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OpEd: Over-the-top school lunches are making me feel like a bad parent

Ultra-fancy lunches are giving some parents an inferiority complex. Whatever happened to PB&J and an apple?
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Karen Green, September 9, 2013 9:29:12 AM

School started last week, and with it came the avalanche of forms to fill out, schedules to negotiate and decisions to be made: should we let the kids walk to school on their own this year? Will soccer and drama club overload the extra-curricular schedule? Should tomorrow’s lunch be an Angry Birds-themed bento, or should it be a fun all-orange lunch? Maybe just a simple Finding Nemo theme, complete with fish-shaped tuna sandwich, because you know, it is only the first week.

Wait, what?

That’s right, parents; it’s no longer good enough to just pack a nutritious, nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, litterless lunch for your kids; now it has to be fun as well!

It’s unclear how or why the trend to turn a kid’s lunch into an edible work of art began, but thanks to websites like Pinterest, where people can search, add and curate images and ideas, and a slew of books dedicated solely to the pursuit of building the perfect school lunch, the quest for overachievement in a brown paper bag is gaining momentum.

And it’s making the rest of us parents look bad.

Sure, it’s fun to look through the pictures of animals you can create out of a hunk of cheese, or the many ways you can turn rice into the face of your child’s favourite anime character, but these unnecessary endeavours should really remain aspirational. The issue is, as soon as we allow these things to become something we think we actually have to do, the battle is lost.  Because the bar will always be arbitrarily higher than we could ever reach, and lord knows, parents can find more than enough ways to feel we are somehow failing our children. Not being able to craft an origami swan out of a fruit leather should not be one of them.

And we can’t be doing our kids any favours by treating them to such lavish lunches either. We may say that these bento masterpieces help our picky eaters get excited about the midday meal (the one, coincidentally, that we cannot spend hovering over them to ensure they eat), but then what happens when a boring old pot roast is placed on the table at suppertime? Or are we going to have to whip the mashed potatoes into a replica of the Taj Mahal for our picky eater as well?

The truth is, the most delicate carving of a cucumber flower will not keep a cucumber out of a garbage bin if a child would rather throw away a cucumber than eat it. We will not convince our children how much we love them by deconstructing sushi in their lunchbox, and we are doing nothing to enhance their education by feeding them a sandwich in the shape of a car rather than a sandwich in the shape of a sandwich.

So this school year, let’s aim to spend a little less time on lunchbox sculpture, and a little more time on the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic – and reasonable, regular lunches.

Image credit: Wendy Copley/

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