Back-To-School Means Lunch Bag Horror Stories

Tomorrow my kids start Grade Three.

For parents, the first day of school is like a combination of Christmas and Lent. It’s Christmas because there’s newness, there’s excitement, and you’re broke from overspending on back-to-school supplies like Ziploc bags, boxes of Kleenex, and fifty pencils. It’s Lent because you make promises that are hard to keep, like packing kids nutritious lunches that don’t come pre-packaged.

We’ve had school lunch debacles in the past. I wrote a humor column about Lunch Box Confessions over a year ago.

Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve had many epic fails in the arena of packing lunches. Here are some of my finest lunch box confessions:

  • I’ve sent buttered bread because the pantry was as empty as the wine bottles in my recycling bin.During Earth Week, I’ve unwrapped granola bars and cheese sticks before throwing them into Tupperware to create the illusion of a litter-less lunch.
  • Desperate for a packable lunchtime snack, I have sent my children an empty ice cream cone to school. Nothing says delicious like a cone without the ice cream.

And I know I’m not alone. Here are some lunchtime confessions from others.

  • My cousin sent a thermos filled with hot water. To her credit, she was warming it up to put a hot dog inside. That meal, sadly, never made the transfer. But her daughter did wonder what crime she had committed to deserve lukewarm water as her main course.
  • Another cousin sent a container full of croutons. No salad necessary. I’m pretty sure there’s a packing-lousy-lunches recessive gene that runs through my family.
  • My friend sent a box of Kraft Dinner to school, as in still-in-the-box macaroni and cheese. I’m not sure if she thought it was pre-cooked or if she believed uncooked pasta is as tasty as Kool-aid crystals straight from the package.

An old colleague told me the story of how she and her husband had taken their daughter’s insulated lunch box on a picnic date. They put some cans of Pepsi inside as well as a few 50 millitre bottles of whiskey and rum. Fast forward a day. Their Grade One daughter opens her lunch and lines the items up on her desk: cheese sandwich, apple, cookie, Jack Daniels.

Who knows what this year will bring. I’d like Vivian and William to pack their own lunches, but that pretty much guarantees they’ll get nothing but pre-packaged goodness sponsored by food additive #42345.

Thankfully, the good people at the non-profit Heart and Stroke Foundation have taken pity on me and my children and–in a preemptive effort–have sent me a package of healthy goodies. And, because I don’t want the pressure of not disappointing them with a broken back-to-school/Lenten promise, I’m going to share the wealth.

One person will win a one-hour consult with a registered dietician, a pedometer, and a few other things. Another will win a fabulous Heart Smart cookbook, a pedometer, and an apron. Amazing, eh?

That’s right, all you have to do is leave a comment telling me something about the lunches you (or your kids) had at school. I’ll throw darts at my computer to determine the winners. If that doesn’t work, I’ll use a random number generator. If you win, I’ll send you your prize, even if you live somewhere other than Canada.

And please check out the fabulous website of The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Time To Start” Campaign.

Because, trust me, it is time to start.

And I’m not referring to drinking.

At least not Jack Daniels.


  1. says

    My mom used to send me bread & butter sandwiches – on purpose, because I wouldn’t eat lunch meat between bread. She would put a few slices of ham in a baggie, separate, and I would eat them, along with my bread & butter sandwich. I was a picky eater back then. (still am, to some extent, but at least I eat my lunch meat between slices of bread now)

  2. says

    I want that cookbook,Shirtsleeves!

    Once my mother packed me some experimental drink that was cherry-red. Except it didn’t taste like cherries. It tasted like blood smells. So when I hurled on the playground, I got a lot of attention. (I liked that.) Tech buys his lunches, which are pretty healthy. I think. He could be lying.

    I want that cookbook, Shirtsleeves!

  3. says

    For a long time “cheese ‘n’ crackers” in the plastic package, with the little red plastic thingy to spread the “cheese” (chemicals, rubber) onto the “crackers” (salted cardboard) was all the rage. I got those in my lunchbox for YEARS. I guess the apple that I also got every day was supposed to make up for that trash.

    Sometimes I wonder just how I got to be 42 years old, what with all the carcinogens and other junk my parents fed me as a kid.

  4. says

    The worst combo is the slacker mom and the picky eater child. Yep, that’s the world I’m living in! If it weren’t for cheese sticks and beef jerky, I don’t know where I’d be.

  5. Ruff Ruminations says

    My MIL used to send my husband to school with sandwiches made on frozen bread, I suppose she figured it would turn out fine. He won’t take homemade sandwiches to this day to work for lunch.

  6. says

    This is not bragging, it’s a confession of a different sort. I was June freaking Cleaver with my kids (not with the ex mind you). They got all the makings of tacos, the meat heated and in a thermos. While friends would gnaw on peanut-free sandwiches, mine would make their own taco. Hot soups, healthy sandwiches, leftover curries, they got it all, usually with a little love note from mommy. They hated it. They just wanted ‘normal’ food like the other kids.

    • says

      That is hilarious, Julie. There is a scene from a novel (I think it’s Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club) that has much the same conclusion, albeit one reached through an immigrant perspective.

