there's no such thing as a free lunch

School lunches, as if there were ever a more hotly debated topic among school aged children and their parents. This year, Ren and Ash’s school—a brand new school—does not have the facilities to make fresh, hot lunches, yet. They do sell cold breakfast and lunches, but if my kids are going to eat a cold lunch, I would rather send lunch with them. Cost comparison, about the same. The benefits of a packed lunch far outweigh that of a purchased lunch. I know exactly what is in each lunch, and each home-packed lunch is a complete nutritionally dense and delicious meal packed in insulated ice blocks to keep their lunches cool, thermoses to keep things warm if needed, and bottled water—sometimes filtered at home and refrigerated and sometimes bottled from the store.
    Ash and Ren are not opposed at all to a packed lunch. In fact, when asked them what they wanted in their lunch bags, they offered a few suggestions but were really quite open to anything, anything that is, until they actually started eating their lunches at school.
    The first day, they both got chicken and cheese cubes, chocolate raspberry greek yogurt, raisins, and for snack (because they both get a lunch period and a snack period) carrots and pretzels with hummus. When they came home that day, Ash raved about her lunch and said, “I loved it. You can send me the same thing every day.” Just like her Dad, the same thing every day for lunch my self- satisfaction and congratulation was short lived, “I didn’t like the yogurt,” Ren said. “I don’t want that again. And I couldn’t open the hummus container.” I showed him how to open the plastic container.
    The next day, I packed the same thing for both kids, without the yogurt but with added cherry tomatoes for Ren. At the end of the day, Ash had eaten everything in her lunch box, except for the carrots and the hummus. “I didn’t feel like it.” Ren brought home some pretzels and half a box of raisins.
    The third day, same as the second and returning home was hummus from both kids, carrots from Ash, and pretzels, raisins, chicken, and a full bottle of water from Ren.
    The fourth day, I didn’t send hummus or carrots. Ash got chicken and extra cheese cubes, more pretzels and raisins and crackers, and yogurt. Ren wanted cheese, pretzels, tomatoes, pineapple, no chicken or raisins, and a juice box, please.
    “We don’t have any juice boxes,” I said.
    “Why? Why, momma? Why don’t we have juice boxes? In the name of all things good and tasty, why don’t we have juice?”
     I could have gone into my usual discourse on the nutritional void of processed food and the imbalance of fair trade and the global economy, but instead I shrugged and hopped on the internet to research a juice box that I could live with.
    That afternoon, Ash brought home pretzels. Ren brought home pineapple and pretzels and some cheese. “It tasted horrible, momma. I really didn’t like it.”
    On the fifth day, they bought lunch at school.
    At the beginning of the week, I asked Ash again, “What would you like in your lunch box?”
    “Anything you want to give me,” she said bouncing around the kitchen.
    “I don’t think that’s true,” I countered.
    “You’re right,” she said stopping in front of the fridge. “I don’t want lentil soup or any kind of soup, no carrots or grapes…
    As it turns out, Ash wanted ham and cheese, yogurt, apple and cukes. She also wanted some crackers and a homemade carrot pineapple oatmeal muffin. Ren wanted ham and cheese, tomatoes and cukes, crackers, juice box and jello, a treat B suggested I put in his lunch. Ash brought home cukes. Ren brought home ham and cheese, essentially making his lunch tomatoes, cukes, crackers, juice and jello. The smugness I felt that first day of school began to wane. I tried to to tell myself that at least he was eating his veggies, getting a whole fruit juice with no added sugar or preservatives, whole wheat crackers that consist of three ingredients, and a sugar-free strawberry jello at a whopping five calories. By the time he stepped off the bus at 4:15 pm, he was starving. We had fajitas for dinner. The kids ate well.
    Tuesday, Ren ate tomatoes, crackers, jello and drank a juice box. By the time he got home, he said his stomach was eating his spine, and he hovered in the kitchen as I prepared dinner: Vegan Potato Corn Chowder made with Cauli Cream and vegan corn muffins. Ren gobbled his down as though he had never eaten. Ash said hers was good, but “Don’t we get any meat?”
    “You get meat at lunch.”
    “I know. We don’t get a lot of meat at dinner. But, I like meat,” she said.
    “You can have meat on Friday night. We’re having hamburgers. But the rest of the dinners this week are vegan.”
    “Can I have ham for lunch tomorrow?”
    The rest of the week continued pretty much the same. I added a whole wheat tortilla to Ren’s lunch, left out the ham and chicken, gave him sliced cheese, which he didn’t eat anyway. Ren even started sending his jello home and on Friday even sent home his tortilla and tomatoes. He drank a juice box, and I am sure I put something else in there, although I cannot imagine what it was. Ash sent home any fruit or vegetable I sent with her, unless it was raisins. At the end of the week, she sent home ham, cheese, her tortilla and apples. She ate a yogurt and a few crackers and someone else’s lunch that she said didn’t taste very good. When both kids stepped off the bus, they beamed from ear to ear. Ren whispered, “We get hamburgers for dinner. Are they ready yet?”
    After dinner, Ren announced, “I just want peanut butter and jelly in my lunch.” I knew I had to come up with a good solution because their school is a Nut Aware environment, which means, “Please do not send any nut or nut products in lunches or snacks.” I decided to make Sun Butter, a peanut butter like spread made from sunflower seeds. So, Monday morning, Ren said, “I love Sun butter.” Two minutes later, “I don’t like this, it tastes horrible. I am not going to eat this.”
    But daddy laid down the law, “You will eat it.”
    “Okay, daddy.”
    Both kids got Sun Butter and jelly sandwiches, hold the jelly for Ash—she doesn’t like jelly. They also got pita chips, applesauce, juice box, mini blueberry muffins for snack. Ren got grapes, and Ash got apples. No meat, no cheese, no pretzels, no veggies, no hummus. Ren brought home applesauce, half a sammy, half his grapes and all his chips. Over the last two weeks, the boy has lost 1 lb. I fear this war may be lost.