Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Lunch Conundrum


That one word will make me sigh with exhaustion. Just by uttering it, I feel tired and helpless. To quote a hilarious friend, "Why must they eat? Every. Single. Day?" 

When our oldest went off to PreK three days a week, I was so excited to pack her cute little lunchbox. We went to Target and picked it out. It was pink and glittery and showed multiple Disney princesses. I couldn't wait to fill it up with little goodies like organic cheese cut out with star cookie cutters, nitrate-free ham rolled up and stuck onto a fancy little toothpick, whole-grain-sugar-free-but-still-amazingly-delicious homemade muffins, and write sweet love notes every day on her napkin. (Why I did this I am not sure. She couldn't read until 1st grade.) I would fill her thermos with homemade noodle soup - homemade broth AND homemade noodles. I read blogs about packing lunches and how to make them fun. I looked at pictures of lunches other amazing moms packed. I researched the best leak proof containers. I made sure I had her favorite items and the healthiest granola bars. We practiced lunch. I mean, I packed her lunch to eat at home, made sure she could open all the leak-proof containers and unzip the BPA free baggies I packed. 

Then the first lunch came and went.

She came home sad because she had not had time to eat all of her lunch. She had forgotten to grab her $20 water bottle from her cubby. (How many plastic bottles of water could I have packed her for $20? I know, I know...the environment!) A boy had kicked her lunchbox from where she had dutifully placed it on the floor like she was supposed to. A girl said her boiled egg smelled like a poot. She had noticed there were letters written on her napkin but had no idea what it said. The leak proof container had opened and spilled homemade ranch dip (store bought had too many ingredients for my taste) all over her beautiful sparkly lunchbox.

I pressed on.

I was only having to pack two lunches that year, and two days a week I only had to pack Preston's so I continued on my quest of fun, healthy organic lunches, even though more often than not, they were coming home largely uneaten. I learned to draw pictures of hearts and sunshines instead of write words she couldn't read. I bought even more cute toothpicks and cookie cutters. I subscribed to blogs solely devoted to lunch packing.

The next year, another child went off to preK. I learned from the first experience. We ordered lunchboxes that had a little pouch on the side so I could tuck their ($20) water bottles into the side of it, and they wouldn't have to remember to get them out of their cubbies. I bought stainless steel containers because who knows? Maybe the plastic ones aren't really BPA-free even though they claim to be. I don't know what BPA does, but I read a blog saying it was bad, so it must be. You can trust blogs to always be 100% accurate. I tucked even leak-proof containers inside baggies so when they inevitably leaked the spill would be contained. Sometimes I forgot to draw a cute picture on their napkins but nobody is perfect. Although I considered myself pretty darn close. 

Two years passed before the third child went off to school for preK, but I evolved light-years in my lunch packing. I was having to pack three lunches a day, five days a week, and half the time Preston would leave his in the fridge. (Which always prompted me to send him a nasty text about he must not appreciate all I do for our family. Honestly I'm surprised he continues to come home at night.) "Why not have them buy the school lunch?" you are wondering. Well, the school lunch costs $3.75, and that times a whole bunch of lunches is a whole bunch of money, and I have seen the amount of food they throw away. I'd be better off to just throw my cash in the garbage. We let them pick two days a month each to buy lunch. They almost always picked the two pizza days, although one child swears to hate pizza when it is offered to her at home, which is really another blog post. I'll come back to that another day.

The nightly line up.

By the time the Baby went off to preK this Fall I had taken a part time job for the mornings all three were in school, so now we needed five lunches packed. I was begging people to tell me what I could put in their lunch boxes they would eat. I was willing to buy anything. Especially if it was prepackaged because that made my life so much easier. I took them to Kroger, and we went up and down every aisle filling the cart with high fructose corn syrup, yellow #5, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and pure white sugar. Rarely do I add a napkin note. A kiss as I shove them out the van door should be enough to communicate my love.     

Here's the kicker: they STILL came home having barely eaten their lunches! I guess the cafeteria is for socializing. I wouldn't even pack a lunch anymore but if they don't have a lunchbox their teachers will assume they are buying hot lunch so I'll get charged for more food they are planning to throw away. Packing lunches became my least favorite time of the evening. We upped their hot lunch allowance to once a week, which they were so excited about. I guess throwing away hot lunch is more fun than throwing away home-packed lunch. I lectured almost daily about starving children, we are so blessed, blah blah blah.

