Lunch box stress ... the latest thing making harried parents late for work

No doubt there is another layer of great, hand-made food in the bottom of the box.
No doubt there is another layer of great, hand-made food in the bottom of the box. Photo: Supplied

I have not infrequently made myself late because of the degree of difficulty required to construct "good enough" school lunches.

There is the planning time, the actual chopping (or cooking) and then the clean up, which, let's face it, quite often happened/s after returning from the school run because mushroom skins have a habit of sticking annoyingly to the benchtop. That's hard to sort in a hurry.

Sometimes in winter, I make minestrone on the day to put in a thermos, just so I know my youngest – the one still at school – is warmed up with goodness. Often, as a side, I make fresh guacamole, and sometimes, my own hummus. On those days my heart sinks when I walk back in and find every bench trashed (by me).

Throughout the kids' school lives I've regularly made cheesy spinach/mushroom/tomato omelettes for breakfast, and or smoothies (great time pressure seems to make the blender go slower);  partly as an act of love, partly so I know I have done a "good enough job" of food-nurturing, even though I work.

Just FYI, "yoghurt pots" are trending now over anything egg; these involve a Bonne Maman jam jar, layers of unsweetened Greek yoghurt, oats, berries, plus some LSA powder, chia seeds and dried coconut strips to top. Honey is optional. Thank you tweenage Instagram.

Judge me, please, for this time indulgance I can't afford, you wouldn't be the first.

This is not a humble-brag. I don't even like cooking! I don't feel competitive about it, but I do sense ridiculous pressure to perform nutrition. I reckon plenty of my peers would know the feeling.

But, given "how well you feed your kids" is the key metric of adequate parenting as of 2019 (even more so than "how over-scheduled they are" ... which is so 2017), please check the mirror before you stick the boots in.

How you feed your children has become so picked over, weighed up and linked to the quality of your parenting (and your parental self-respect and even moral fibre), I'm surprised there has not been some new obsessive-style disorder diagnosed, en masse. We live in the shadow of Failing Our Children and staying out of it involves healthy every-single-meal – except on road trips.

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My sons are 20 and 19, and though I made their lunches for the entirety of their kinder and school years (a long, and lonely journey for the family of five's anointed – not by choice – cook), they missed the Insta-driven school lunch fetish that hit me full in the working-mother face with the third.

Not that I slouched it when making the boys' lunches. Their favourite mainstay was a variation on a chicken sandwich on super fresh (non crappy) bread which included chopped spring onions/chives, some fine-chopped celery, Kewpie mayo and grated carrot, maybe some thin sliced semi-dried tomatoes for variety and with some nice mixed leaves as well – made on the day, always. I had a techno tuna mix one involving lots of fine chopping too, and a vegetarian felafel option.

My sons are just that bit, blessedly, old to have been MasterChef-food pains (that show has so much  to answer for), but they still learned on the playground grapevine that making sandwiches in bulk on the weekend and freezing them was not ideal. One of the low points of their education, for mine.

My "baby" has just turned 15, and other than not liking red meat she is not a fussy eater; but she does care deeply about nutrition, as do all the peers of hers that I know. A large number of people in her environmentally-conscious age group are, if not strict vegetarians then four-fifths there. It is in their ether like Twistees were in mine.

Vegetarian school lunches are more difficult to produce on a deadline than you may think.

Today, I sent her off with a fresh soba noodle salad (with the fine-chopped spring onion sprinkled, the chopped nori slivers in the box but separated so they didn't go all gluey by lunchtime, and the fresh ginger grated into the little pot containing the dipping sauce ... a friend had advised her that sesame oil was nice with that so we stirred a little of that through, too). Plus lots of fresh sides.

The teens of today, sheesh, their healthy eating standards are high! And plenty in the late teen demographic don't even seem to drink. This is fortunate for the family budget, as all this food stress can drive their mothers to it.