The most opinionated person on the planet is not Simon Cowell, Sheriff Joe, the editor of this blog, or any number of insane Arizona politicians. It's someone you and I see every day, who interacts with our children and is often our friend on Facebook.
It's the parent of school-aged children.
According to them, there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything when it comes to parenting; there are no gray areas, no room for interpretation whatsoever. They're usually right; you're usually wrong. And no subject elicits more judgment and condescension among parents than the topic of school lunches.
Whether you're a good parent or a bad parent is wholly defined by what you pack in your kid's lunch. You gave your kid what? He'll die young, you know, and probably already has diabetes.
Like many of you, my kids are back in school, and I'm reminded yet again how awful parents can be. And I don't mean "awful" because they're sending their kids to school with leftover Chicken McNuggets. (By choice or necessity, we've all sunk to that low at one point, haven't we?) There are kids like Bobby, whose parents fastidiously stock his lunch bags with neatly labeled baggies (probably biodegradable) of fruits and vegetables, low-fat proteins, whole grains, and beverages that have never smelled a whiff of sugar.
And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Mikey's parents fill the bag with potato chips, some Lucky Charms, a Snickers bar ("It Really Satisfies," they say), and a Coke. I guarantee you that Bobby's mom has thought about calling CPS on Mikey's mom.
I'll admit that toward the end of the last school year, our school lunch creativity waned. It seemed that almost every day, the lunch bags would come home, and it looked as if nothing was touched. Maybe they were sick of what we packed or just sick of school altogether, but my kids clearly weren't eating what we packed, and a lot of food was going to waste. So I did what ever desperate parent does: I hung my head in shame and parked myself in front of the Lunchables aisle at Bashas and began filling my cart with every pre-packaged school lunch every produced.
Make-Your-Own Pepperoni Pizzas? Check.
Processed Cheese and Crackers? Got a bunch of those.
Unidentifiable Meat Product Sandwich Kit? Hell, yeah.
In my mind, propping up my kids with nitrates and corn syrup was a far better option than the prospect of them crashing at the end of the school day from low blood sugar -- judgmental-parents-be-damned -- and, sadly, it worked.
Day after day the $4.99-a-pop brightly colored cellophane packages -- veritable black holes of nutrition -- came home empty. It was an expensive habit, but I can't deny that I was happy knowing that they ate something that day.
There are also kids that have nothing to eat at all.
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According to the Arizona Department of Education, more than 100 of my kids' classmates received free and/or reduced-cost lunches through the National School Lunch Program. This statistic, applicable to a relatively affluent area, was shocking. According to a recent study, near one in four Arizona children under the age of 18 is "food insecure," the fourth-highest in the country. Census data shows that one in five Arizonans lives in poverty (recent data is from 2009). The only place worse is Mississippi. A whopping 20 percent of Arizona households reported not having enough money to buy food for their family in the prior 12 months.
I'm no doctor, but you can't tell me that going to bed hungry -- and going to school hungry -- doesn't impact a child's prospects for success.
I wish I had the answers; I don't. While I should care more about what I pack in my kid's school lunch, I'm also grateful that I have something to pack at all.