Jeni Marinucci: Panic Button Years


Stop the Brown Bag Burnout

It's late in the year and we've got nothin' left


The end of the school year is in sight, and let me tell you, I am stoked! Sleeping in will be a nice change from our regular early morning routine, and I don't want to see that red brick building for two whole months. Don't get me wrong – I love our school, as does my son. I love everything about it - the teachers, the admin staff, the curriculum, the location. But I am quite happy to bid adieu to the routine for 10 or 11 weeks. I especially look forward to no longer having to fill out 46 page liability waivers so my son can walk to the mailbox or open a juice box. If judged by size, these field trip forms indicate taking a shuttle to the International Space Station to have kidneys removed before parachuting him home.

But even permission forms are a treat compared to what I hate most about the school routine: packing lunches.

Lunches are the worst thing about school. I once tried to convince my 10 year-old that it was "skip lunch or somewhere a dog will die" day. Another time, I kept him home an extra day from school after recovering from a head cold just so I wouldn't have to pack a lunch.

It wasn't always like this. When my kids started school, I was so excited to pack their lunches. Being an all or nothing kind sort of gal, I was going to pack the most delicious, nutritious, and satisfying lunches anyone could hope for. Their lunches were going to be the envy of every student and teacher in the school. Kids were going to be offering them new bikes and baby brothers in exchange for organic roast veggie and feta spelt wraps and smoothies chilled by purple butterfly-shaped ice packs. I bought the most beautiful lunch bags I could find and filled them with eco-friendly BPA free litter-less reusable colour-coded containers and matching flatware. I sent notes about how much I loved them. I bought monogrammed organic hemp napkins. I MADE SOUP.

Lunch soon became the centre of my universe and took the better part of a day to orchestrate. Every day I came close to tears, in a near state of panic about what to pack. I scoured the Internet searching for healthy lunch ideas; I purchased kid friendly cookbooks written by celebrities, I peeked in random school windows hoping to get a glance at fads in school dining. I accosted children at random bus stops asking what they had in their bags and how they'd rate it. Each night I would get out my laminated copy of the Canada Food Guide, sanitize the counters with bleach and don my apron. But the resultant lunch was worthy of a magazine article photo spread on healthy eating. I was exhausted, but it surely was worth it – the food was an extension of my love, a motherly gesture felt in my absence.

I grilled the children incessantly on what others in their class ate. What do they bring? Do they like it? Do they trade with you? They looked at me blankly and just shook their heads at my obvious incompetence in the lunch department.

Slowly, the refusal to eat my gorgeous lunches led to less than exciting midday meals. Now, a decade and a half into my parenting journey, I am experiencing what I call "Brown Bag Burnout." The average lunch now consists of broken crackers and a curled piece of sliced cheese that slipped under the crisper drawer, an apple with the bruise bitten out, some shriveled baby carrots I convinced them were dried apricots, and a granola bar I found in my purse. Any loving messages of pride or support have slowly morphed into something like "Tell your teacher your math homework isn't done because you were at soccer. DO NOT tell her it was because it was so hard it made me cry and I had to drink two shots of gin and then had you make your own dinner." It was written in purple sparkle eyeliner on a napkin that I found in the garbage.

When I was in school we did it the right way – we walked home for hotdog chunks in a bowl of Zoodles and purple Kool-Aid while we watched The Flintstones.

I've decided that for the remainder of this school year I am sending them with a paper sack, scissors, and a copy of The Field Guide for Wild Edible Plants of Ontario . They can forage for lunch in the field behind the school.

Here's How To Pack A Healthy Lunch Your Kids Will Actually Eat