Remembering School Lunch

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. TC mark

image – Greg Mote


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  • hana

    i was that kid who ate the cereal part of the lucky charms

  • Michael Koh

    Lunchables are NOT perfect. I remember getting food poisoning from the hamburger one. 

    • Abby

      Hahahah I was just about to say that I still eat Lunchables on the reg. I packed the bologna and American one for lunch today (I know, bologna is gross and everyone hates it, whatever, I love it).

      • Michael Koh

        You definitely need to go to Sizzlers.

  • justwannadance

    this is PHENOMENAL. i loved every second of it. i too have this fruit snack issue. ALSO- a good friend of mine orders dunkaroos and koala yummies online and always has them in his car. i still freak out a little every time i think about how i’m probably the only person i know that has access to that shit still! and i will still eat a pizza lunchable no matter what that pepperoni is made of…

  • Peter Tiso

    And let’s not forget those magical creatures, the Foreign Kids: the snacks accompanying a Japanese classmate’s lunch were the stuff of dares (dried jellyfish, anything with seaweed) and legend (pocky, those sodas with the marble up top)

    • Ang

      way to make me nostalgic brooo

  • Dawn Croff Haltug

    I was a combination of the WTF lunch and the Perfect Lunch..I laughed so hard I was crying reading this…so true!
    What’s sad is I’m almost 30 and I still eat lunchables every single day…Bologna or Ham!!! HAHAHA

    • Colleen Farrell

      i’m 27 and i eat lunchables at work. everyone thinks i’m a nutjob.

  • Steve Seikel

    I had the stupid insulated zip top lunch pail dealy.. mom made pita pockets with turkey and sprouts, i usually had some pomegrante seeds or a kiwi and pretzels. water to drink.  and this was 1988! I really enjoyed it. I wish someone would make me those lunches today. sigh. no one is better than mom, girlfriend.

  • Caroline Evertz

    This could not be more true. I lived for Lunchables. My mom only packed them a few times, but when it happened it was like Christmas.

    After elementary school I became a part-time (then later full-time) Cafeteria Lunch kid. Which was awesome by the time I got to high school cause we had one of those new, fancy renovated cafeterias, with sandwich sections like Subway and a “grill” section.

  • Jill

    GUSHERS!!! It was like fruit cumming in your mouth. 

    • Steve Seikel

      they still make that shit but it got stuck in my braces.

    • Stephanie Georgopulos

      Comment of the year. 

  • ae

    lose* their shit. this was insanely awesome. I always got the Standard or Cafeteria Lunch hahaha

  • Jamie Peck

    I was the weird kid who got made fun of for bringing stuff like ratatouille and tabouli salad for lunch. I ate what my parents ate, and my parents were bourgeois bohemians. Not my fault! Kids are so mean. I think they are all dead from Dunkaroos-induced heart attacks now, though. I win.

  • Mr Shankly

    Every often my sandwiches would get inevitably ruined in some way or another (think leaving a tuna sandwich too long until the bread gets soggy) and I’d have to throw it away. Something about the notion of discarding a sandwich which my mama had lovingly prepared for me the night before made me want to cry. It still does.

  • Megan

    I suddenly have returned to my seven-year-old body: the girl sent to school with a mushy PB&J everyday insanely jealous of the gentile kids who were allowed to eat processed ham-ish meat in their Lunchables.

  • Brian McElmurry

    Brought me back! Awesome

  • your cousin

    Farley’s. Farley’s are the Fruit Snacks you want.

  • your cousin

    Farley’s. Farley’s are the Fruit Snacks you want.

  • Jin Stella Kwon

    I don’t want to be anal or anything but “loose” and “lose” are homophones and cannot be used interchangeably.
    Wow, going against the system and not eating school lunch has helped me lose weight. My favorite pair of skinny jeans are so loose on me now.

    Regardless, great article. 
    Growing up I was uber envious of the kids who had the “American” lunches you mentioned. 
    I was the girl who ate alone because no one wanted to be around the smelly ethnic food that consisted of rice, kimchee, and some type of protein such as eggs or bulgogi.

    • rina

      and ‘rotten’ tea eggs

    • greek

      If you’ve ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you’ve seen the part where Mia narrates her 6 year old life and there’s a conversation between her and the “pretty blonde table” that goes somewhat like this:
      “What is that?”
      “It’s moussaka!”

      Yeah, that was totally my life. All I wanted was a wonderbread sandwhich :(

  • Pizza lunchables ruined me

    PIZZA LUNCHABLES! There were so many varieties of this type of lunchable alone!
     my mom would pack me one every friday out of the month if I made straight A’s. :D. Any other time though she would laugh in my face and say “Those cost two dollars and fifty cents a piece! I am not a money tree, you have siblings.”

    aww nostalgia.

    • pizza lunchables ruined me

      now and then i’ll buy one for myself (i’m in my 20s), and they’re still delicious.

  • Kelsea

    My mom rarely packed my lunches, which was disappointing  because when she did she always cut the sandwiches into the coolest shapes.
    I stayed with my grandma over the summers as a kid, though, and she’d always sign me up for day camps and art classes and such. She made the best lunches. They were always a perfect balance of healthy and crap. A deluxe sandwich with stuff like romaine lettuce and avocado and tomatoes,  some kind of fruit/veggie, some kind of semi-nutritious snack thing (think nutrigrain bars) and then something straight-up bad like a baggie of cheetos or a fatass cookie or both. It was always different because she went to costco and bought huge boxes of “lunch-worthy” foods and she liked being creative. Hell, I wish she still made lunches for me.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t even remember what I had for school lunches really, sometimes lunchables I do know and I never bought lunch in elementary school. I was far more into what my lunchbox looked like than what was inside.

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