Time to pack the doughnuts

August 12,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

You know how there are all these things you once said you'd never do as a parent, yet of course you find yourselves doing them? Things like caving in and buying your daughter a girlie toy, even though you'd always vowed to stand strong against gender-typing; or letting her leave the house in pajamas and Fancy Nancy dress shoes; or packing a doughnut in your son's lunchbox because it's the one and only thing he will eat. Granted, the doughnuts are these: Kinnikinnick and they are just about the healthiest doughnuts you can find. Each one has, in fact, far less sugar than the Yoplait yogurt I like to eat for lunch. They are woefully expensive, though. Whole Foods sells them for over $6 a box, and they are good--really good. But I needed to find a "centerpiece" staple for L.'s bento box in order to jump start the whole process. He used to eat most of a piece of bakery bread washed down with a sip of water (feeding your kid bread and water? Also something I never thought I'd do) but that went by the wayside in February last year. When I took L. shopping to pick out some bento box starters for our inaugural launching of Operation Bento Box we inexplicably stopped in front of the gluten free freezer section. "Look," L. said. "Doughnuts!" He vowed right there on the spot that he would eat the doughnut if I packed it, so I bought a box. The first day we used his bento I packed this lunch: Day 1, Week 1 (Doughnut, grapes, pretzels. It's a far cry from the gorgeous and scrumptious bento box lunches I drool over here) We made a chart for him, and some ground rules. He has to open up his box, eat the doughnut, eat at least two pretzels, and two grapes. At the end of each week, if he's received four out of five check marks, he'll get $4 and we'll take him to his favorite Star Wars collectors store so he can pick out a figure for his collection. That afternoon I could hardly wait to open the box. When I did, I found this: Same (No, your eyes are not tricking you) That's right--nothing touched! I had to practice some deep breathing at that point, even though I have learned over the years not to get too invested in a strategy when food is involved. I went over the rules with L. again, and couldn't get an explanation for why he hadn't touched his food, even though he had seemed so excited about it all earlier that morning. But the next day, when I opened the lid to the box, the doughnut was gone! Every day since (except for the one time I put a maple glazed doughnut in there instead because someone had raided the gluten-free freezer section of Whole Foods and cleaned them out of the cinnamon-sugar ones) the bento box has come back minus one doughnut. This week he's eaten two pretzels each day, too. He likes the bento box, and told me he can "concentrate" better in the cafeteria with it--maybe there's something reassuring about the little compartments, the squared off corners neater, and more symmetrical then an ordinary tupperware, or messy bag. We're still working on the fruit part, and we're a long, long way from packing him anything resembling a "normal" lunch. But I feel a little stirring of something inside--maybe hope? Maybe, just maybe, we're taking a right step?