My very first day of kindergarten, I had my initiation into the trauma of school lunch. My mom and I found this new lunch tote, completely unlike the boring lunch boxes with the Smurfs or My Little Pony on its side. Instead, I picked out a lunch bag – a small, neon-orange, canvas duffel with turquoise piping and a matching thermos. Mid-Eighties fashion statement, anyone? Mistake #1.
The morning of school, my mom packed my lunch with all of the things I requested: a sandwich, a mini bag of Cheetos, and a thermos full of Big Red Soda. Yes, I said Big Red Soda. This is before the government decided parents really shouldn’t be packing their kids’ lunches (OK, so maybe this story supports these claims). Filling the thermos with Big Red Soda. Mistake #2.
I arrived at school on my first day, and my teacher showed me where I could find the locker with my name on a magnet in front, and I happily tossed my lunch tote inside, dreaming of the lunch hour and my Big Red soda. Tossing the bag. Mistake #3.
Lunchtime came, and the teacher initiated Kindergarten 101: The Line. The teacher’s aid helped all of us find our lockers again to locate our lunches. I grabbed my awesome lunch duffel bag and trotted over to the line. I heard the kid behind me say something about red on the floor. Then, I heard the teacher’s aid ask, “Who brought a red drink for lunch?” Realization started to sink in just as I looked down, noticing a little Hansel and Gretel trail from the locker row to classroom door, leading up to my canvas duffel bag bleeding Big Red Soda. Unbeknownst to me, the thermos in my bag did not get screwed on properly – causing a slow leak all over my lunch, locker, and classroom floor.
My first school lunch period consisted of me trying to salvage a Big Red-soaked bologna and cheese sandwich. Mostly, I just ate my Cheetos and tried to keep Big Red from leaking onto my new friends. Also crying. Lots of crying.
I quickly learned the only way to survive in public school was to blend in, and blending in meant eating the cafeteria food, even if you hated it.
The basis of my particular elementary school’s cafeteria meals started with the hot dog. We had a hot dog served in more ways than Oscar Mayer ever originally intended. The cafeteria ladies would print the menu for the week in our local paper, and the local radio station announced the lunch for the day in their morning broadcast. These ladies were wise in their years and knew the name, “Barbecued Sausages” sounded much more appetizing than “Shriveled Frankfurter Smothered in Cheap Barbecue Sauce.”
They didn’t stop there. We would have hot dogs mixed with Ranch Style Beans (not pork and beans because, well, I lived in Texas) or hot dogs sliced halfway in the middle and stuffed with some sort of cheese equivalent. Of course, we always had the standard half a pear, green peas, and chocolate milk to go along with the hot dog, rounding out the food groups. Never do I remember having a regular hot dog with a bun and mustard at the school cafeteria.
The next year on my first day of first grade, I ran to get in line after recess and promptly threw up my cafeteria lunch.