Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hot Lunch

Based on current projections, we will not be able to afford college for any one of our boys, let alone all three of them, since it is currently estimated to cost $8000 per minute to attend a university in the year 2024. So, I have been actively preparing our boys for either a life in the military, or life in prison. It could go either way.

When I say “preparing,” I am really just talking about school lunches, and when I say “actively,” what I really mean is that I became lazy and now this is the new plan. I started out strong, but we are currently running on fumes here in the school lunch department.

When I began this school year in my new capacity as Mr. Mom, I was a lunch all-star. I was regularly coming up with new and inventive lunch ideas. Alright, that’s a bit of a stretch. I was willing to take suggestions about what should be for lunch that day, and I agreed to many of the ideas. OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, too. But I hardly ever yelled “No!” at them when they asked for something more difficult than sandwiches. And one time I actually sent them with clam chowder, so there’s that.

Any flexibility I had at the beginning of the year with school lunches has ended. I’m not going to lie. Around mid-February, my enthusiasm for variety went to zero. They literally had the exact same thing for lunch every day from Valentine’s Day to Memorial Day.

Son Number One: Salami and mustard sandwich, baby carrots, goldfish crackers
Son Number Two: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple, goldfish crackers
Son Number Three: Peanut butter and honey sandwich, baby carrots, goldfish crackers

I kept that up as long as I could, but even that strenuous menu is getting too much for me in the waning days of the school year.

To add to the strain, when I took over the lunch-making duties from my wife, she told me that I had to write cute little notes for them to find and read when they opened their lunches. Those notes have gone downhill faster than the menu.

Beginning of the year note example: “Great job on your piano yesterday, and good luck with your spelling test today. You’re going to do great! Love, Dad”

Note from earlier this month: “This is the note in your lunch. From, Dad”

Now that I have moved to a life-lesson, bleak-future-preparatory stance with my lunch making duties, I don’t think the little notes are necessary anymore anyway. They won’t get cute notes in the military, and you certainly don’t want them getting cute notes in prison!

While I am obviously losing steam in all lunch-related categories, I am still too cheap to let them have the school-provided hot lunch. Questionable nutrition aside, for me it is a simple matter of arithmetic. Hot lunch costs $2.50 each, and with my prison-style meal plan, I am feeding them for less than that. (Drinks are not included in my meal plan, because the cafeteria has a drinking fountain.)

Their grandparents think I’m mean, and when they come and stay with us, they usually take pity on the inmates and give them money for hot lunch. This is a huge deal for our kids. If you tell them they get to have the school-provided corndogs and chocolate milk, they think they won the lottery. Somehow, somewhere deep in my soul, that makes me feel proud.

The boys might think hot lunch awesome, but it has led to other issues for their mom and me. When grandpa hands them money for lunch, we have to take it to the front office and put it in a little deposit envelope to get it into their hot lunch account. We could just let them hang onto the money and bring it directly to the lunchroom, but I actually want them to eat, and they have trouble keeping track of their own shoes, let alone a pocket full of loose change. Anyway, the depositing of the money isn’t the problem, it’s the account balance. They have only had hot lunch maybe three times this school year, but somehow, one of their accounts became overdrawn by $1.50.

If you ever want to be mercilessly spammed, look no further than the school district’s lunch program and their automated computer of doom. Go ahead and overdraw your lunch account, I dare you. Be prepared for one automated phone call to every phone number associated with you, and one email to every address, sent daily, multiplied by the number of children you have in the school district, because the computer can’t figure out that we all live in the same house. Heaven help you if it happens to occur the day before spring break, like it did for us, because the computer also can’t figure out that we can’t do anything about it when no one is at the school. We received approximately 500 individual messages in various forms from the lunch computer over a one-week period in April.

When we finally got our school district-budget-breaking $1.50 balance paid off after Easter, it was only to receive this printed notice in May:

There will be no more lunch credit issued through the end of the year. Students must have a balance in their account, bring cash, or they will not receive a lunch. In such a case, a courtesy meal of crackers and fruit will be provided to the student.

Hmm… Free crackers and fruit you say?

We’ve only got seven days of school left, and I have already checked out. Their normal boring prison lunch is a thing of the past. Yesterday I just gave Son Number One a salami. Number Two got the old jar of peanut butter and a spoon. Number Three got a can of olives. I just assumed someone in the lunchroom would have a can opener.

I’m spent. I can’t make another sandwich. Baby carrots are too much for me now. Maybe we overdraw those lunch accounts… Crackers and fruit sound better than what they’re going to get from me tomorrow. Right now it’s a three-way tie between plastic baggies of dill pickles, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and uncooked bags of microwave popcorn.

I would shoot for the free courtesy meal in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for the impending tsunami of messages from the lunch computer over the summer.

Oh well, mac n’ cheese it is. If the lunchroom people can’t cook it up for them, the boys can always suck on the noodles until they get soft and pour the cheese powder directly into their mouths.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. "suck on the noodles until they get soft and pour the cheese powder directly into their mouths." That is exactly how my 27 yr old son eats his mac & cheese... and he really does know how to cook it properly, when he wants to!

  2. Is he stranded on a desert island with Mac n' Cheese boxes a lot? That is funny.

  3. Naw, he's just lazy. Did I not mention he is my 27 yr old son... still living at home?!.... get them out when you get your first chance ;)

  4. Way ahead of you. I've been telling the boys for years that we will celebrate their 18th birthdays on the front porch using their luggage as seats.

  5. Ha! Excellent. Wished I'd thought of that! "Bon Voyage, now get off the porch!"

  6. Update; Son accepted to college too far away to drive to, and it has dorms. Now he can buy his own boxes of mac & cheese to eat raw :) yippee

  7. Congratulations! He will also now be able to explore all the possibilities that Ramen has to offer. (Or, as I like to call it, a bag full of salt with some dried noodles.)

  8. Yep, he already eats those raw too... I have hundreds of salt packets in the cupboard!