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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 10.16.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

All you need is lunch

With 180 school days each year, and with my youngest daughter having attended five years of school so far, that means she's gone to school for approximately 900 days -- not counting when she's supervised at school during planning days, which in Quebec amounts to something like 72 a year.

Either way, that's a whole lotta lunches.

Over the years, it's been my task each morning to prepare Abby's lunch, accommodating her strict diet needs as I accommodate my even stricter caffeine needs.

Her mother, meanwhile, has looked after the other kids' lunches. Where I'm in the hundreds, her lunch count now reaches into the thousands. If you stacked all the lunches she's made end to end, they would still come home mostly uneaten.

This isn't her fault. She's a great lunch maker, whipping up gourmet spreads for the children, who express their appreciation by asking if they can buy hot lunch instead. She'll agree but at the end of the day will make sure they've eaten something healthy.

"I want to see a piece of fruit enter that body," she'll say, to which I'll add, "Preferably through your mouth," a line I will keep repeating until it gets the appreciation it deserves.

The shared lunch-making detail is simply the routine we've fallen into, the functional streamlining that ensures our children leave home with all the key lunch components, in Abby's case, morning snack, entrée, veggie, dessert/fruit, backup snack.

The morning snack consists of something quick and easy that will nonetheless pass muster with the Snack Police. Each year, Abby's school sends home a reproachful reminder that children should bring only healthy snacks to school. I'm pretty sure this isn't out of concern for the students' wellbeing but because teachers don't want to deal with the chaos of children coveting their neighbours' cookies.

Parents must also be sensitive to food allergies. This is hard for many of us because things like peanut allergies simply didn't exist when we were kids, and I'm pretty sure many parents secretly suspect that, like boys with ADD and girls hitting puberty at nine, kids with "allergies" are just doing it for the attention.

Given the above, the ideal snack is a box of raisins. Raisins are a type of comfort food: there's comfort in the knowledge that the basic SunMaid box design has remained virtually unchanged over the years, as has your average child's unwillingness to touch raisins with a ten-foot pole.

The entrée is easy, especially for Abby, who's happy with a regular rotation of cheese sandwich, rice with soy sauce, and curry potatoes. Still, you learn as you go. Adding tomato to the sandwich, for instance, will transform bread and cheese into sludge by lunchtime. And it only takes one destroyed lunch box to learn to never send soup.

Veggies are always on the side. Though they are usually perceived not so much as "crudités" but simply "crud," they are begrudgingly, penitentially eaten.

Which brings us to the dessert. Ideally this should be fruit, or what I call "field trip fruit." This might be an apple or an orange that gets to take a little break from the house for the day, traveling via lunch box to school and then returning home at the end of the day untouched and intact. When Abby and her friends sit around the lunch table with their field trip fruit, I imagine it's like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pears.

That's why there's a backup snack. Along with the food we want our children to eat, parents send backup food we know they'll eat in case they don't eat the food we want them to eat, because we don't want them to go hungry, now, do we? However, given the option, children will always choose the food we know they will eat over the food we want them to eat, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy, a culture of enablement, bad eating habits, and the reason schools have to send home those self-righteous notes about healthy snacks in the first place.

Probably I should more strictly enforce nutritional standards, but things tend to get lax after Lunch No. 850.

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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