Blueberry muffin flavoured Mini-Wheat cereal? Really? I raised my eyebrows over the new product as I ate my way to the bottom of a bag of Goconut cajun coconut chips that I discovered at Noah’s. This was after I downed a juniper soda by the Dry company that makes beverages out of kumquats, lavender, lemongrass and rhubarb. Long gone are the days when a simple can of Coke and a bag of Hostess Salt & Vinegar chips would satiate.
Twenty-five years ago, times and grocery store shelves were simpler. Bagels were cutting edge (at least for those of us not bred in Montreal, or living in a neighbourhood blessed with Jewish bakers). Yogurt was unheard of, in any form or flavour. Soya milk might have existed on some commune in woodsy New Hampshire around that time, but for our bright and spritely youth, it was 2% milk with a hefty squeeze of Quik chocolate syrup to make it palatable.
We ate white Wonderbread because it was okay and acceptable to do so. We took fat peanut butter sandwiches to school because nobody died of peanuts back then. Back then, Joe Louis and Wagon Wheels were de rigueur, and a critical addition to every brown bag lunch. If they weren’t on sale at Calbeck’s that week, it was a Del Monte fruit cup (with the one sacred split cherry in the syrupy mix), chocolate pudding with the pull-tab top, or a strawberry jelly roll (which never survived the bus ride).
Our school lunches were predictable and reliably satisfying. When my mom tried to shake it up and introduce something new, we reacted with dramatic panic attacks–sprinting the length of the driveway after hopping off the school bus to shout out, “don’t EVER put Dijon on our sandwiches again! It was DISGUSTING!”
I was entirely content with a white Wonderbread ham and French’s mustard sandwich every single day. Then my mother told me I would get cancer from eating ham everyday (despite our pig farming heritage), so I settled for intermittent peanut butter sandwiches with somebody’s homemade berry jam. Occasionally it was Welch’s grape jelly, but some family member insisted on putting the peanut butter-covered knife into the jelly jar which subconsciosly created a future relationship deal-breaker for Dax and I. Our house rule is: separate knives in the peanut butter and jam jars. Or else.
I know we sometimes had cold pizza, wrapped in foil. There were greasy Kentucky Fried Chicken days too. Apparently in the early ’80s, there was no salmonella fear. We put our lunchboxes directly beside the hot classroom rads for a good three hours. We turned out okay. If someone barfed, it was never from too-warm chicken or mayo-laden egg salad sandwiches that had ripened near the rad.
Speaking of which, those were the most embarrassing sandwiches to unwrap at noon hour. To this day I feel like I need to announce that I have eggs in my lunch. They are like unwrapping a giant fart that has been hermetically sealed in Saran Wrap.
Reading the Metro today at work, I shook my head as I read a review of More Time Moms Family Meals. Joanne Lalonde Hayes of Aylmer, Quebec is the author of this new book that boasts “tools to organize, reduce and simplify the work involved in feeding your children.” The easy-peasy meal plans “take the work out of and put the fun into family mealtime.” There are six weeks of healthy menus, 126 recipes and suggestions to help children control their blood sugar. “This can allow them to eat five to six small meals a day, which is recommended by health professionals.”
Wow, did we even have blood sugar in 1982? We woke up to bowls of Count Chocula, Honeycomb, BooBerry Crunch or Froot Loops. I know I personally drank the equivalent of Lake Erie in grape Kool-Aid and Quik. We only had things that were sugar-based. And I don’t remember ever drinking water.
I know I wasn’t neglected, and I know my mother had a sound background in nutrition from nursing courses. I suppose she didn’t fret about our blood sugar because we stayed outside until sundown, and burned off the six Oreos we swallowed whole when no one was looking. We built bike ramps and failed tree forts, and played real soccer instead of the Wii version.
Regardless, I don’t think we ate 126 different things that would require 126 recipes. We liked our staples and protested the new additions. “No, the bread and butter pickles leak all over! No, even if you cut up the orange I won’t eat it because it leaves my hands sticky.”
We never protested the hot dog in a Thermos though–even though the bun would be as soggy as a diaper at lunchtime. Beans with chopped up wieners was the only other “hot dish” that I can recall. Maybe Chef Boyardee beef ravioli or Spaghetti O’s as a birthday surprise. And if it wasn’t an apple, it was a fruit cup, or squashed grapes. There were no mangoes to speak of, or kiwis or pineapples. And we certainly weren’t picky eaters (save for my mom’s pork hocks and lima beans), it was just the era.
I suppose kids have higher lunchtime expectations now. Couscous, tofu things, quesadillas, wraps. We didn’t have cream cheese options, salsa, sushi or guacamole. Muffins certainly weren’t popular and granola bars were for the weird Dutch kids that we didn’t talk to. Salads were comprised of iceberg lettuce, chopped carrots, green pepper and croutons with French or Thousand Island dressing. And now? I couldn’t imagine eating a salad without dried cranberries, goats cheese, avocado and walnuts. Iceberg lettuce is a total waste of time.
And with this evolution of expectations, am I happy to eat a plain ham sandwich on white bread with plain mustard? God no. I need a 12-grain loaf, baby spinach greens, honey deli mustard, rosemary ham and hot peppers. Would I eat a Wagon Wheel or a Joe Louis? Only to win a bet–and only if the prize lot was over $50. Now I need gorgonzola shortbread, pistachio biscotti and sodas made of kumquats and Jamaican ginger. I’ve become a food snob, just like everyone else because we can be.
I certainly wouldn’t want to be in charge of packing a lunch for me now!