Lunch to Go

Most work days, I carry my lunch to work.  It’s less expensive than eating out, and I am more apt to limit my meal to something more healthful and less calorie laden.  More often than not, I pack a salad and fruit into re-useable plastic containers and carry them to work in a fabric tote bag.  The bag was a gift from a coworker- a little calico sack that is just the right size, and can be washed when something leaks.

This morning while slicing cucumbers into my salad, I thought about how I used to pack lunches when my children were in school.  Much the same as when I was a child, my kids were not fond of the food from the school cafeteria, and it did not make sense to pay for lunches they would not eat.  Besides, one of the thrills of beginning each new school year was the rite of choosing a lunch box.

I recently read an article that lunchboxes are becoming a thing of the past.  This made me sad, since some of my fondest memories of school were examining my classmates’ lunchboxes. My best friend had one that was decorated to look like a barn. I coveted that lunchbox, with its matching thermos that looked like a silo and fit inside the domed lid.  Other children had boxes with Woody Woodpecker, Superman, and Mickey Mouse. One even had a box that looked (be still my heart) like a real T.V. set.  We who had “cold lunches” could begin eating immediately, instead of standing in line for our trays to be filled with the cafeteria fare that smelled the same every day, no matter what it was.

I carried a red plaid lunchbox made of aluminum that had been my older sister’s.  In those days, thermoses were made of glass, housed in aluminum.  The unlucky child who clumsily dropped his lunch box was sure when opening a thermos at lunch time, to find its contents riddled with shards of glass.  The matching thermos for my  lunchbox had broken long before it was handed down to me, but for less than a nickel, I would buy a glass bottle of milk, shake it to make sure the cream and milk were mixed and carefully pull the cardboard stopper.  Older boys in the cafeteria drank from the bottle, but I would insert a straw and sip, watching through the glass as the level of creamy white slowly declined.  I rarely finished before I was full.

My lunch usually consisted of a sandwich, cookie and fruit.  My mother made our bread and cookies from scratch and wrapped them in waxed paper.  I envied those kids who had sandwiches of Wonder Bread, that “built strong bodies 12 ways” and Hostess Twinkies with their lovely cream centers and came in packages of twos.  Now, when I think of how my mother baked every day to keep her growing brood in oatmeal raisin cookies, I wonder how I could have been so keen to trade for something from a store. 

My mother would make a grocery list on the back of a used envelope.  I would watch, hoping to see something like Drakes Cakes or Funny Bones on the list.  They never were.  “Couldn’t you at least buy those little wax paper bags instead of flat sheets of Cut-Rite?” I begged.  It would be years before I understood the economics of feeing a family of ten.  A generation later, my children begged me to buy sandwich size zip-lock bags instead of the less expensive bags that folded to close.  Some things never really change.

When my own children started school, I enthusiastically took them shopping for lunch boxes.  Aluminum had been replaced by plastic, but the decorations were still enticing.  They lingered before the display, carefully choosing what would carry their lunches- sandwiches on wheat bread, fruit, and homemade oatmeal cookies.  One year, her father naively let Abby choose a “90210” lunchbox- practically scandalous, since she was not allowed to watch the program on television.  I let her keep it, sure that she gained several popularity points in the fourth grade because of the coolness of that lunchbox.

At our house, old lunch boxes were used to house small toys, like crayons, doll shoes, and little green army men.  They lined the bottom shelf of the bookcase where we kept toys and the kids identified the contents by the character on the front; Barbie held crayons, Spider Man held Matchbox cars, and so on.  They made the perfect container-easy to identify and easy to carry. 

In my attic is a trunk filled with well-loved dolls, stuffed animals and small toys, and in it there are two old lunchboxes.  One contains a small brush, comb and assorted empty makeup containers, and the other, an empty travel sized shave cream, disposable razor (blade removed) and an empty bottle of after shave. I made these kits for the kids for Christmas gifts when they were little and our wallets were thin. They provided years of entertainment, and I saved them in hopes that someday I will have grandchildren who will enjoy them as well.

Look! They have red plaid!

By the time my kids reached junior high, they had transitioned from lunchboxes to  brown paper bags, and my days of shopping for lunchboxes ended.  If the article I read is correct, my yet-unheard-of grandchildren might never know the joy of walking store aisles the week before school starts in search of that perfect lunchbox.  Of  course, I could start a vintage collection…  

What was your favorite way to carry your lunch to school?

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8 Comments

  1. I always wanted the Partridge Family lunchbox. I had the Hair Bear Bunch instead. My dad used an old, vinyl and cardboard Rocky & Bullwinkle lunchbox to hold old screws and nails in his basement workshop. And if your thermos did break, your lunchbox forever smelled like sour milk.

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    • Garrie Madison Stoutimore

       /  September 11, 2012

      You are so right about that sour milk smell! I remember the vinyl and cardboard boxes- my mother wouldn’t buy them because she said they wouldn’t stand up. (Shh…don’t tell your father that.)

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  2. Terry

     /  September 11, 2012

    I remember my grandfather’s luchboxes. They both had the large silver boxes that were rounded on the top. I loved greeting them at the end of the day to see what was left…they got the good stuff in their lunches 🙂

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    • Garrie Madison Stoutimore

       /  September 11, 2012

      There’s nothing like the anticipation of opening up a lunchbox, even if it’s somebody else’s leftovers.

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  3. When I carried lunch to school, I liked a brown paper lunch bag. I thought it was cool, because it wasn’t a lunchbox, athough I did get lunchbox envy from time to time. I don’t remember over which ones now. Probably something like Johnny Quest. I actually liked school lunches, especially this stuff they called Welsh Rarebit, which I thought was called Welsh Rabbit for some reason. It was like some kind of really bad cheese goo poured over Saltines. It was my favorite elementary school lunch though, and I’d always get two lunches on Welsh Rabbit day. More than lunchboxes, I was a new pencil box kind of guy. I loved getting a new pencil box at the beginning of every year, but within about two weeks, the plastic 6″ ruler, eraser, protractor, compass, and two pencils that started out inside of it were long gone, or so it seems, leaving nothing but the empty pencil box. At which point, I would lose interest in it, too, with losing the pencil box altogether being the next step, unless I was storing something else really neat and much more useful in it, like three rocks, an Indian Head penny, a Buffalo nickel, a cardboard tube of Daisy BBs, a fishing lure, a firecracker, and a small Case pen knife. Next to the pencil box, my very favorite personal containers that I remember from childhood were Parliament cigarettes in the flip top box, WWII Army surplus 200 round metal ammo boxes, and metal Band Aid boxes. Probably explains a lot….

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    • Garrie Madison Stoutimore

       /  September 11, 2012

      It does explain a lot. I loved pencil boxes too- especially when they contained those triangular erasers with wooden heads on the top. But that’s for another post…

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  4. Jeanne Dill

     /  September 11, 2012

    I had a black background Barbie lunchbox with matching thermos. I used to keep the seam of the thermos toward me because the Barbie closest to the seam was wearing a red swim suit. I thought that outfit was too scandalous to be displayed in the school cafeteria.

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    • Garrie Madison Stoutimore

       /  September 11, 2012

      Black background and Barbie in a swimsuit- that was scandalous! I’ll bet you listened to the Chipmunks Christmas music too! 🙂

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