Garbanzo bean quiche, preschool and entree envy

Grace is pretty much the TA at her daycare, which is run by our fabulous, big-hearted and beautiful neighbor, Valentin, out of her apartment. There are two smaller kids, and Grace “helps” to feed and change them. It’s been the absolute perfect situation and Grace is madly in love with her daycare family, as they are with her. This summer Grace and I spent vacations and free moments in other people’s yards and pools, and I noticed how much she needs to run around. I notice that she counts a lot of things (“one, two, fwee, five, eight!”) and whenever we pass a school, she wants to go there. I suspect that the playground has a lot to do with it. So I asked her if she’s ready to go to school, and she said yes. I told her that it would be a little different than daycare and that she’d have a teacher and she’d have a lot of other kids there. “OK Mom.” Every time I followed up, her answer is the same. She wants to go to school.

So we looked at several nearby preschools that were willing to take 2-year-olds who were unmotivated in their potty training. One place was great but a little far. Another was horrific, with a 12:1 student/teacher ratio and an industrial bleachy odor (“We clean four times a day!” chirped the director as she toured us around the cavernous building). Out in the vast concrete prison yard that had a small area where they crammed a bunch of slides and swings under a small tarp, a kid closed the door on Gracie in the play house, and she ran to me screaming and crying. Scratch that one.

Finally we found a school a block away that’s attached to an Episcopal church. There’s a Noah’s Ark mural on the outside. Lots of space to play. A charming director. Organized but not mean-spirited. They say prayers of gratitude for parents and play kitchens, and learn the Bible’s greatest hits. For a spiritual but non-religious person, I am OK with that.

However. The kids have to ┬ábring their lunch. That news sent me reeling back to childhood lunchtime trauma. We were raised by my dad, who, in the late 1970s, was in the process of writing what would become a New York Times best-selling diet book. Our food became limited to Pritikin Program low-fat, high-carb fare, which, living two blocks from Zabar’s, was a unique kind of torture. Gone was the nightly ice cream, our babysitter’s Southern fried chicken, the Oreos my dad reserved for “company.” Instead, we made due with baked potatoes adorned with some plain yogurt my dad made himself. There were some passable oatmeal-raisin “cookies” sweetened with apple juice concentrate. And garbanzo bean quiche. Seriously. I am not making this up, nor would I be able to. Garbanzo-effing-bean quiche.

Lunches were less than creative. An endless stream of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat and maybe a brown banana shoved into a rumpled brown bag, or worse, a huge brown grocery bag. Day in and day out. (I remember one particularly heinous incident of a cheese and butter sandwich, which I brought home from day camp and insisted my dad try. He conceded that it was crap.) Lisa, my best friend, would get ham and cheese on Wonder bread with a Twinkie, a soda wrapped in foil to keep it cold, and a Thermos of soup all tucked neatly inside a Snoopy lunchbox. I so desperately had entree envy for Lisa’s lunches, and also, the snacks her parents stocked at home, which was conveniently located one floor below us. Nutter Butter cookies. Yoo-hoo chocolate soda. Triscuits.

Something must have worked its way into my hard wiring, though. Today I get most of my food from the farmers’ market, and then Trader Joe’s for the milk and not-so-bad prepared food. We limit sugar and anything processed. I spent a good deal writing about food for many fine publishing outlets, and was even invited by Japan to come write about the incomparable food the country has to offer. I can work my way around a fridge and stove pretty well. Gracie and I sit down to a good breakfast and dinner every morning and evening. Lunch is whatever is happening over at daycare, and because the dad is a baker, I know it’s going to be good.

BUT. Here’s my point.

I sense an unforeseen issue with having to pack Gracie’s lunches at her new school. I know my instinct will be to shove last night’s leftover Trader Joe’s pakoras in a baggie and call it good. I’m insecure that after three days I’ll run out of ideas, and I won’t be prepared. I don’t want her to have entree envy with the kid who brings the bento box with all his favorites, and Grace will make a grab for it out of desperation. I’m feeling like I’ve already come in last in what’s not even a competitive sport, lunch-making.

Pakoras can fit into a bento box, right?