‘The hunt for the perfect lunch box took me back to those years at school’

Apr 26, 2020
Reading about 'the perfect lunch box' recently reminded Vivienne of her school days and the lunches she's had over the years. Source: Getty Images

‘I haven’t yet found the perfect lunch box,’ wrote a young columnist in our local paper. I paused. What’s a lunch box? But lunch boxes, it seems, are as subject to fads and fashions as anything else.

I started school taking my lunch — a Vegemite or peanut butter sandwich — in a flour bag, as did all the other kids. The flour bags were washed out overnight. We then graduated to thick plastic bags, which my mother washed and pegged on the line to dry. When we cleaned out the house after her death, I swear there were bags of that vintage in the bottom kitchen drawer.

My mother was a bit adventurous and sometimes added raisins to the peanut butter. An apple and homemade biscuits were added to the bag. The sandwich was usually pretty squashed by lunch time.

When we lived in the city my brother and I walked home for lunch so the family could have a hot meal in the middle of the day. I missed a whole two years of hopscotch, skipping and gossip.

As I became a teacher, I have had more than 50 years of school lunches. My early years were in smoke-filled staff rooms. It was best to eat lunch before any break if you could manage it, and mark during the lunch hour.

I stuck to the formula of sandwich, fruit and, with the advent of a staff room fridges, yoghurt. Birthday cakes were always a treat.

When teachers bought their own microwaves, we could bring in last night’s leftovers. One of my colleagues had a husband who was a chef. She always had a perfectly plated lunch of restaurant leftovers.

By the time my daughters started school, a rigid plastic lunchbox was the norm. I found it difficult to marshall enthusiasm for interesting school lunches over 14 years.

I was once sent home a note by a teacher reprimanding me for putting loose grapes in my daughter’s lunchbox. She had dropped the box in the classroom, the grapes had rolled around the room and much mayhem had ensued, apparently.

When I started school, school canteens did not exist. Sometimes there was a fortuitously placed corner store nearby that would take orders for pies and cream buns, and such like. No healthy canteen codes then.

When my eldest daughter started school, I became a canteen mum. I enjoyed it very much, but unwisely volunteered to organise the rosters with the result I did far more shifts than I’d intended.

I’ve looked at the ads for school lunch boxes. They’ve got to be divided up — space for the sandwich, or slice of frittata, a space for crudités or fruit in the full range of colours, space for the frozen juice, which will keep the dairy product cool, and space for a treat and the note to encourage your student through the day.

No wonder it’s hard to find the perfect lunch box.

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