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The Packed Lunch Tradition… with Pictures!

Mark’s first daycare provided snacks and lunch. “Oh… he had two spoonfuls of moussaka and a bowl of ‘farmer’s delight’!” I’d note dutifully, reading the daily log sheet at pickup time. “What’s ‘farmer’s delight’?” “I have no idea, but I’m sure it was great if he had a bowl of it.”

For a few weeks, Feng and I were happy parents. Of course, there was the small matter of Mark screaming in agony every morning when I dropped him off, but for the first time in two years, we were relieved from our parental duties during daytime, including lunch. Someone else was at Mark’s service—the daycare’s chef, who presumably cursed less than Gordon Ramsay and enjoyed cooking tiny portions for tiny stomachs.

Then, a month later, the daycare declared bankruptcy and closed.

Maybe having a full-time chef on site had been a tad ambitious—and costly.

Daycare #2 provided snacks and meals as well, mostly because it was located in a religious community with a large banquet hall that provided catering services for weddings and other ceremonies. They had a full kitchen and a lot of experience feeding people, although the food was more institutional and less exotic—think fried chicken instead of vegetarian lasagna.

Mark only went there for a few weeks because, once again, the daycare declared bankruptcy. I’m fairly sure Mark isn’t one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. But again, he loved going to Target and the store chain declared bankruptcy as well, so who knows.

We moved on to daycare #3 when we came back from Latin America. Everything looked fine but for one detail: we would have to provide a lunch and snacks.

I froze.

Convenience should never be taken for granted.

Since we didn’t have a backup plan and that looking for daycare centres is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, I nodded knowingly during the tour, as if I was acknowledging the amazing opportunity to provide my special snowflake with nutritious homemade meals.

There I was, forced to embrace yet another North American tradition: the packed lunch.

In France, school canteens offer preschoolers, kids and teens an affordable three-course-meal with cheese and bread (the price is based on family income). You either eat the school meal provided at la cantine (weekly menus are posted) or go home. Okay, if you’re a teen, you may go to the nearest kebab or fast food joint with your friends, French aren’t that virtuous. The bottom line is, you don’t have to bring food from home. Ever. French don’t even bring lunch at work—large companies offer a subsidized hot meal and smaller companies have tickets restaurant, luncheon vouchers you can use to buy food in regular restaurants.

Feng never had to bring a packed lunch either. He came to Canada in his early teens and lived in a small community, so he’d just go home to eat. And of course, since we are both working from home now, we just step into the kitchen if we are hungry (fun fact: actually, we rarely have the time to eat during the day).

And now, I had to send Mark to daycare with a toddler-size lunch box.

They grow up so fast.

And new responsibilities are dumped on you quicker than you can say “here is five bucks, grab something at Subway.”

I didn’t know where to start. After all, Mark hadn’t been eating “grown-up food” for that long, and the daycare’s rather strict requirements were scary. I couldn’t pack what I used to bring when I worked at the office—salads, sushi or sandwiches aren’t exactly toddler’s favourite foods. At home, I often gave Mark peanut butter sandwiches (a huge no-no at daycare), bananas, cheese, etc. and he ate very few proper meals since he was still drinking bottles of milk.

So I did what most parents do when confronted with a new milestone: I checked the web for solutions.

Bad idea: apparently, most parents excelled at making super cute boxes with Hello Kitty characters imprinted on toast, decorated food and bunny-shaped rice dish.

I can barely slice a tomato in two perfect halves.

I glanced at Mark, who was eating rice with his hands. “Mark, what do you want to eat at school?”

He didn’t even look at me. “No.”

I sighed and got to work. Little by little, week after week, I developed a process and found out what Mark was enjoying the most (as you will see from the pictures, pasta with pesto is always a hit).

I think I mastered the packed lunch tradition.

Next step: driving one of these yellow school buses.

… or not.

Here are Mark’s latest seven lunches. Sorry, no cute bento art (although I do carve a mean Babibel star!). He usually eats everything but for a couple of bites. I try to change the “menu” every day to make it interesting but yes, it does get repetitive… that’s how Mark likes it, kids like routine and familiar stuff.

Rice, chicken, carrots and celery / Mini Babybel cheese / Veggie crackers / Strawberry jam sandwich / Grapes / Two small yogurts / Apple sauce
Rice, chicken, carrots and celery / Mini Babybel cheese / Veggie crackers / Strawberry jam sandwich / Grapes / Two small yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / Mini Babybel cheese / Strawberry jam sandwich / Grapes / Apple / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / Mini Babybel cheese / Strawberry jam sandwich / Grapes / Apple / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Rice, broccoli, carrots, chicken nuggets / Jam sandwich / Cucumber / Veggie crackers / String cheese / Chinese sesame cookies / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Rice, broccoli, carrots, chicken nuggets / Jam sandwich / Cucumber / Veggie crackers / String cheese / Chinese sesame cookies / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / String cheese / Ham and cheese sandwich / Grapes / Apple / Cookie / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / String cheese / Ham and cheese sandwich / Grapes / Apple / Cookie / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / Strawberry jam sandwich / Grapes / Apple / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / Strawberry jam sandwich / Grapes / Apple / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Rice, chicken and corn / String cheese / Honey sandwich / Raisins / Cookie / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Rice, chicken and corn / String cheese / Honey sandwich / Raisins / Cookie / String cheese / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / Honey sandwich / Grapes / Apple / Brie cheese / Cookie / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, carrots, broccoli, ham and pesto sauce / Honey sandwich / Grapes / Apple / Brie cheese / Cookie / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs, onion, mushrooms/ Peach jam sandwich / Crackers / Cheddar cheese / Speculoos cookie / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs, onion, mushrooms/ Peach jam sandwich / Crackers / Cheddar cheese / Speculoos cookie / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Jasmine rice, fish stick, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and cucumber / Peach jam sandwich / Cheese / Cookie / Shrimp crackers / Grapes / Two yogurts / Apple sauce
Jasmine rice, fish stick, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and cucumber / Peach jam sandwich / Cheese / Cookie / Shrimp crackers / Grapes / Two yogurts / Apple sauce

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