The other day while I was grocery shopping (ew), I found myself surveying the fruit snack shelf for an impossibly long time (because I will eat the fuck out of any and all fruit snacks and I have to pick one brand to favor or I’ll buy them all), and it was there that I had an epiphany. Grocery shopping for children (or people who eat like children) is fucking overwhelming – and parents who’ve perfected the art of packing a lunch deserve a goddamn medal and a show on the Food Network. I don’t have kids (or a boyfriend, or health insurance, or a driver’s license, the list goes on), but I now have perspective on every elementary school lunch I’ve ever endured or encountered.
The most respectable lunch was the Standard Lunch, which arrived at school in a lunchbox or some other vessel specifically designed for and marketed to schoolchildren. Inside was a cold cut sandwich wrapped in tinfoil (probably bologna with mustard on white bread) (why do kids love bologna so much?), an apple, maybe some carrots that you’d throw away or feed to the class bunny/guinea pig, and a branded snack of some sort. Dunkaroos seemed to be a common side dish. These lunches were packed by the parents who had just enough time and money to send their kid to school with a well-balanced meal. These parents also didn’t buy into “what’s cool” – you had to beg for those Dunkaroos and they only gave in because they love you and want you to be happy.
There was the Brown Bag Lunch, a slight downgrade from the Standard Lunch. Because kids are sloppy and destructive, Brown Bag Lunches are usually smushed and tattered before the kid gets off of the school bus. Instead of a bologna sandwich, the BBL usually came with a PB&J ‘protected’ by Saran Wrap. Accompanying the PB&J was a half-full Ziploc of Lucky Charms – this automatically cut the snack portion of the meal in half as everyone knows the marshmallows are the only part of Lucky Charms worth eating. There was always one kid who’d eat the cereal bits, though. There’s always one. Instead of carrots, you’d have a second Ziploc with chopped celery in it – even the class bunny/guinea pig didn’t want that shit. A small box of Sun Maid raisins completed the BBL. The parents who packed a BBL meant well, but were either a) frugal, b) did not understand what children like c) had a happy-go-lucky kid who didn’t complain about their lunch or anything, really.
Perhaps the most famed of them all is The Cafeteria Lunch. The Cafeteria Lunch kids are essentially in a yo-yo relationship against their own will. Some days, it’s so good that they can’t believe it. They dip their chicken nuggets into a mayo/ketchup cocktail with an unshakeable smile on their face. “This is surprisingly good,” they think, “This is actually sort of great!” Two days later, after feasting on stuffed shells and canned vegetables, the kid is raising his hand every ten minutes to ask for the bathroom pass. This “reality-call-of-nature” will last for the remainder of the day, but the memory of Cafeteria Lunch betrayal will linger until the next time pizza returns to the menu (so, Friday). All kinds of parents opt for Cafeteria Lunch – it is the great equalizer.
One of the best and worst lunches is the WTF Lunch. The WTF Lunch has no main course and, by design, is a meal only a child could conceive of. It’s like Kevin McCallister packed that shit. It comes with three Fruit-by-the-Foot’s, a plastic baggy of chocolate Teddy Grahams, that cheese slop that came with a red stick and four crackers, a pack of Nutter Butters, a shitload of Cheetos, a bag of Animal Crackers, two Sunny Delight’s, and like… a Ring Pop. The WTF Lunch had zero nutritional value. You knew it was wrong, but you were still jealous of the kid that bargained his way into a WTF Lunch. Parents who provided the WTF Lunch lived in a Kidtatorship. What The Kid says, goes. The parents were just doormats with money.
Finally, we have The Perfect Lunch (which, from an adult perspective, is fucking gross). The Perfect Lunch is usually just a Lunchables deluxe with some extras, like a bonus Capri Sun and a pouch of Gushers. Kids loose their shit over mass-produced ham and ketchup tacos. The parents who sent their kids to school with The Perfect Lunch probably had disposable income and kept perfect pantries.