“Dear Lunch Lady,
We need to talk.
This post is about 4 months late, a much delayed response to a situation at my kid’s school last year. But tonight, on the eve of my son’s first day of 3rd grade, it was on my mind again. I sat down earlier today and wrote the school a letter, as suggested by the school principal last year. I stopped and read it a few times before I hit print, cringed a bit at how firm I sounded, then I patted myself on the back for being the mom that I am, albeit raging crazy mama bear sometimes, because only I really know what my kids need best.
Now, before I get into this, I need to let you know that in NO WAY whatsoever, is my stance on this political, and I normally never, ever disclose which side of the fence I’m on politically anyway, and I’m not going to now. This isn’t against Michelle Obama, or her desire to clean up school lunches or get our nation’s kids healthy, because I honestly think it IS a good idea, nor is it about the FDA nutritional guidelines, because I don’t even prescribe to that. Really, it’s not. It’s not about hot lunch programs, free lunches, or new regulations. This is only about my kid, my desire to do what is best for him, and a refusal to be bullied by people who don’t know about our lives, and never even tried to be informed about why I was doing what I was doing, let alone not inform me about my options.
Because most of you don’t know me, you don’t know that I am a doting mom, and very proactive about my boys health, but I am also doing my absolute best to try to help my boys be the best they can be, given the situation they are both in. I also can be very real and maybe just an eensy, weensy bit fiercely protective about my rights as a mom. Take that however you want, moral of the story: you do not mess with my kids. I hope I’m being as transparent as possible.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I have this little thing called a Lunch Box Mama blog…it is just a hobby, but I do it because I like it. I pack these lunches and post them because it makes me happy to see gorgeous, beautiful food. It also helps me remember what I’ve made on days I can’t come up with new ideas. In the meantime, I have managed to inspire a lot of other people to start packing better lunches for their kids, themselves, and their spouses. This is what I do now. Food is my biz, but not everyone knows that, and that’s kind of how I’ve always liked it. It merely started as a way to post my creations for those that wanted to see them, without annoying my Facebook friends with lunch box pictures.
And I may be slightly obsessed with packing lunches. Not just any lunches, but some damn fine lunches, if I may say so myself! My kids love them, my husband adores them, and they are one way in which I love on my family. One of my co-workers calls my lunch box a “local celebrity” when I’m eating at my desk. It’s just one of those things. It’s special for me to do this for my family and myself, and coincides with our two year journey toward being wholly healthy.
A little more about that is that we drastically changed our eating habits about two years ago, starting first with the lunches I packed. I try my best to balance my packed lunches with healthy eats and a good dose of Paleo, our main goal is grain-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, blah, blah, blah. Or as close as we can get and still get kids to eat. It’s a process. Why Paleo you ask? My boys both have been placed firmly in the Autistic Spectrum and have been given preliminary diagnoses of Aspergers. One of the ways I am trying to help my boys is through their diet, and obviously the lunch boxes help with that goal. Particularly because my youngest, 8, has such a hard time getting through any school day normally, by controlling what goes into his lunches, I have been trying to make sure he is squarely set up for success, nutritionally everyday. I’m not claiming to be perfect, and I do allow carefully picked out treats, but these lunches are not your ordinary lunches, they are better than a lunch bag full of cookies and chips, and, in my opinion, LIGHTYEARS better than any public school hot lunch.
So Imagine my shock and surprise last year when all of a sudden I received a LATE NOTICE for my son’s hot lunch fees. HOT LUNCH FEES?! Say what? It had to be a mistake, right? Of course it was. My kids weren’t eating hot lunch, and I knew it because, like a weirdo, I have been posting my lunch boxes daily for over two years. I had pictures of lunch after lunch. I have had teachers comment about these lunches almost daily. But when I called the “lunch lady” at their school, I was told that the school had served my 8 year old hot lunch, even though I had sent him a lunch. She went on to tell me that the lunch room staff had determined my kid’s lunch was…wait for it…brace yourself…”nutritionally unsound.”
I had no words.
There was audible and very uncomfortable silence on the phone, guys, while I debated if it were possible to move on peaceably or successfully jump through the phone and wring her neck.
After all, I had been keeping good track of what they had been eating. For two years!
And this is what they were saying was not balanced.
I don’t know about you, but my mama didn’t pack lunches like these. And a lot of mamas these days aren’t doing it still. And lest we get my drift wrong, this is not written with any sense of judgment for any one else’s lunches. This is simply what I choose, and obviously I am passionate about it. It is how I love on my family when we are apart all day. But basically, I was told to put some bread and dairy in the lunch boxes, as well as some type of amount of sugar… NO mention of the amount of fresh fruits and veggies I provide, or the quality of meats. I was being charged by my kid’s school food services to give my kid food that the he didn’t even want in the first place. And I might add, I had never been officially notified when they first felt something was missing in the lunches. They served them several lunches without my consent and never informed me that they felt I needed to make them better. Believe me, if they had, I would have upped my game, but I was never given the chance. However, they continued to serve the boys lunches over and over again, that he said he didn’t want, didn’t eat, and that he said “looked horrible.” I never knew until they mailed me home a late notice nastigram that any of this had occurred. Grrr, you do not even want to know how that phone call went, and I won’t go into details, but I will tell you, that when the lunch lady told me that the lunches I was providing were not to her “liking,” well, my blogosphere friends, I may have lost my shit. Pardon my language. At this point, it may have required some intervention by the school principal, who by the way, was way more supportive of me than I had anticipated.
Fast forward to today, the day before my 3rd grader’s first day at school tomorrow (my older boy is no longer at that school now), I have written a letter, as suggested by the principal last year, and dropped off several copies at the school this morning. I’ve waited a long time to do it, mostly because I didn’t trust myself to write it then, and I have been thinking it over and over in my mind ever since. Today, I was ready. And I may have been very FIRM in my words, which I am often apt to do. Firm and very clear is what I do. I make no apologies.
Here it is (with personal information changed slightly):
Why am I sharing this? Well, mamas and papas, I want you to know that this does not need to happen to you either, and it’s a ridiculous thing for anyone to be intervening over, particularly if your lunches are balanced and healthy. There are so many other things that need fixing than this. None of us need a lunch room employee dictating what our kids eat without our consent or knowledge. If I am choosing to send a lunch from home, it’s because it’s my choice, but not only that, there might be a reason for it as well. In my case, there most definitely is. My little boy needs as much help as he can get, nutritionally in this case, to get through his day. And in all honesty, my packing these lunches saves a lot of people a lot of trouble. Both in them not having to deal with a fussy child who would refuse to eat the hot lunch the school supplies, and also by giving my kiddo the best chance at having a good shot at a decent afternoon, being that after lunch is the hardest part of the day for him.
I encourage you to speak your mind with your school if this happens to your kids, and don’t just back down. Feeding your child in your own way is your prerogative, whether you are Kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, or cannibal (ok, maybe not that one; I was just checking to see if you were still with me!). It really is.