Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Back to school, and back to school lunches

God. How can it be that the holidays are almost over? Oh, cruel world.
Anyhoo, school lunches.Education Queensland's new-ish tuckshop policy Smart Choices has been in place for about a year now. It allocates tuckshop food to a colour value, either red, amber or green. Green foods can be on sale all the time, amber
foods occasionally, and red foods only get sold two days a term. I tell you, the kids hate that. There are many true stories of the milk bar down the road suddenly getting a LOT more business, as kids jump the back oval fence and nick down for a chiko roll or meat pie with sauce.
The red foods are:

All types of confectionary/lollies and chocolate;
Sugar and artificially sweetened drinks e.g. soft drinks, flavoured mineral
waters, energy drinks, sports drinks;
All types of deep fried foods;
Most types of savoury snack foods, whether baked or fried e.g. crisps,
chips, extruded snacks (Cheezels, Burger Rings), snack biscuits, etc.;
Most ice creams (premium and chocolate coated);
Most cakes, muffins, sweet pastries and slices.
Jam, marmalade, honey, nutella in large amounts.

Mmm, extruded snacks.

The green foods are reasonable, though. Kudos to EQ for going through with the new rule. Even though individual choice should play a part, parents and carers are often too busy to provide kids with a proper lunch, or sometimes they don't actually know what should go into a lunchbox.

Often you'll see kids turning up with a mini-packet of chips and a sachet of Nutella. I have never seen a sandwich turn up from home made of anything but plastic white bread, even if it has Vegemite inside (but never salad, unfortunately.)

I remember my mother making me eat sultana, cheese and celery sandwiches on brown bread. By the time lunch rolled around (and this was before my primary school had a fridge for lunchboxes), the cheese was melted and sticky, the bread was soggy and the celery had wilted. Plerk.

On Dad's day to make the lunches, he would often come down to the kitchen early, and we would witness an excellent time-and-motion example. First he would put several eggs on to boil, and while the eggs were cooking he would fill our lunchboxes with crackers / fruit / a frozen juice box. Two eggs would be put before us with a plate of toast soldiers, and while we dipped and munched, the other eggs would be mashed into a bowl with curry powder, mayonnaise and seasonings. Dad would carefully fill our sandwiches with curried egg, wrap them in plastic wrap and fit them precisely into the lunchboxes. It was like Tetris, Dad-style.

My favourite lunches were the ones made of leftovers. If there had been a party on the weekend, us kids would get the goods: perhaps a slice of birthday cake, a roasted chicken leg wrapped in tin foil, a hunk of shallot-filled quiche Lorraine.

Nowadays, it's often tough to organise myself a good workday lunch. I do like the convenience of little tuna and salmon tins, although you need a TicTac afterwards to avoid tuna breath. Salads don't always keep. Leftover curries and takeaway and such can be heavy, messy, and the smell can annoy your co-workers.
What do people in other countries take for lunch? The French have their hot-meal cantines for the kids. Some French and British agricultural workers still take the old ploughman's lunch (a good standby for anyone, including us.) Indians have tiffins of home-cooked meat, vegetables and rice that gets ferried to the worker, after being prepared in the morning (and Melbourne residents can try this out for themselves.)A lot of people in the world get to go home for lunch, although that only really works if there's someone already at home making something yummy. The Japanese have bento for their city workers, and often, Japanese parents prepare their own bento for kids heading to school.
A Chinese lady I knew used to make her children and herself a lunch ball: a big tennis ball of glutinous rice, with a filling of pork floss mixed with vegetables and sauce. The whole thing was twisted up in plastic wrap, and had the added benefit of being able to be chucked straight into a schoolbag, exist indefinitely without refrigeration and survive being squashed, poked or sat on. One day she brought me a lunch ball of my own, after enduring my many questions. It was delicious.
Imagine if Aussie parents put the same amount of effort into preparing their child a healthy, interesting and delicious lunch? Although I know many do, it's not often evident.

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