Well, it’s happened again. You’ve squandered away a perfectly good summer without enough beach time and the kids are back in school. This was a weird month a few years back when Lucas refused to eat cafeteria food. It was his first year in kindergarten and he was not impressed with the grub at his new school, so his mom and I packed lunches every morning.
By first grade I had convinced the chap there would be something enjoyable every day and he didn’t have to clean his plate. It made me think of my friends that brought their lunches, even into high school. The right sack lunch was valuable. It was leverage. You could get what you wanted if you had the right snack.
These kids had such an advantage over those of us who paid $1.25 for meat and three plus a carton of chocolate milk. They could rule recess by what they brought into the cafeteria. It was like trading for cigarettes in prison. I remember Eric Thomas always had saltines and peanut butter, and was the first to show up with a juice box. Michael Weems always had sandwiches with a generous amount of delicious mayonnaise. Fruit Roll-Ups, zipper bags of cheese balls, Capri Suns, pickles and tooth-rotting candy became currency for something someone else bought at the school bookstore.
Of course, these days there are restrictions far greater than when I was in grade school. Basically at my seventh grade you couldn’t bring alcohol, a firearm or a knife with a blade over 4 inches. Now the punishment for bringing anything with peanut butter is isolation at the leper table. It’s easier for a sexual predator with an AR-15 to make it onto school grounds than a Snickers bar or a PayDay.
I’m not sure if the same goes for shellfish. If not, it’s coming. I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 years from now you’d have to have a certified gluten-free commercial kitchen proven to be unimpeded by any type of contamination from nuts and shellfish just to be able to pack your child a lunchbox.
Working with what limitations we have, the boys and I set out to create ultimate lunches capable of making trades that immediately skyrocket your child into the cool clique. Some of these ideas border on the absurd, but my children approve. Keep an open mind. We are spitballing ideas at a rapid pace.
The first idea was Lucas’. They have a microwave to use if they just ask the teacher for permission. Lucas says forget the Kraft Easy Mac. He wants homemade Lobster Mac and Cheese. No doubt this is a memory from my birthday visit to Ruth’s Chris. It was a family-style side he thought was his sole entrée. If you don’t care to make it yourself, they do sell it to go. I promise I don’t spoil my children. That was one night and it was a gift card (thanks, Curls).
You obviously can’t have peanut butter sandwiches anymore. Graham says he prefers avocado on toast, anyway. Who are these kids with their hoity-toity ideas? Squeeze a little lime on the avocado and wrap it in a zip-close bag to hopefully prevent it from turning brown.
At some point you are going to have to pack a lunch that will compete with square pizza day. You want to beat out the cafeteria-eating kids? You’d better pack a pizza. But you have to make sure your golden child has much better pizza than the cafeteria. Anchovies, meatballs, artichoke hearts, whatever topping Junior desires no matter how far fetched will make him the envy of the table.
Make use of that thermos. Oyster soup with mushrooms is super easy to prepare. Start with a sauté of onions and garlic in butter. Add three cups of whole milk and half a cup of heavy cream. Bring the milk to barely a simmer and add a pint (or more) of oysters and their liquor. Finish with a handful of fresh chopped parsley, Creole seasoning to taste and a squeeze of lemon to brighten it up. Even the rich kids will be jealous.
Let’s talk about hummus. Little Suzy will think you don’t love her if you toss some store-bought single serving into that designer lunch bag. Moms who care start with chickpeas and a food processor. Slowly add quality olive oil (and a little reserved liquid if using canned chickpeas). The Spaniards have the best olive oil for this. Ask your darling if she would prefer roasted garlic or fresh cracked black pepper. Sriracha is a little daring at that tender age and if she trades it she may burn up an underclassman. Avoid commercially produced chips and toast your own pita. Carrots, cucumbers and bell pepper slices can work but you’re walking a fine line.
You can’t expect high praise at the next PTA from other parents hearing of your legendary lunches if you just make your kid a wrap. You’ve got to dress that up and turn it into pinwheels. Painstakingly roll that spinach tortilla up tight with all the Virginia ham, artisanal cheese and hydroponic lettuce you can squeeze, toothpick it and slice into cute discs. It’s best to serve it with some kind of aioli that has more than one descriptive word in front of it — for example, lemon-garlic-tarragon aioli.
Some people I know are too good for mayonnaise. You know who you are. #teammayonnaise
Here comes the best part: dessert. Most schools have a ban on chocolate. My kids say you can bring Oreos but not a Hershey bar. Whatever. We want to keep this classy so our children believe they have the best parents. Homemade granola in a yogurt parfait with fresh-picked berries is a great idea. Another knuckle-busting option is freshly produced applesauce with lots of cinnamon and graham cracker sticks for dipping.
It’s easy to elevate that Batman lunchbox or Frozen lunch bag. You want your kid to be popular, don’t you? Drop the Lunchables this year and show them how much you care!