From A Southern Table: Back To School Lunch

I always packed my lunch growing up. Even now, as a thirty year old adult, I pack, or come home to eat what’s on hand. There are always eggs to boil and, at this particular moment in the late summer, there is a glut of cucumbers to be sprinkled with salt and devoured like apples.

In my thirteen years of public schooling I think I only ever ate the prepared food at school two or three times. I would open my lunchbox and see a homemade oatmeal cookie, a thermos full of still warm soup or SpaghettiOs, a glistening orange. There was also a time where I insisted on shredded carrot, peanut butter and maple syrup sandwiches for weeks on end. Needless to say, that particular lunch wasn’t a super popular option among my friends.

Food is a mirror, and identity politics and demographic divisions are no doubt reflected in our lunchbox contents. 

Truth be told, I spend a lot more time thinking about lunch now—my lunch, others’ lunches, school lunches— than I ever did when I was in school. What is in our lunch boxes says so much about us…and modern-day kid lunches are a whole different story. Homemade veggie sushi, poke bowls and tons of plant-based foods are getting packed into bento boxes and backpacks of all ages. On top of that, families are now on board with the belief that all food is kid food.

And yet, here as ever, food is a mirror, and identity politics and demographic divisions are no doubt reflected in our lunchbox contents. One in four children in Georgia lives in a food-insecure household. As a community, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and address that.

My hope is that we’ll find a resolution together, at the table, with open mindedness, and over a great lunch.  


When it comes to lunch, my Francophile-nature tends to emerge. I believe in sitting outside whenever possible and eating something simple and full of soul. (I may not live in Lyon or Provence yet, but I do know that when it comes to lunch, the French country dweller and the American Southerner aren’t so different.) The most important rule of lunch? I say just make sure you eat it. Here are some of my favorites.

Curry Tuna Salad

My husband and I had this for lunch at some tiny little sandwich shack on the side of the road on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas some years ago on our honeymoon. It is so simple yet so good. Easily scaled up or down to feed more or less mouths, make a batch on Sunday afternoon and eat off it ’til it’s gone.

2 cans/pouches well drained tuna (chunk light, albacore, whatever)
2 tablespoons mayonaise
2 tablespoons plain nonfat greek yogurt
zest and juice of one lime
about 1/2 cup diced pineapple (you can use either fresh or a can of well drained)
salt & pepper to taste
heaping tablespoon of yellow curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
big handful of chopped cilantro
big handful of chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne or a few dashes of hot sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon of good olive oil

Combine everything in a bowl and stir.

Season to taste and refrigerate in a covered container for up to five days. Really good sandwiched on naan bread with crunchy lettuce and thinly sliced cucumbers.


Veggie Pizza

This is a favorite from my childhood days. It was a staple at every party, event, sleepover and gathering—super easy, super tasty and easily packs in some veggie goodness. Also, you had me at pizza.

Cooked pizza ‘shell’ or crust of your choice* (see note below)
1 package low fat cream cheese or marscapone, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup nonfat plain greek yogurt
1 finely diced shallot
zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as: dill, basil, parsley and thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
3 cups assorted chopped raw,crunchy vegetables, such as: broccoli, cauliflower, radish, cucumber, carrot, grape tomatoes, zucchini
1 cup finely chopped spinach or baby kale
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded muenster or mozzarella

In a bowl mix together cream cheese, yogurt, shallot, lemon zest & juice, garlic powder, herbs and salt/pepper. Make sure pizza crust is completely cool and spread cream cheese mixture evenly over crust. Top with chopped vegetables, spinach or kale, cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons herb. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour and then slice into squares. Will keep for about two days.

*Some people prefer Pillsbury crescent roll dough or pre-made pizza crust— I say buy a ball of dough from the grocery store or a pizzeria near home (or make your own) and press it into a rectangle shape on a lightly olive oil greased baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until deeply golden brown, then let cool.


Cover photo by Hannah Tasker on Unsplash
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