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by C. Jeanette Tyson

Sing along with me, if you can. (and I know you can):

My bologna has a first name. It’s O-s-c-a-r. My bologna has a second
name. It’s M-a-y-e-r. hm hmmmh hmmhm and if you ask me why I’ll say: ‘cause
Oscar Mayer has a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a.

Or what about this one?

And you can’t drink it slooow if it’s Quik. nonodido… sluurrrppp…
that’s the saddest sound I know.

My kids don’t sing about their food. It’s so sad. I consider it a
failing of the organic food movement. What organics needs is not more
recipe makers and earnest nutritionists. What it needs is a couple of
catchy jingles.  With a little effort from the ad folks, the juvenile
obesity problem could be solved faster than you could say “honey, want
a shot of wheatgrass in your thermos?”

These are the kind of profound musings I have at six in the morning.
The dead still of the house is broken only by the hissing of my coffee
maker—such a beautiful sound. Maddy and Jackson lie tangled in pillows
and dreams and I make lunches. This is a satisfying task; there’s a
sweet rhythm to spreading the peanut butter or folding the turkey,
washing little carrots and grapes, filling a slim bag with pumpkins
seeds or pretzels, slipping in miniature banana custards or teeny weeny
brownies. I send them off to face the day with this high-test fuel and
a silly note about how love is like a flying pony or swimming heart. Do
the makers of the Spongebob lunchbox intend it as armor? It is, in my

A while later my children wander in, sleep still clinging to their
faces and hair, and say “Mom, can we buy lunch today?” Shot in the

What is the allure of the cafeteria lunch? It couldn’t be the food,
could it? Is there, somehow, a lunchroom hierarchy that starts in
kindergarten? I decided to find out.

The kids at Eanes Elementary seem so happy to be eating. They form
their lines quickly and, once to the tables, get right down to the
business at hand. One day last week I looked down the line and realized
my son was the only child with a hand-packed lunch.

It was pizza day. According to his teacher, nearly everyone buys lunch
on pizza day, followed closely by hamburger day. The pizza platter also
comes with green beans but somehow I don’t think they get eaten. The
least favorite?  BBQ chicken. At least that was the teacher’s least
favorite. She was the one stuck with cutting the tiny pieces of meat
off the bones, with a plastic knife, no doubt. In a word, yuk.

Anna, a fellow kindergartener who’s as strong-willed as my own
daughter, and thus her best friend one day and sworn enemy the next,
declared “breakfast for lunch” her favorite meal in the cafeteria. It’s
hard to argue with pancakes, I have to admit. But chocolate milk and
dessert on top of that? You’d think the teachers would revolt.

The next day was beef burrito day and participation had declined
markedly.  Instead, there were a lot of cheese sandwiches from home.
There were orange slices and chips and juice boxes. There was at least
one of those pre-packaged boxes. One little boy who sat there
empty-handed for a long time. “Dad said he was coming. He’s bringing me
Burger King.”

Lunchroom drama I didn’t see. They’re not allowed to trade their food,
not that almond crunch on spelt is going to fetch much on the kid
market. They’re not allowed to sit willy nilly wherever they want. I
heard no crazy tales. Maybe one:  Samuel had gained fame for eating the
cafeteria lunch 75 days in a row, barbecue chicken and all. He seemed
no worse for it.

And good behavior in the lunchroom is rewarded: by having lunch the
next day with the principal. Maddy’s class was graced that day.

Principals don’t get challenged too much by kindergarteners so I asked
her a few questions myself. Who designed the menus? The federal
government. My thoughts turned to thoughts of ketchup as vegetable. But
in truth, the menu is balanced well.

There’ve never been sodas on the elementary campus but there have been
changes along that line, she explained. There are fewer “extras”
offered—no more baskets of chips. Cookies and ice cream, once available
every day, are now only sold once a week.

I watched the teachers stroll along the tables. They noticed when a
child wasn’t eating. They prodded those who were merely distracted and
encouraged others to just take two more bites. Without nagging too
much, they championed the eating of entrees before dessert.

I confess that I didn’t actually eat the cafeteria food. Maybe next
week.  It may not make gourmands out of our little ones, but on paper
the meal is balanced and it’s warm and filling. For some, it could be
the best meal they get that day and I understand that. Volunteer
parents roamed with extra forks and napkins. Teachers and even the
principal stood by.

In other words, someone, right now, is watching what the children eat.
Maybe not the way I do, but they’re watching. And I hope they keep
watching, because my journey through this system is just beginning.
I’ll only become more vigilant when my kids refuse their lunchboxes

Meanwhile, if I let the kids buy pizza once in a while, and maybe grab
an extra fifteen minutes of sleep myself, they’ll probably survive.

I can still stick the silly note in their pocket.
C. Jeanette Tyson (freelance writer and mom to Jackson and Maddy)
is AustinMama.com's beloved Foodie. Her award-winning advertising and
branding work can be seen at thethinkkitchen.com


I I I I I I I  

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