      Your lack of success makes me feel better about my laziness.

  7. Jen says

    Oh how I hate making school lunches! My daughter doesn’t like sandwiches (payback for me being the same way as a kid), so we usually send leftovers. But often there aren’t any, so we resort to KD (cooked though!) or canned soup (not so bad except for the sky-high sodium content). I aspire to be one of those moms with perfectly packed nutritious lunches!

  8. says

    My mom made me sandwiches with butter on them. Ham and cheese and… butter. Peanut butter, jelly, and… butter. Roast beef…. and butter. She says it was to stop the bread from being soggy. I hated it and usually just refused to eat lunch.

    Now my son would love it to bits if I buttered all of his sandwiches. Ew.

  9. says

    I foolishly have my kids in a school that prides itself on healthy life choices. Therefore, all yummy foods are banned. I hate, hate, hate it. No muffins. No packaged food. No nuts of any sort. Also, no microwaves. My poor kids eat a lot of apples.

  10. says

    My daugther’s lunch today was carrot- and bell pepper sticks, sour cream as dipping, cheese cubes, a tiny box of grapes, cucumber slices, salami roses and two slices of bread.

  11. says

    I ran out of bread so I rolled Dictator’s turkey and cheese in a tortilla. Perfectly acceptable, so I thought. Dictator didn’t see it that way.

  12. says

    Hello from a brand-new Canadian.
    Glad you’re back. Hilarious you.
    My eldest begins Grade Three tomorrow as well.
    My biggest lunchtime blunder (and I actually asked my boys to contribute based on their not-so-great memories): Bread and butter with tomatoes.

  13. says

    I once made my daughter a sandwich on moldy bread. I really did not see the mold. She came home and said “Mommy, my sandwich tasted funny and the principal said the bread was moldy.” Luckily they gave her cheese and crackers to eat, but I felt terrible.

  14. Jenn says

    Hilarious post! All I gotta say is thank gawd for Nutella. The commercial says it’s healthy. And they never lie in advertising. Right? Right!

  15. says

    Funny…as I packed up the Reds’ lunch bags, just moments ago, I was thinking about my own childhood:
    My dad, bless him, was the lunch-packer in our house. Every day, the same thing: cold cut sandwich, apple, bottled water (in a recycled bottle – the man was ahead of his time!) and raisins.

    Elementary, high school…same thing, wrapped with love and tossed into a brown paper bag which we dutifully folded and brought home at the end of each day.

    I ate those lunches all through grade school, but once I got to high school and got a job, I’d carefully tumble all that good food in the garbage can and join the others for frozen fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. Yum.

    (I was always careful to bring the folded paper bag home though, sneaky thing.)

  16. Andrea E says

    We’re not ready for school lunches here yet, but when I was a kid, my dad was the one who was home with us most of the time. I LOVED it when he made mac and cheese with tomatoes on top- that was a rarity, though. Our usual was either canned tomato or mushroom soup with cheese sandwiches. To this day, I cannot eat those.

    The absolute best (worst) was when I was home with a horrible stomach flu, and my father made me onion soup. The kind you add water to to make the actual soup. I told him I was going to be sick if I ate it, he told me I was going to eat it. Well, we were both right. Still can’t eat onion soup, either.

    • says

      Oh..onion soup from the package. The only thing to do with that is to add it to sour cream and eat it with chips. I mean, isn’t that what it’s for? (Well, that, and putting it on top of the casseroles you get out of the church ladies’ cookbook?)

  17. Amy Menzies says

    I ate Peanut Butter sandwiches EVERYDAY of grade 8.. because 1. I liked it.. and most importantly 2. It was easy & available. If I was a kid in today’s society I think I might die of starvation.

    • says

      I’m with you, Amy. Peanut butter is my favourite food. I eat it daily for breakfast. Then I scour my hands because I’m scared I’m going accidentally smear peanuts on an allergic student. Which is a bit of a bizarre fear, now that I type it out…

  18. says

    Nothing will cause a mum to feel more lunch-handicapped than supervising lunchtime at an international school. While my daughter unpacked her bread, chicken bits, ketchup, and carrot sticks, her Japanese neighbour pulled out his tiny exquisite sushi kit, lined up all the various sauces, and proceeded to delicately dip his sushi rolls…

    Of course, watching her other neighbour from (unnamed country, not NA, thankfully!) pull out his lunch consisting of a yogurt drink, half a sandwich with chocolate spread, and a LARGE bag of candy made me feel just a tad bit better.

