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What our children’s lunchboxes can say about our priorities

What’s in your child’s lunchbox? According to The Wall Street Journal, when the lunch bell rings, some kids are pulling out designer multi-compartment Bento-boxes stuffed full of colorful, vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, nut free fare, artfully arranged and immortalized by moms on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

That’s nothing like what I carried to school back in the day. As a student at a private, Christian grade school and high school, I spent precious time each evening of my childhood packing my lunch. My mom did it willingly when we were young, but as we progressed through grade school, the chore fell to us kids. These were the 80s.

Some parents today might cringe if they could look into what we carried to school: crumpled paper sack lunches with smooshed sandwiches (peanut butter, turkey, or tuna), plastic baggies with a handful of chips or pretzels, another with pickles or carrots, and on a good week, a cookie or homemade, slightly burnt, granola bar. Not only does the food itself sound unappealing compared to what today’s lunchboxes hold: “veggie and tofu samosas, and eight assorted fruits and vegetables including broccoli, grapes, and lupini beans,” but also, it was just food. Not the stuff of professional photographs, food stylists, and menu planners.

What was once a thankless but necessary chore—packing lunch—has become in some circles an art form and cause for competition and even angst among moms eager to please their children and one-up their friends.

The Wall Street Journal’sThe Competitive World of School Lunches,” says “people’s obsession with posting pictures of food on social media has moved to the lunchbox crowd.” The craze is part social-media-fueled competition and part working-mom guilt. Nancy Yen, creator of the high-end lunch-toting OmieBox, said of her interviews with lunch-packing moms, “We got deep into the psychology of lunchmaking . . . It was, ‘I can’t be there for everything, so I am going to make you the most kick— lunch. I’m going to make sure you know I love you. And I’m going to do it at night when the kid’s asleep and it’s going to be amazing.’”

To elevate lunchboxes and lunch making to the level of lunchbox support groups and online competition is to miss the point of making food—to nourish the people you love.

Moms have stayed up late to prepare food for their children for centuries. Proverbs 31:15 commends it. But doing so out of necessity and doing it out of insecurity or vanity are not the same. To elevate lunchboxes and lunch making to the level of lunchbox support groups and online competition is to miss the point of making food—to nourish the people you love.

When our 11-year-old read the story in the Journal, he said, “Why don’t those Moms make the food with their kids? That’s what kids want. To just be together.”

Treating the superficial as transcendent

There’s nothing wrong with lovingly crafting a healthy, attractive meal for the people God’s placed in your care—we should be doing that. But we must guard against the spirit of this age that raises what we eat to spiritual proportions, while neglecting the more important matters of what we think, say, and do (Matt. 23:23). It’s what comes out of our mouth that matters more than what goes into it (Mark 7:18). And don’t forget the opportunity cost that comes with making elaborate lunch box meals—what things will you not be doing while you’re washing, chopping, and arranging eight fruits and vegetables?

Our primary job as parents is to attend to the hearts of our children, teaching them God’s Word and all his mighty deeds so that they might put their hope in him (Psa. 78: 1-8). Yes, we must feed them. But man—and children—cannot live by bread alone. They need every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Far better to hand craft what goes into their souls than their bellies.

Giving precious time to something as temporary as tomorrow’s lunch isn’t the only problem with the competitive lunchbox trend. Photographing what you’ve made and posting it to social media sends a strong signal to kids that it’s worth time and effort to make a big deal about what you’ve crafted (their lunch) to all your fans and followers.This tells them a lot about what’s most important to you. Social media can’t help but fuel the fires of pride and envy. We must use it with great wisdom and be vigilant lest our hearts deceive us into thinking that we really do have right priorities.

I didn’t eat gourmet lunches as a schoolgirl, but I didn’t miss it. I learned how to plan ahead and pack my own lunch, and I thrived on just turkey and cheese, pretzels, and pickles. (I don’t even know what lupini beans are.) Most importantly I had my mom’s time and attention, and often a handwritten note tucked into my paper sack. For this child’s heart, that was the best nourishment of all.

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