It’s back to school! Hooray! Time for moms all over the country to wake up early and pack school lunches with nourishing foods, displayed in artful, inspiring bento box themes and thoughtfully assembled to make it easy for little hands.
My, how things have changed since I was a kid!
As a Latino kid in a typical all-American community attending a private Catholic school, opening my lunch sack each day was a cringe-worthy event. What would I find? Would my friends think it was weird? I spent many afternoons crying and whining, “Pero Mami, why can’t you just pack a hot dog or bologna sandwich like everyone else?!”
My mom packed a lunch with everything I needed to sustain my mind and body for a full day at school — I was fed very well! — but we laugh at some of those things now. Here are 9 silly things my Latina mom used to pack in school lunches:
1. Rice and beans. Like, really? Have you ever tried straddling a bench or sitting on a lawn with a plate of rice and beans? No bueno!
2. Chicken legs. While I appreciate being utensil free, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind…
3. Chicken legs with a side of fruit. Makes a complete meal, right?
4. A steak knife. I’m pretty sure our little ones would end up in the principal’s office these days, but even back then, my friends would look at me crazy as I pulled out a giant steak knife to cut my bistec.
5. Full size bag of Cuban crackers. At first it was embarrassing, but mom was smarter than she looked. Cuban crackers for everyone!
6. Guava y queso fresco. I told her repeatedly that the snack was called “cheese and crackers,” but Mom thought guava and crumbled cheese was a right match.
7. A foil covered paper plate. How did these even fit in my backpack? The spills and messes were always my favorite to clean up.
8. Last night’s leftovers wrapped in a tortilla. In the 80s, this was weird. Nowadays, these are called wraps or roll-ups. My Mami was ahead of the trend!
9. Cafe con leche. Yup. The breakfast of Latino champions. Imagine the horror of my teachers as I strolled into class with a venti-sized cafe con leche!
Far from a bento box, the school lunches my Latina mom used to pack ushered me into the bicultural identity I eventually developed. The different lunch foods offered me the chance to share my culture with friends in a new way. Sometimes they even wanted me to trade their ham and cheese sandwiches for my “roll-up” of rice, black beans and chicken. Still, as a Latina mom myself, I appreciate the love and dedication my mother expressed to me through my school lunches — even if I wouldn’t dare pack those things in my kids’ lunches now!
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