My Dream Lunch

waltons lunchbox

In second grade, my classmate–K–brought the perfect lunch every day.   She set her “The Waltons” lunchbox down on the white formica table in the cafeteria then unsnapped the yellow plastic clasp to unveil her masterpiece of a lunch.  First, a flowered paper napkin, set to the side.  A spoon placed atop the napkin.  Then a matching yellow Thermos with a lid that doubled as a cup for the colorful splash of Kool-Aid.  A perfectly compact Snack Pack pudding, chocolate or butterscotch or vanilla.  A miniature bag of potato chips.  And finally a sandwich, on snowy white bread with the crusts cut off and sliced on the diagonal.


I had a Peanuts lunch box that I loved.  I had had it since first grade because I remember getting sent to the principal’s office that year after conking Scott Greene over the head with it for breaking in front of me in line.  He got sent to the principal’s office too because he HAD broken in line and my job that week was being line leader.  Lo, the swift hand of justice wields a Peanuts lunch box.

My Peanuts lunch box carried a perfectly serviceable lunch, with a sandwich and maybe a piece of fruit.  A slice of homemade cake if it was near someone’s birthday.  The sandwiches were made with that Carl Budding lunch meat that was so thin that you could see through it–now they call it “deli-sliced” and charge extra for it.  My sandwich sported Sunbeam bread or–god forbid–Roman Meal.  My mom believed in whole grains before anyone else.  Sometimes, if Daddy had a client up near Riverdale, he would swing by the day-old bread store and buy an entire toilet paper box filled with Twinkies, SnoBalls, Ding Dongs, fruit pies and jelly rolls.  One toilet paper box of treats could fill up the entire upright freezer in the laundry room.  Each morning, during lunch packing time, we were allowed to pick out one snack cake and add it to our lunch.  The first to disappear were the SnoBalls–a chocolate cake filled with cream, then covered in marshmallow and pink coconut.  HEAVEN.  If they were hard frozen before I got on the bus, they would be just thawed enough to eat by lunchtime, but the cream-filled center remained an icy sweet core to the whole confection.


What I admired about K’s lunch was the amount of time and attention put into it.  Every little scrap of it was thought out and intentional.  It took TIME to make.  K’s mother didn’t have to worry about getting to work on time AND making a lovely lunch.  My mother had three lunches to make and a desk to get to at her office.

I started thinking about K’s Waltons lunch box today while I was in line at Kroger.  The kids start summer camp this week and I get to pack lunches.  So I found myself filling the conveyor belt with tiny bags of chips, cups of applesauce, boxes of organic strawberry milk, popcorn, popcorn chicken bites, petite carrots, hummus, peanut butter crackers, Snack Pack pudding, sliced ham, string cheese, mandarin oranges, and pouches of Capri Sun water.  Holy HELL.

Am I driving myself mad trying to make the PERFECT LUNCH?  Yes.  Yes, I am.

What was your perfect lunch?  What kind of lunch box did you carry?

39 thoughts on “My Dream Lunch

  1. Heather Slutzky

    As always, I will stand tall and proud for those of us who certainly ate SOMETHING, and likely traded from time to time – but in general have no attachment to a perfect lunch from back in the day.

    Of what you listed, I’d take carrots, hummus, and a string cheese. Jeff would like a Capri Sun and ham.

  2. Tom Mathews

    The perfect lunch? Why, Mrs. Dees of course! The fresh, hot doughnuts, cheeseburgers, fries, and Swifty manning the soft serve machine! Can I get an amen!

  3. Virginia Wilcox

    I hardly ever took a lunch but couldn’t WAIT for Friday’s when chick fil a and Krispy Creme would deliver to the school…However…you were SOL if you had 2nd lunch cause that was GONE by then. I had an advantage in that my mom had retired by that time and worked part time in the lunchroom. She would hold some back for me each day. Needless to say she also became quite popular with the entire football team (who ALL had 2nd lunch) as well. Dreamy guys who never spoke to me and I doubt even knew my name all adored my mom. Not quite what you meant by dream lunch but it’s the first thing that came to mind.

  4. waynesradios

    My three children had ham or cheese sandwiches, an apple or banana, and a cake or a biscuit, every day for their entire school life – or at least until they were old enough to make their own lunch. I was the latest in a long line of incompetent mothers. They all survived and now like to dine out on my inadequacies. It was enough for me to get them up, scrubbed, hair combed and out the door in time for them school and me work. I like to think they are all self contained and resilient as a consequence of a little healthy neglect! I love listening to their memories of childhood. Thank goodness they only seem to remember the funny things.

  5. Lisa

    I had (still have) a Welcome Back Kotter lunch box – I should dig that out for my current job. In school, I’d take sandwiches, chips, Little Debbie cakes – whatever my allowance could get at the grocery store. When I got to high school, I’d take a can of soda, wrapped in aluminum foil to try and keep it cool (we couldn’t buy sodas until afternoon recess but if you brought one, they couldn’t take it away.)

  6. Joe G

    All I remember about lunch was a brown paper lunch bag. P. Elmore would always fold his bag up neatly and put it in his back pocket for use again. Definitely a pioneer in the lunch conveyance recycling movement. Then there was the “Log” of bologna, aka “bahhhloneee”. 20 pounds of processes floor scrapings wrapped in red plastic, with a heavy slathering of full strength Blue Plate mayo on some white bread. Tommy, I’ll give you an amen for Mrs. Dees’ cooking. Hot Scratch biscuits for the morning break.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Oh yeah!!! I forgot about the cut-your-own-baloney! Is that even LEGAL these days? I remember hating it when you and Gay would stick me with the end piece of bread. I’d rather take a half sandwich on a normal slice than take a sandwich with all that crust.

