

When she brought it home with most of the lunch meat and cheese uneaten, I reminded her regretfully of the house rule about how we don’t waste food, and that no afternoon snack would be forthcoming until the box lunch was finished. Which it was...eventually and unenthusiastically.

Then for the next several days I sent her to school with a hot homemade lunch: leftover macaroni and cheese; leftover Thai noodles; mini pizzas. Her lunch bag came back empty every day. A week later, she caught a glimpse of the unopened box lunch when I opened the fridge to get something else out.

“Mum,” she said, “I don’t want any more of those box lunches. Can you get rid of that?”

As I've said, I don’t like wasting food. But I think I’ll make an exception in this case.

Streamlined mini pizzas
Even half-asleep, I can usually assemble these in less than 10 minutes, and then bake them for another 10 while packing the rest of lunch, signing forms, supervising brushing teeth, etc. Pack them with a piece of fruit or some carrots and you’ve got a nutritious lunch.

1 flour tortilla or pita bread
4 heaping tsp tomato paste
4 heaping tsp shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Using a round cookie cutter or drinking glass as a template, cut 4 circles out of tortilla or pita and place each one on a baking tray. Spread each circle with 1 tsp of the tomato paste, leaving a thin border around the edge, then sprinkle cheese over.

Bake mini pizzas for about 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly. Wrap tightly in tin foil and pack into lunchbox (or insulated lunch container, if available).

Feeds 1 hungry kindergartener.


Zippy365 said... Best Blogger Tips

I think you missed the most important part of the story, where you bought the thermos. "I'm picking out a thermos for you, not an ordinary thermos for you, but the extra best thermos you can buy, with vinyl and stripes and a cup built right in." Now if that's not a mother's love, what is?

Celia said... Best Blogger Tips

You've waged a battle and won, Nancy, without Miss B ever knowing! Well done! Little by little, we'll toughen them up against the peer pressure.. :)

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Zip - how apt! "And what else can I buy, so on me you will rely....?"

Celia - As my wise sister says, "The smartest thing you can learn in school (or out) is how to think for yourself."

Jennifer Estabrooks said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi, Nancy. Reading this adventure reminds me of a saying we have in our home: "Remember the Floam." In case you haven't encountered Floam before, it's a Playdough-wannabe substance that is supposed to stick together into shapes. (Actually it resembles those ice cream "dots" that you get in mall vending machines.) The kids saw a commercial for it and were suddenly dying for it. I finally allowed their grandparents to give them several tubs of Floam for their birthday one year. Well, as you can guess, Floam doesn't work as advertised AT ALL. But rather than being disappointed, the kids were pretty sanguine about it. Now, whenever they see a commercial for something that seems too good to be true, they say, "Yeah, but remember the Floam." So now you have your Floam moment with the Mighty Miss B. Or rather your Lunchables moment.

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Jen - no, I don't think we have encountered Floam yet; perhaps I'll refer us back to Lunchables when that day comes!

countryfriedmama said... Best Blogger Tips

Yay, you! So much better than the "We don't buy that stuff" answer I usually give. My poor kids.

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

CFM - don't worry, I say that about plenty of other stuff!

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