According to this Washington Post article, the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had every day for lunch growing up is unacceptable fare, unfit for the lunch box. Or so say some of the parents profiled in the piece, which explores how parents have a high level of anxiety around what they pack their kids for lunch.
But wait a minute—since when did peanut butter and jelly become unacceptable food for kids?
I don’t have kids, and I don’t have friends with school-age children, but I do follow the debate around childhood nutrition (especially how it contributes to childhood obesity). Even with my knowledge of the controversy around kids and food, I surprised (and fascinated) at the level of guilt parents felt about what they pack their kids for lunch.
The article half jokes that the unattainable dream of the anxious parent is to “pack a scrumptious meal made solely of green vegetables and whole grains sculpted into the shape of a rabbit and laid out in a toxin- and commercial-free container made from recycled milk jugs.” It even quotes parents who give their kids elaborately constructed bento boxes for lunch. And while that’s nice, most people I know don’t have the time or money to construct a daily bento box for themselves, let alone their kids.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I pretty much had the same thing for lunch throughout my childhood (yes, that’s right, from elementary school to high school): a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit, crackers, and a dessert item (that’s right—horror of horrors—there were oreos in my lunch box!). Occasionally I would branch out to the ham or turkey sandwich, at some point I started adding jam to my peanut butter sandwiches, and there was a period in high school where I ate a lot of yogurt, but that was the general menu.
I that things are different now, and that the increased marketing of unhealthy food items to kids has made food a loaded battle ground for lots of families. And because I don’t have kids, part of me wonders if I can even talk about this subject. After all, I don’t have to deal day-in and day-out with the stress and responsibility of feeding a family.
But I just can’t shake the feeling that giving your kid a peanut butter sandwich for lunch is fine, and it’s not going to condemn them to a life of being overweight and unable to appreciate food. After all, despite my steady childhood diet of peanut butter sandwiches, I turned out to be pretty healthy and a total foodie.
In any event, I really hope that when I do have kids, I don’t shun the PB&J, one of America’s great culinary traditions. After all, I still have them for lunch sometimes, and they taste every bit as good as when I was in elementary school.