When I was a kid, we risked our lives for chocolate milk.
With all this talk about school lunches these days, a parent would seemingly want to avoid with all his or her might beginning a conversation with their kids that begins with the words, "When I was a kid..."
Because we all know how that goes over. Maybe it's an eye roll. Or an exaggerated sigh. Or maybe our kids get real bold and interrupt us before we can get beyond that phrase, by saying something like, "I know, I know. When you were a kid you had to walk five miles to and from school through 10 feet of snow, uphill both ways."
Actually, did any parent from generations gone by ever actually make that claim? Probably what really happened is a parent fed up with his lazy, entitled kids, who pouted when told to help clear the north 40, said something about having to walk a long way each day to and from the one-room, country schoolhouse in which he was educated. Then a generation passed and a parent maybe told his kids, who pouted when he wouldn’t give them money for the drive-in, about the blizzard he had to trudge through one day as a child while trying to find his bus stop a couple miles down the road, at the end of the gravel road branching off the township road that led to the family homestead. Then at some point after that – when his kid asked for money to buy better Dre Beats headphones because his current, plenty-expensive Dre Beats headphones were suddenly inferior – some especially fed-up parent figured, what the hell, why not claim that the grueling trek to and from school each day was not only incredibly long, it was uphill both ways, and, yes, there was a bunch of snow, too.
But with school lunches being such a hot topic, even facing the reality that our kids would dismiss pretty much everything I had to say even before I actually said it, I found myself the other day telling tales from my youth in the school cafeteria.
When I was in grade school, sometimes I brought lunch from home. I often decided to do so at the last second. Which meant, sometimes, my lunch from home was lacking. And we're talking, like, a granola bar, and...nothing. Just a dry, crumbly granola bar.
You'll certainly not hear anyone screaming from the rooftops about the childhood obesity epidemic when a kid is eating nothing but a granola bar during his entire school day.
But the problem was, and maybe it continues today, that even when I ate a half-decent lunch, I was still feeling more famished than a Third World inhabitant when I got home from school. A latch-key kid, the kitchen was my oyster, and I tended to snack on anything that wouldn't get me in hot water with my parents. Sometimes that meant having to be a little sneaky, which opened the door for major culinary miscalculations on my part. I'll never forget when I covertly opened that box of chocolate baking squares, without reading the "bitter" part on the label, and biting off a big chunk, wrongly thinking I was in for a bit of chocolate heaven. But you haven’t tasted bitter until it’s bitter chocolate.
There's no doubt that many school menu items of days gone by were guilty pleasures. I remember seeing my reflection in the puddle of fatty grease on the top of my slice of pizza. And I remember squishing my grilled cheese sandwich to the point that it would be floating on my tray in a little cheesy, oily pond. And the tacos? The bottom of the supposedly hard shells, so overburdened with fatty, greasy taco meat, would slowly give way until there was a lake of fatty hamburger discharge on my tray.
Sense a theme here? There was fat and a lot of empty calories. Lots of starch. Lots of carbohydrates. Lots of fat.
But at least chocolate milk was only a rare treat. Back in the days at old Central High School downtown, when word spread around mid-morning to the seventh-graders on the third floor that a tiny carton of Bridgeman’s chocolate milk was being offered that day, boy...look out. When the passing time bell rang and it was seventh-grade lunch time, the sprint was on to get to the basement cafeteria right quick. Had an especially cruel junior or senior on the first floor stuck his foot out to trip a blur of a seventh-grader flying by on his way to the lower depths, it’s not a stretch to conclude that the junior high kid would have been killed on impact with that oh-so-hard hallway surface.
Kids, it’s not so bad. Far from it, in fact. If the new, healthier school guidelines have your gag reflex kicking in on a daily basis, then ask your mom if you can bring a lunch from home when any given day’s particular hot lunch menu particularly repulses you. If you’re as fortunate as our two boys, your mom will see to it that you’re eating like a king...even a somewhat healthy king.
Even if the raisins have to be coated in sweet, delicious yogurt.