And then in October we took them to an event called "The Compassion Experience." It was put on by Compassion International, which is an amazing organization based out of Colorado through which we sponsor two children. They took the stories of children who have been through their program and basically "built" their lives. They took pictures of the children's houses (if they could be called that) and recreated them, setting up different scenes from the child's life experiences in another culture. Throughout the tour we listened on headphones as the child (now an adult and graduate of the program) told his/her story. We saw a bench the 13 children living in one small dirt floor hut used to fight to sleep on. We saw the jail cell one starving boy was thrown into for stealing bread and heard how the 20 boys in the one small jail cell fought to lick up one boy's spilled gruel next to the toilet which was out in the open. We heard how one girl was so excited to get a rotten apple dropped on market day to share with her whole family and how later in her life her family could not grasp that they would be allowed to pick a fresh apple from the tree and not eat the ones already fallen to the ground.

This opened our girls' eyes more than ten million lectures. More than beating them over the head with the command to "be thankful." When we exited the tour we were given the opportunity to sponsor a child. We were already sponsoring two so insisted to the girls the money wasn't in the budget to sponsor another. They were disappointed, but we would not budge.

The next morning the girls had the day off school, but Preston didn't so he went off to work. At breakfast the girls kept talking about the Compassion Experience. They were particularly affected by one boy who had been older when he finally received word he would be sponsored. He said he used to cross all his fingers and toes just praying his name would be called, but assumed it wouldn't be because the young, cute kids were always the ones who got sponsored. They really, really wanted to sponsor an older child. I was still insisting that the budget was really tight, but if they could figure out a way to squeeze out $38 a month we would do it. I texted Preston to see if this was ok. He was fine with it, confident we wouldn't be able to find an extra $38.

One girl goes, "What if we never bought hot lunch again?" I did some quick math and figured out that would get us super close, but it meant I would always be packing lunches. I was extremely hesitant. Another one asked, "What if we cancelled Netflix?" Now this is a big deal in our house because we don't have cable and someone has to contort themselves and hang an antennae out the window like the rednecks we are to get some of the five channels we pick up to come in clearly, so Netflix was our main source of TV.

I questioned their willingness to do these things FOREVER, even on PIZZA DAY, and one girl said, "If someone died because I couldn't give up pizza, I would feel horrible." 

And that was that.  

We immediately got on the computer and sorted the children by "longest waiting." We picked a 14 year old girl in a high danger area. She is beautiful. We have already begun sending letters back and forth. Not a day goes by that the girls don't pray specifically for our three Compassion kids. The oldest told me that when there is something in her lunchbox she doesn't like she just thinks about those boys licking up gruel beside the toilet and is thankful she has food. God has changed them. And let me remind you, it is ALL Him because Preston and I were discouraging it. We were totally opposed to another child to sponsor. Thank God for the grace of covenant children.

There is still complaining in our house. Lots. Over ridiculous things. One child recently sat at the supper table for 45 minutes over a bite of broccoli, which when she finally put in her mouth, sent her into dramatic gagging convulsions. Lunchboxes still come home with uneaten food. We are spoiled. 

But now we are praying for the Lord to show us WHY He planted us here instead of on the streets of Bolivia. Why did he give us soft beds instead of a narrow bench? Why do we live in the safest area of the safest country of the world instead of behind a bar where we have to worry about a drunk man stumbling into our shanty during the night? What should we be doing with these seemingly endless resources You have showered on our family? How can we use it to bring glory to Your Name and spread the name of Jesus?

And so, although packing lunches is still a chore (I mean, sometimes I just want to throw in a can of tuna and a can opener.), it is my favorite chore. Because with that one chore God is changing the life of a girl across the world from us. I no longer worry if every lunch contains the right balance of food groups. My children are offered healthy food every single day. I am so thankful for that. 

I encourage you to check out Compassion International, take your children to The Compassion Experience if it is ever within a day's drive of your house, choose a gift from their Christmas catalog that could literally save a life.

And have a Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas! He is born this day! And I know it's for Easter, but the best part of the story: He is risen! He is risen indeed!!

Grace and two weeks off from lunchboxes,


  1. This is an awesome blog and so very encouraging. I will be sharing it.


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