    • says

      I want sushi in my lunch. I think it’s why people watch little Boo-Boo, or whatever that reality show is called with the girl who was on Toddlers and Tiaras. We can sit around and say, “I might be bad, but I’m not *that* bad…”

  19. says

    LOL I love it, especially the ice cream cone haha.
    I have the same problem way over here in Oz. All the schools are trying to be healthier, they have a canteen at school and they have a heart system where you can choose foods that have 2 hearts (called a green choice to choose often – for example chicken sandwich/roll/wrap or Veg quiche) that are a healthier option and 1 heart foods (called an amber choice choose carefully for example a Hot Dog or Vegemite sandwich/wrap/roll). But my son only gets his lunch from the canteen if he eats his lunch sent from (eats it at school) 6 times (we have a chart). This term (we are in week 7) he has only had 2 lunch orders! (He eats his sandwich when he gets home) I have never given hot food to take to school, and because he doesn’t eat salad wait before I tell you what he doesn’t eat it’s quicker to telly you what he does eat, he eats, bananas, carrots, corn (only by itself), mashed potato (which I sneak cauliflower into), mashed pumpkin, um that’s about it, so being picky he limits what I can send for his lunch too. So I am amused/relieved/enlightened to hear all your stories 😀

  20. ShannonT says

    My lunch memories include pink milk in an incompletely closed thermos, resulting in a soggy pink lunch, and smoked oysters with bread and butter. My daughter used to be easy-peasy to pack lunch for: sandwiches, veg, fruit, occasional treat. But this year she’s off sandwiches. Except when she’s not.

  21. Marianne says

    My youngest went to kindergarten today and I’ve spent the day wondering if I’ve been a good mom to him and his bro and sis and other “sending youngest to school” day thoughts. And now I feel better :)
    And as for what I’ve done: Fruit snacks in baggies instead of their packaging makes them look homemade.

  22. says

    I thought I had the topper. That cheese sandwich, applie, cookie and Jack Daniels lunch that your former colleague packed was the best.

    My lunch story happened when I was in 5th grade. My Mom packed me an egg-and-olive sandwich even though she knew I hated them. I wrote a blog about ditching the lunch before I got to school, and acted surprised when I checked my desk and found my lunch was “missing.” Mom – smarter than I gave her credit for at the time – never said anything when I relayed this whopper once I got home. While I won the battle, she won the war … she had me packing my own lunch after that.

  23. says

    School lunches in this house are a disaster. These kids refuse to eat cold food unless it is a Nutella sandwich. SO we have hot rice and stew in thermos flasks most of the time, even in the height of summer (40+ celcius).

  24. says

    My oldest is just starting grade one so I’ve sent all of two school lunches so far. But we did spend the past two weeks trying all kinds of new things that I thought my picky eater might like… pizza muffins; mini pitas with chicken salad, or apples and cream cheese, or cold cuts; chicken & cheese tortilla rolls; cinnamon buns… the only one he’ll eat is the cinnamon buns. So the list to pick from is: ham sandwich, cinnamon bun, and (hopefully) Sunbutter sandwich (fake PB made from sunflower seeds – I hope he likes it and/or no lunch ladies freak about him having PB). When is school pizza day?!?

  25. Jenny says

    My Dad used to make my lunch when I was in elementary school. One day we had no bread left. So he decided to take Vegetable Thins crackers and put peanut butter and jelly on them… It was pretty awful! I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was awful because I thought it would hurt his feelings. Luckily, he never made it again.

  26. says

    Oh the Jack Daniels story made me laugh… party because I could see that happening to me. My sister once made us peanut butter & pickle sandwiches when I was in grade 4 and my little sister was in grade 1. It was the only time we were able to throw our sandwiches away and have crackers from the teachers personal stash.

  27. says

    Thanks for a great laugh, this cracked me up!! My mother used to make me and my sister ‘mock chicken’ sandwiches, which of course we hated. God only knows what mystery meat THAT was. My daughters were both fussy and I HATED making lunches. Thank God they’re grown and I don’t have to do that anymore. The biggest challenge facing local parents these days is peanut-free schools. Peanut butter was always my fall-back when I couldn’t be bothered.

  28. says

    I’m sure I was making my lunch by the time I was in 3rd & 4th grade (my kids ages). There is a reason I lived on PB & J from the age of 8 to 18.

    Of course now, PB&J is considered more dangerous than heroin, my kids are lazy, and I’m a control freak. So, I do lunches. I loved it…for about the first week of Jr. Kindergarten.

  29. says

    I used to have marmite sandwiches everyday for school, with the crusts cut off. Also, I have never drunk any thing but Blackcurrent juice. When I went to school I broadened my horizons from just Robinsons juice, to other types. This meant many disgusting packs of Capri Sun, I don’t know if you have ever drunk capri-sun, but they are a pain in the bum to pierce with the straw, so half the time the straw went all of the way through, and so the juice would all leak out. Unfortunately I didn’t drink juice that was from from anywhere other than my house, so I would just go thirsty :) So glad I can make my own lunches now- lots of Robinsons juice in containers any time I go out :)

  30. says

    I never ate lunch when I was in secondary school (I hate eating out) but when I was in 6th form and really needed food, I would eat a whole raw pepper and a crusty roll from the shop near my school for lunch. It was delicious!

  31. says

    My darling daughter, Sarah started high school this week.. Just ponder that time in your life that has yet to pass, Leanne.
    The REAL fun is still lurking around the corner…

  32. Donna says

    Dad being a single parent, and always on a tight budget, would make us Sardine/ketchup sandwiches. I don’t ever recall there being all 4-5 food groups in my lunch bag. can’t imagine how my 6 year old twins would react to finding Sardine mashed up with ketchup sandwhiches in their lunch kits.

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