  7. Tara

    I had a Peanuts lunch box for a while too. My favorite lunch in the younger grades was applesauce in a thermos and cheese and crackers. Then one day someone told me that applesauce was baby food. Mama frequented the bread store too. Loved that. When I made my own lunch it was peanut butter and jelly for years…..until the day in HS that Lee and I got ours mixed up and I wound up with her pimento cheese on wheat–oh. my. grossness. I love both now, but on that day–I was miserable. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

      1. Tara

        Daddy loved his pimiento loaf. I remember that’s one of the things he wanted when his appetite was off. But uh, yeah, gross. I love pimiento cheese now, and Bare Bulb serves it on raisin bread–so good. 🙂

      2. Baddest Mother Ever

        One of the best sandwiches I ever ate was a Martha Stewart recipe: take raisin bread and spread it with cinnamon butter, then top with shredded sharp cheddar and some crunch broccoli sprouts. YOWZA!

  8. Lunchbox, my ass

    Excuse me for living – but my mother (who did NOT work outside the home) refused to be ensnared in the daily lunchbox trap. Who can blame her? For 25 cents a day we ate in the school lunchroom. I remember such delicacies as Government cheese, surplus peanut butter, and Friday fish sticks – all served on compartmentalized green trays.

  9. Liz

    Well, for me, it was a bologna (yes, bologna) sandwich on white bread with mustard only, a bag of nacho-flavored doritos and a pack of Little Debbie cake rolls…
    but you are correct, the sno-balls were the absolute best. ever.
    (This was back before the days of wheat bread and healthy snacks…)
    agreed on the pimiento loaf… gag indeed!

  10. Pat

    I, too, had the Peanuts lunch box. However, my favorite one was The Double Deckers. I used that one for years. My lunch was always a peanut butter sandwich (I didn’t like jelly), cookies or a scooter pie, and a piece of fruit. When I was in 2nd grade, my mom was sick and didn’t make me a lunch so I made it myself – all candy and cakes Needless to say, I ended up in the nurse’s office with a stomach ache.

  11. Sandy

    Elementary days I had a Peanuts lunch box, still do! You know I was pretty much raised by my grandparents. So I usually had leftover fried chicken & a biscuit or meatloaf sandwich smothered in mayo, or homemade pimento cheese sandwich with a piece cake or pie. In high school I ate whatever Mrs. Dees made that day which was never bad. I can still remember the smell of those cinnamon rolls and cheese biscuits we could get at morning break. They were to die for!

  12. Helen Warner

    This totally reminds me of a book I used to read to my girls, “Bread and Jam for Frances”. I LOVED that book for some reason and was always happy when one of them wanted to listen to it again! I loved how Frances laid everything out on her desk before eating her lunch. I hardly ever had a packed lunch unless we went on a field trip. I remember one time my Mom packed me kedgery which is an English dish of rice, peas, eggs and smoked fish. It was (and still is a favorite of mine). I was really happy until all the other kids laughed at me and wouldn’t sit by me because of the smell of the eggs and fish:(

  13. KCBozewoman

    Occasionally, I got the “Laferty Special”: Peanut butter, sliced “cheese product”, mayonnaise (fat free!) and lettuce on whole wheat bread. The ingredients make me shudder, and the other kids thought my dad was REEEEAL weird, but I ate it because it was so cool that my dad, who coul be emotionally distant, made it for me with love.

    In other news, I’m staying with my parents for a three-day hospital rotation this week, and Mom packed an enviable lunch for me today, complete with Babybel cheese and flax crackers. I’m almost 30. It was AWESOME.

  14. maryhelenc

    Sigh…my mom regularly forgot to make my lunch, leaving me hungry and sad. I refuse to do that with my girls, who have a Bento Box and a Hello Kitty lunch box respectively.

  15. Heather Bradley

    I was never one of the fortunate ones to get to take my lunch, so I always had to eat from the lunchroom….I vividly remember green jello, beets, and fried bologna. UGH! I did; however, pack my children’s lunch every day of their lives (except pizza day for Patrick) from kindergarten through 12th grade. And, I did it not because they wouldn’t eat school lunch but because, as a mother, I COULD, and I new that all too soon there would come a day when I couldn’t. Kayleigh’s favorite lunch: Mom’s homemade chicken salad made fresh every Sunday, without fail; keebler light crackers; diced mozzarella with cherry tomatoes in balsamic vinegar; mini carrots; and mixed berries. Patrick’s favorite lunch: 2 deli sandwiches, tossed salad with steak and ranch dressing, homemade cookies, trail mix, cutie oranges, a banana, and cheese flavored sun chips. When I asked them what they liked most about the lunches, it wasn’t the food. It was that I decorated their brown paper bags with scratch and sniff stickers, wrote notes on their napkins, or would draw funny faces on their fruit with markers. Hell, if I’d of known that I would have just packed a spoon and some microwave meal.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      I think I’ve been packing a Patrick sized lunch for Vivi….today she told me that they give them snacks at the camp. I had been packing lunch AND snack and the poor wisp has been shoving it in in one sitting!

  16. Heart To Harp

    Alas, never a perfect lunch or lunch box in my life. My mother saw no reason to make my lunch as I could get one at school, so I was forced to eat cafeteria lunches. This is the lunch that terrorizes me to this day: a stinking slab of crusty brown livermush, washed out boiled turnip greens, ghostly white corn grits, and a scalloped-edge butter cookie, the kind with the hole in the middle that your pinkie finger fit into. No vinegar for the greens, no butter for the grits, no shoes needing re-soleing for the livermush. Those days, the cookie was my lunch.


Want to Leave a Comment? Please Do!