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I look back on my days in elementary school fondly. Much like someone serving time in prison, elementary school was regimented. 40 or 50 minutes per topic with an art or miscellaneous course mixed in where we’d get to leave the classroom and walk down the hall to another classroom. Institutionalization is a very real thing. You get used to the routine. And that’s not to say that elementary school was like prison because it was far from that. Gym class every Thursday, choir on Tuesday, and two recesses every day (with a third if we were being really good)? Sign me up.
Lunch was a huge part of my day during my youth. I mean, it was in middle school and high school too, but when I was older we actually had food brought — they’d order Dominos in, we paid a local bagel store to give us shit from their bakery every day, and they even had french fries from a spot down the street. Lunch in elementary school was simpler, more streamlined. You had two options, hot or cold. That’s it.
Here, in order, are my top five lunches during my elementary school years.
In my house, Lunchables were something that you got at the last minute. We always had a few in the fridge, but they were reserved exclusively for mornings when my mom or dad didn’t have the time to pack a lunch for me. And if we’re being frank, I always found Lunchables to be pretty repulsive. The nachos were cold “cheese” and tomato salsa with mini, round tortilla chips. The ham and cheese was Grade D ham with American cheese. The pizza Lunchable was probably the most edible, but again, it’s just shitty ingredients and it’s all cold. Maybe if I had access to a microwave during that time these would have been better, but I didn’t.
I realize that as children we don’t have developed palettes, but the level of thought put into these things by Oscar Meyer and the fine folks in the R&D department really showed their level of respect for the younger generation. It was precisely zero. The mini Crunch bar was the best part of those things and even there I left wanting more. Those Crunch bars were smaller than fun size. Credit to Oscar Meyer for inventing an absolute cash cow, but Lunchables fucking sucked.
4. PB&J, Frito Lay Variety Pack, 2% milk from the car
I ate PB&J for lunch probably three times a week as a kid. It was something quick that my mom could pack up while I finished watching Arthur on PBS, and paired with a bag of chips from the Frito Lay variety pack that meal was a dream come true. I remember seeing the variety packs everywhere – in my friend’s pantry’s at their parents’ house, in the back of SUVs at soccer games, and grocery carts at the checkout line. Two kinds of Doritos, Fritos, Lay’s classic, and Cheetos – just a winning combination and a flavor for every day of the week. And of course, you need a carton of 2% milk. Any beverage other than milk with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is sacrilege.
3. Leftovers from the night prior
This meal didn’t happen as often because as a kid there are a lot of nights where you’re not exactly loving the dinner that gets put in front of you. It’s also not like an elementary school kid is going to be bringing in a tupperware container full of spaghetti. Again, it’s not like you’ve got access to a microwave. But sometimes we’d have pizza and I’d take two or three slices in tin foil with me to lunch. On very few occasions I’d even bring a Coke with me and let me tell you something – the offers you’d get for trades on a day when you brought a Coke into school were outrageous. Full sized candy bars, entire lunches – you name it and you can have it if you’re trying to trade a Coca-Cola classic.
Sidenote: giving students the ability to use a microwave would have expanded by options so much as kid during grade school. I understand the safety issues but just thinking about all of the meals I could have brought with me to school during this period is getting me angry.
2. Turkey sandwich, snack in a Ziploc, pink Lemonade Hi-C
My love affair with grocery store deli turkey started with sack lunches in elementary school. Fresh ingredients all around — romaine from the fridge that my mom would wash in the morning, a little provolone with mayo and mustard on a plump hoagie roll? I’m getting hard just thinking about that sandwich. And on days when I had a turkey sandwich with me, I liked something a little different from the Frito Lay variety pack. Sometimes it’d be pretzel sticks, other times I’d go Gushers, Cheez-Its, or maybe even just a Chewy bar. Whatever it was, it was washed down with a pink lemonade Hi-C. This was the greatest boxed drink on the market at the time. A new, bold flavor for the millennial generation. You can keep your Capri Sun, give me the PL Hi-C six days a week and twice on Sunday.
1. Hot lunch
Oh, baby. Now we’re talking. When hot lunch is bad it was really bad, but when it was good, my God was it good. Every month a calendar would be sent home with us to hang on our refrigerator. That calendar had the lunch menu on it for every school day, and in the morning (or sometimes the night before) I’d look at that calendar and make a decision. Do I want cold lunch or am I going hot lunch today? There were hits and there were misses. You didn’t want to miss out on the chicken drumstick and mashed potatoes day. Phenomenal stuff.
Green beans and meatloaf? That’s a cold lunch day. You pick your spots. Now unlike during my middle and high school years, all of the food in elementary was made in-house. The pizza was garbage, but once every month on Friday’s they’d order Dominos in. Cheese and pepperoni. The line on that day was out the goddamn door. Every kid in the school chose hot lunch on that one day a month but it was worth it. Simpler times, I tell ya. I’m off to the break room — I’m reheating some lasagna I made last night and I’m going to eat it at my desk and maybe finish off this podcast from NPR that I was listening to this morning. What a life. .
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