Monday, April 18, 2011

On Quik and bag lunches, AKA: the bad old days

Two seemingly disconnected but real life memories occurred to me in light of some of the latest headlines:

Memory 1: I have this amazing soft spot in my heart – and elsewhere – for chocolate milk. I come by it honestly and with great affection. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw “chocolate milk” listed in a quiz titled something like “favorite kids’ treats you miss as an adult” that I realized I might be some kind of chocolate milk freak. Did that mean all adults didn’t drink chocolate milk? Who knew?

This is the result of a girlhood memory. Too many times to count, I heard this request from my Dad at some point during the evening: “ ’Nays, make me a glass of chocolate milk.” And because he retained just the littlest bit of his boyhood Brooklyn home in his voice, it sounded kind of like “Chaulk-lit milk.”

So there you go: I grew up spooning out the Quik, watching a grown man drink chocolate milk pretty regularly. (I have not one memory of my Mom ever requesting or having a glass of her own.) My siblings and I must have stirred up our own glasses of chocolate milk at the same time but I can’t quite remember doing that.

Memory 2: For about fourteen years, my husband packed lunches for our three sons to carry to school. The reason he made them was simple: he did it very well. He spent real time on their sandwiches, creating popular, delicious “main courses” for them five days a week, as opposed to what I would do: slap some lunchmeat between slices of bread, use few if any condiments, and call it done. The boys would often remark in the evening how tasty a particular sandwich was that day. They never said that to me. (Saying I have a knack for creating sandwiches is like saying Charlie Sheen has a knack for creating a calm, spiritual atmosphere wherever he goes.)

Other than the great vs terrible sandwiches, their dad and I took the same approach to their packed lunches: a sandwich, a piece of fruit or some grapes or carrots, plus a pudding cup, or Jell-o, or String cheese or a cereal bar of some kind, or maybe one other kind of treat. We also offered beautifully decorated hard-boiled eggs for a few days every spring, following PB&J on Fridays for six weeks every Lent. (They were my specialty.)

I did write notes to the boys once in a while and tuck them into their bags. And everyone knows one note = 47 really good sandwiches.

You can imagine my incrankulous response to the headlines in the news about food in schools. One story reported on schools in the D.C. area banning chocolate milk from their cafeterias, in an effort to address childhood obesity and remove the high-fat, high-sugar drink from cafeterias. Their confounding choice came down to this: students getting less calcium and fewer nutrients as a result of the ban or students taking in more calories and sugar by drinking chocolate flavored milk. Uproar from parents and students alike led to the drink being reformulated into a “healthier” version and reinstated in many schools. Sounds delicious.

The second news story goes a bit further than addressing the “problem” drinks in the cafeteria. Teachers and administrators reported seeing too many unhealthy lunches over the years and believed that students would get better nutrition by purchasing lunch in school. New rule: Students may not bring a packed lunch from home. They must buy what the school offers in the cafeteria.

This might be the perfect time to pause to ask this question: For God’s sakes of America, what is going on here? Schools and parents are beside themselves because children are drinking five cartons of chocolate milk a week. Administrators and teachers are horrified at the chips and sodas included in the lunches some students carry to school each day.

You know what might be a good idea, right about now? You know it – I know you do. Moderation. Remember moderation? Neither do school administrators.
Go right ahead and serve chocolate milk; but serve it just once a week. You’re concerned about the packed lunches that contain cupcakes, not carrots? Sure you are but what do you do about the lunches that have the carrots not cupcakes? The phrase 'baby and bathwater' springs to mind.

Since most physical education classes are just short of a joke these days, here’s an idea: everyone gets up and takes a walk around the school or around the perimeter of the gym or the cafeteria for the last 5 minutes of lunchtime everyday. That way, you address your concern about what’s in the lunch bags by encouraging activity to offset it. Sadly, five minutes of activity a day or twenty-five minutes a week may be all the exercise many kids get these days.

Or how about this: offer students a reward for bringing a healthy lunch from home. A healthy lunch five days in a row gets you credit at the school store. Or a “library late fee forgiveness” voucher you can use the next time you have an overdue book. Talk with business in the community and see what you can cobble together for prizes.

Obviously, I don’t have the answers. But making rules - just because you can - is never a good idea. The question is this: What does it profit a man to ban Fritos in a lunch box if the alternative is a plate of chicken nuggets or mozzerella sticks?

And I'm sorry, but the idea of a childhood that is chocolate-milk-free just sounds kind of sad.


Michael Ramsey said...

Enjoyed your blog! I share your love of chocolate milk! I can't have breakfast at a diner without ordering a glass,however, it tastes best when consumed from a little cardboard box.

renee said...

Thanks for visiting Michael and sharing your feedback.

Without question, my favorite chocolate milk is in a cafeteria but the kind you pour yourself out of a huge, refrigerated drink dispenser of some kind. I remember having it in college and it was like getting dessert.

For home made, I prefer Ovaltine. The malt is an added delight.

say what? said...

I solved the lunch problem by skipping it altogether and going to the library to read or do homework. As I'd learned in the first grade, I don't much like groups of people so a nearly empty library was preferable to a crowded cafeteria.

renee said...

Say what: an excellent option for people who don't miss having the midday meal.

Sadly, I've never been one of those people who say things like this: "Weird! I forgot to eat today." I wish.