Kristin Mastre,

It was the first time I was joining my oldest son for lunch at his school. I met the class in the hallway as they were returning from recess. In a long line to the lunchroom, like marching ants to a picnic, each kid pumped their hands full of hand sanitizer and proceeded to grab either their lunch box or get in line for a school lunch tray. I spotted my son in the sea of little kids learning to become independent.

“HI MOM!” he waved enthusiastically.

“So, you’re going to have to show me how to do this. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a school lunchroom” I told him.

His smile was wide and bright. He quickly grabbed a carton of chocolate milk and told me that I could pick whatever I’d like – chocolate milk, regular milk (meaning 1%), or apple juice. I chose a miniature carton of 1% milk. We moved along in assembly line fashion, grabbing a tray with either a slice of cheese pizza or a Philly cheese steak sandwich on it. Much like all of his peers, my son chose a slice of pizza, while I decided to go for the sandwich.

The lunch ladies smiled nicely as they scooped ladles of warmed canned corn for the kids who requested it.

Next, we paid for our meals – $2.05 for the kids and $3.o0 for adults. We then shuffled along to the salad bar in the middle of the lunch room. My son loaded his plate with grapes and apple slices on one section of his compartmentalized tray, with another square filled with iceberg lettuce and a single baby carrot. Finally at the end, he scooped a large serving of Goldfish Crackers in another square.

Following suit, I picked a few slices of cucumbers, a few cherry tomatoes, a small pinch of iceberg lettuce, and then a scoop of grapes for my fruit serving. We sat down at our designated table with classmates immediately asking who I was.

“This is my mom, and she’s a food writer!!” he practically shouted across the room. It was fun to see him so excited about sharing this experience.

I took a bite of my cheese steak sandwich and decided I’d stop at that. It wasn’t pleasant. It was the epitome of greasy, flavorless, salty cafeteria food. I felt the same about my scoop of canned corn. So, I nibbled on grapes and cucumbers while talking to the kids about their lunch…

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