Saturday, August 8, 2009

Back to School Goes Back in Time

From the bean of Green Bean.

Outside of the kitchen, boxes of books lined up like soldiers in a fourth of July parade. They squeezed in, shoulder to shoulder, filling up the bankers boxes and overflowing onto the patio. Edging closer, I peered inside hoping for something wonderful.

One of the first books I noticed was a tight little red bundle entitled The Lunch Box. I quickly picked that one up and flipped it open. Copyright 1951. A handwritten inscription to the owner of the house: "To a charming young lady Jean. Sincerely, Eunice". The table of contents promised lunch box packing tips, strategies for keeping things interesting and recipes for lunch time delights. Clutching the book in my left hand, I gathered up my estate sale finds and headed for the cashier.

Later, at home, I poured over the books contents. I was alternatively charmed and amused. The book promised that the result of a thoughtfully packed lunch are "obvious to the luncher when he opens his box at mealtime, and his appetite is sharpened accordingly, his anticipation heightened, and his hunger appeased all the more happily because of your devotion." More than anything, however, I was shocked by how, in a mere two generations, we've gone from a culture that devotes tomes to how to pack a healthy, waste free lunch to Lunchables.

This month, the Green Moms Carnival is discussing greener back to school ideas. My first thought was The Lunch Box. No, it won't heighten one's anticipation as eco school supplies made of recycled this or organic that would. Nor will it sharpen one's appetite like an Edible Schoolyard. And I'm not sure it will appease one as would a school composting or no-idling zone might. Master the art of packing a low waste lunch filled with real food, though, and make your grandmother proud.


Grandma was no "LunchBot" and your parents didn't carry Laptop Lunches to school. Not that there's anything with the glut of "reusable lunch containers" on the market. It's actually a sign that people are caring. I, for one, do not think that we need to spend Grandma's inheritance on smart looking totes and cool containers for the kids.

Last year's lunch box is probably fine - unless my oldest got a hold of it, in which case, I check thrift stores for ones in like new condition.

Wide mouth glass jars from farmers' market chutney, plastic yogurts tubs, a sandwich wrapped in a cloth napkin and held together by a reused rubber band, tupperware lurking about the house all work equally well. Can you sew as well as Grandma? If so, you can steal an idea from Kellie over at Greenhab and sew bags and such for the lunch box contents. I'm not sure how Kellie managed it but Shoot from the Hips posted a PDF reusable snack pattern. How cool is that??

A reusable water bottle or thermos is reminiscent of days past and well worth the investment to buy new.


The Lunch Box and books of its era devoted quite a few pages discussing a balanced meal, with foods from all the food groups in appropriate portions. Does a Lunchable qualify? Maybe not. But it is easy to recreate Grandma's special with some fresh fruit (it often comes in its own wrapper!!), or sliced veggies, popcorn, last night's leftovers and/or homemade goods packed in reusable containers.

Of course, Grandma's life may have been a bit different than ours. Likely, she stayed home with the kids. Even if she did work, women of her generation often worked more regular hours than my working mother friends. In other words, Grandma may have had a bit more time to think about lunches.

I've gotten around the time dilemma, a bit, by sharing the burden with a circle of green moms. Last year, we formed a baking club where we all bake items (e.g., muffins, crackers, bagels). Everyone makes up one giant batch and there ends up being enough home baked goods for a couple week's worth of lunches.

A food club isn't for everyone, though, and buying in bulk and repackaging into reused containers still beats individually wrapped snacks any day of the week.

For more school lunches that Grandma would smile over, check out Crunchy Domestic Goddess.


Don't think there weren't wax paper wrapped sandwiches or brownies in the lunch pails your parents toted off to school. Certainly, some of the time, there were. I aim for no waste but, realistically, there are days when a Z Bar finds its way into lunches. And that's okay, in my mind, because, well, 90% of the time, the kids eat healthy and the landfills are lonely. The rest of the time, our back to school lunches go back in time. And that would make Grandma proud.

Check out Organic Mania on August 10th to find out how other Green Moms are greening their back to school routine in this month's Green Moms Carnival.


balmeras said...

Love this post. My mom had an ancient, giant LIFE Magazine cookbook when I was little. I was obsessed w/ the lunchbox chapter. I always wanted her to make me a lunch that looked like a picture. Needless to say, as the last of 6 kids of a working mom, that never quite happened. ;o) Cheers- Bethe @balmeras

Anonymous said...

Well, Green Bean, at least you aren't sending them to school with yummy baked polystyrene cookies. I was worried.


Seriously, I need some creative ideas for my own lunches. Plastic-free, of course. I'm starting to get very bored.

Green Bean said...

Bethe: Thank you! I love the old fashioned pictures and remember those enormous Life Magazine cookbooks.

Beth: I will say this. As entertaining as these cookbooks are, they really are filled with fantastic lunch ideas. Remember that folks then almost always ate lunches packed from home so they had to keep things interesting. Some of the ideas, which I'm digging right now, are as simple as varying sandwich fillings. Using different relishes, chutneys, spreads and such. I know, Ruchi's food porn post we're supposed to be over sweets, but I'm not. :) And these cookbooks have hundreds of different little cake and turnover and cookie recipes that pack well in a lunch box. Soups, stews, salads and such also are fantastic. If you pass an estate sale, pop in and pick up a cookbook. They're a hoot. And not full of bad information, either.

Condo Blues said...

My last consulting gig required me to work in their office. My lunchbox was a small paper Antropologie shopping bag with the handles. It got to be a thing among the ladies to use small handled store bags for our lunches.

mother earth aka karen hanrahan said...

I think the coop baking club idea is brilliant or perhaps better yet maybe a healthy snack exchange similar to a cookie exchange?? I grew up w/ homemade bread, reusable lunch bags,containers and wax paper. Of course I was different. I wanted zip lock and wonder bread, and twinkies like everyone else. I'm glad now that my mom had her own thrifty ideas.

Green Bean said...

CondoBlues: Love it! Who needs pricey lunch boxes.

Karen: That's funny. Sounds like we had the same childhood. I'm thankful now as well - not that I wouldn't have traded all my mom's homemade granola for a Hoho back in the day though.

TurningTransparent said...

Love the idea of a baking club. We used to do that with full dinners between friends. What a great way to share time and save time.

Lisa Sharp said...

Love the book! Very cute. Shows how much we are going back to what our grandparents grew up with in order to help the environment.

Mindful Momma said...

Wish I could get my hands on a copy of that book! And start a baking group. Great ideas!

mcmilker said...

Ah ha! Now I know to just use my glass jelly jars and such - great idea!


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