FAMILY: Primal parenting: food for thought

Columnist Susan Lundy offers her insights into parenting

As I attempted to send my daughter back to her tiny rental suite in Vancouver laden with Thanksgiving leftovers, I realized how the “provision of food” is such a primal part of parenting.

The offer was gently rebuffed: “I don’t have enough arms to carry another bag!” (I handed it to her friend). Luckily, I’d dropped off a massive bin full of supplies a few days earlier, so I wasn’t concerned (yet) that she would starve.

It’s primal and it’s inherited; I remember leaving my parents’ home topped up with leftovers and bits of random groceries. In fact my mom rarely visits today without bringing a container of home-baked cookies or a bag of coffee that she “just won’t use.”

Sending my adult kids off with a few groceries is so much easier than all those years of packing school lunches. My lunch-making angst began early, all the way back to the daycare years. For months, I’d blithely gone about the morning routine of packing diaper bag, snack and lunch. I had no inkling I might be causing permanent damage to the psyche of my firstborn until the caregiver finally took me aside.

She explained that all the other children brought snacks in lunchboxes with little handles, colourful Disney characters and matching thermoses. Danica’s lunch merely arrived in a paper bag and she might be feeling left out. I was horrified in the way that only first-time parents can understand. I couldn’t bear the suffering my child had silently endured.

Judging by the stories that have circulated the news in the past year or so, creating school lunches has become trickier than ever. I’m sure every lunchbox-packing parent shuddered at the story of the mom who was threatened with a fine in Winnipeg because she failed to include a “grain” in her child’s balanced lunch. That lunch apparently did include roast beef, potatoes, carrots and an orange. Then there was the British primary school student sent home after teachers discovered a bag of Mini Cheddars in his lunch, a violation of the school’s health and balanced meal policy.

Although I worked hard to create lunchbox masterpieces, I’m glad there were no lunch police back then. I didn’t need anyone else hovering around taking notes. The food had to be healthy; it had to be something they would eat and – the biggie – it had to be available in either the fridge or cupboards. The more empty the fridge, the more “creative” the lunches.

Some mornings, the father of my children scoffed at my lunchbox anguish, breezily claiming he could easily throw together a mere lunch or two. I smiled kindly, continued making the meal and hoped to God that I never died and left him in charge of our children’s lunches. In those days, I worked late most Monday nights, leaving him to make dinner. Danica and Sierra did not always appreciate his “gourmet” touch. Once, when he had created some sort of odd, raisin, pasta and pickle juice dish, he set a plate down in front of each child. Five-year-old Danica’s eyes widened in disbelief as she observed her dinner.

“This,” she said, outraged, “is bullshit!” It’s tough to chide a child for language when you’re suppressing laughter. When I got home and observed the food, I had to agree with her sentiment.

However, I guess I should have given him some slack. Just because the provision of food is “primal,” doesn’t mean it’s going to be good.

– Susan Lundy