I have certainly convinced myself that my children’s teachers would judge me by their lunches.

I have been scolded for including yogurt, which “your daughter doesn’t like” (she chose it — what do you want me to do?). I have been chastised for not following the “no candy rule” (I thought a single Hershey’s Kiss was a healthy dessert choice). I have had my husband stay my hand when I suggested including a mini-can of soda in a Friday lunch for a treat for a child who was having a tough time at preschool — “Are you kidding me? They’ll throw us out!”

A fruit punch juice box from Apple and Eve Organics contains 100 calories. A mini-can of Coca-Cola contains 90. I’m not proposing a daily diet of lunchtime soda, but the child in question would have been so much more thrilled by the soda than by the perfectly acceptable baggie of three Oreos — 160 calories! — that replaced it. Sometimes the rules of what makes a lunch “healthy” confound me.

But at least the officials at my children’s school aren’t (thus far, at least) rushing to clarify. A few instances of teacher commentary aside, what goes in our home-packed school lunches has been something left for us to decide at home. That’s not true everywhere. I keep hearing about “lunch rules,” like the international school that requires that any lunch sent from home be something that is eaten with a knife and fork, or like this school policy, which a parent shared on a friend’s Facebook page:

Lunch is an important part of the day. While the school offers hot lunch each day, full-day children may also bring their own lunches. The school provides milk daily. If you choose to provide your child’s lunch, please note that parents are responsible for providing a nutritious meal that includes dairy, protein, grain, and fruits or vegetables.

That doesn’t sound unusual, but there’s a kicker, delivered verbally by the school’s director at a meeting with new parents. Should your packed lunch fail to meet that standard, a note will be sent home — a “friendly reminder” to pack better tomorrow.

Is that the new normal? If so, I’d like to note right here and now that not one of the lunches I sent to school today (packed with my children’s help and input, and necessary because our school lunch program won’t begin for another week) included dairy. As I think about it, I’m dubious that the leftover pad thai one child chose could be said to include protein. Those lunches (two with BLT wraps, two with leftover Thai food, and all with veggies and dip, strawberries and a bag of chips) met my standards, but arguably fell short on the food pyramid. Getting a note to that effect, however, would probably not inspire me to do better next time.

Does your school impose requirements, nutritional or otherwise, on packed lunches from home? What kind? And don’t they, secretly, make you want to fill a Flintstones lunch box with a white-bread-and-bologna sandwich, a bag of chips, a Coke and a Twinkie, and call it a day?

I JUST CHECKED ONLINE to find out when our health care provider will hold its annual flu vaccine clinics. In early October, we’ll load up in the car and pull into the familiar parking lot with four children (who will by then be 7, 8, 9 and 12) in varying moods of acquiescence, reluctance and resignation. We’ll walk into the building (it’s been a few years since anyone had to be carried), and we’ll fill out our forms.

If we’re lucky, the clinic will do something to cheer the wait in line, as it has in the past: book giveaways, snacks, volunteers providing live music. If we’re not, we’ll wait anyway, while the children debate the choice between the nasal spray (yucky, but pain-free) and the shot (quick, but leaves the recipient with a sore arm and causes screaming in some children). We’ll answer, as we always do, the yearly question: Why do we have to get a flu shot? Why? Why?

Why do we get a flu shot? My kids aren’t babies, and they’re healthy. They are not at any unusual risk from the flu. But those around us are — our elderly neighbors, our older relatives and the aging community we would be sneezing on in line at the pharmacy. Our shots protect us, and that protection extends to the prematurely born infant son of the father waiting in line in front of us at the grocery store and the pregnant lady at the library.

But our intentions are not entirely altruistic. Getting the flu is a drag, metaphorically and literally; why not do whatever we can to prevent a week or more of misery? And as casually as we tend to take the flu, that misery can lead to something worse. Children die from the flu every year. As Wendy Sue Swanson, known as the Seattle Mama Doc, writes, “The majority of the 150-plus children who died last year from flu in this country were not vaccinated. And although it’s true that the vaccine doesn’t protect 100 percent of those who get it, it does protect most from life-threatening illness.”

Getting the shot can be an inconvenience. But it will give you the pleasure of knowing that you’ve done everything you can to make the coming flu season a healthy one for your family.

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

[email protected]


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