It was the last day of school for the next two weeks. I am jolted awake from the realisation that I have not ordered a lunch from the girls school, nor have I packed one last night (my usual routine). For the first time this year, I see the packed lunch as a source of stress, rather that the mindset of opportunity to share, as I have worked to carve it out to be.
As I mentioned before packed lunches have become internet fodder and a source of weird competition in recent years. From mums and dads posting beautiful photos on Instagram and Pinterest, to websites offering round ups and inspiration from top chefs and and food writers. Rather than get into the nitty gritty minutia of what I pack the girls (we have a range of basics to choose from) I wanted to discuss the way in which I’ve reframed the making of packed lunches, a task that could easily be considered a drag and chore- especially when under duress.
Most evenings at dinner I ask the girls what has been their favourite part of the day. It helps to get some otherwise absent details about what they’ve actually done or experienced during their long, often already forgotten about, school day. Their answers vary; from what they ate to who they played with to what activity they participated in. On the days when they respond by asking me my favourite part of the day (a small victory whenever it happens!), my answer is always two fold; I tell them something that happened to me whilst they were at school, and I conclude by saying ‘and right now’ – indicating the time when we are all gathered around the table eating together. I know it sounds cheesy as hell- and it absolutely is. But it is also true. And they recognise that honesty. My response has always consistent whenever asked, and I see how that consistency pays off by watching the girls take pleasure by offering up a ‘right now’ before then telling me something else about their day. Another small win.
The girls are young enough to be offered school lunches free of charge at their state school, which is amazing and something worth mentioning as it helps so many families across the country. We take advantage of those services a few days a week with select meals the girls enjoy and they love the experience with their friends. But I have also never seen or tried the food they eat, so it’s not a shared experience between us. Part of the reason I send packed lunches is to share mealtime with them, even if I’m not physically there. I tuck in their favourite cheese into their sandwich or add a few little finger foods like dates or olives that I know they love, alongside a quick note to say hi or tell them a joke. I don’t spend more than ten minutes making their lunches each evening (I make them either in the midst of dinner prep or straight after the meal is finished so the task doesn’t linger on my to do list). They aren’t fancy or very interesting really- certainly not by social media standards. But it’s my way of sharing a little bit of their day with them, so it doesn’t feel like it’s been eight hours since we last interacted.
I’m going to go against the grain of most parents I know by saying rather than dread making packed lunches (unless, like this morning the thought of forgetting them is what has woken me up in a cold panic) I actually really enjoy making them. There, I said it.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I’ll be back in the 2019 after many meals shared around the table, once we are all back in the swing of school and packed lunch season once again.