There is a section in my food Web log about the packed school lunches that I prepare for my daughters. For over two years, I have been trying to document the school lunches with the goal of encouraging mothers to pay more attention to what their children eat. I cook early in the morning, take photos before the food containers go into the lunch boxes, then I share the photos and the recipes with my readers.
Understand that it isn’t something I do religiously. Some mornings are more rushed than others and it isn’t easy setting up the photo gear in the kitchen when my husband’s screaming that everyone’s running late already or that the school bus is already waiting outside the gate. Out of five schooldays a week, I’m lucky if I am able to take photos on three occasions.
Sometime in May, I received an e-mail from a reader reacting to the idea of documenting school lunches. The e-mail was in Filipino — in Taglish, actually. Below is a translation.
“Good day, Connie.
“I am a long-time reader of Pinoy Cook. In particular, I have been following your school lunch entries for inspiration on what to pack for my 7-year-old son who is in the first grade.
“While I am amazed at the kind of packed meals you manage to prepare for your daughters, most of the time, I can only ogle. I am not an inexperienced cook. I’m a pretty good cook, actually, but I am a working mother and the thought of preparing a full meal in the morning, in the midst of all the rush to get to work, is too much.
“I’m not a Super Mommy. Most times, I feel guilty and insecure and I wonder why other mothers can and I can’t. I envy your dedication. I even envy your herb garden.
“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate everything that you share with your readers. Maybe, someday, I can find the time to prepare my son’s school lunches too and maybe replace the orchids in the garden with herbs. — Greta.”
Honestly, I didn’t know whether to feel good or bad with that e-mail. Am I making a lot of mothers out there feel guilty and insecure? Am I suggesting that I am a Super Mommy, that I somehow set a standard that should be emulated? If I am, it’s not intentional.
I am not a Super Mommy. Goodness knows how human I am with all the frailties and shortcomings. But parenting style is a matter of choice. We decide how we’re going to do certain things based on what we believe is best for our children. That choice includes setting priorities and determining which is most, or least, important.
I can understand the travails of a working mother. I was one too a lifetime ago. And during the years when I was working, my kids had tocino, longganisa and burgers, prepared by the house helper, inside their lunch boxes. But if it’s any consolation, bad school lunches is not something peculiar to kids with working moms. There are a lot of reasons why kids eat badly in school.
Juana (not her real name) is a full time home maker. Her husband earns well and their children attend an exclusive school. Juana’s a great cook. A fantastic cook, even. What does she pack in her kids’ lunch boxes? Lunch is often hotdogs or corned beef; for recess, a bag of chips, or a packet of store-bought biscuits or cookies. That’s four out of the five schooldays in every week.
Why? If it’s too much trouble to wake up before dawn to cook, a portion of the previous night’s dinner can be set aside, reheated and packed, right? Thing is, Juana belongs to that culture where fried chicken, hotdogs, corned beef and chips are considered “cool baon.” Lunches that consist of vegetables and fruits, and even regular “ulam”, are considered “baduy”, exposing children to the ridicule of classmates. Screwed thinking, I know, but school can be a gauntlet especially for those with a strong urge “to belong”.
Worse, there is that impression that vegetables are a poor man’s fare. If a kid does not regularly bring fried chicken, pork chops, hotdogs and the like, he must be a poor kid. Can you imagine what that’s like for a grade schooler especially if he is already insecure because his family is not as wealthy as his classmates’?
It’s a variety of “keeping up with the Joneses”. Ridiculous, but nevertheless true. Parents can choose to point out all of that to their children or they can take the path of least resistance by playing the stupid games. Of course, if the parents themselves think it is absolutely necessary to abide by the screwed norms, it’s an altogether different problem.
The same thing is true about home grown herbs. Especially in upper scale neighborhoods, people silently compete with each other as to who has the best landscaped garden, the rarest orchids, the largest roses… People spend fortunes on their gardens to make them LOOK good. Herbs grow in pots, you know. If replacing the flowers is too much sacrifice, I repeat — herbs grow in pots.
So, Greta and all mothers with similar sentiments, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. The fact that you are reading up on school lunch ideas already puts you three notches above the likes of Juana.
Everything starts with choice. In a culture obsessed with appearances and “doing the done thing”, it isn’t easy. But being different, and knowing that one isn’t blindly following accepted practices, has its own satisfaction.