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updated: 2/22/2013 12:44 AM

Lunch matters -- a lot

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Back when they were only semi-adult, and were still semi-entertaining, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen made a road trip movie called "Getting There."

In the film, the two young women were traveling cross-country with two guys, as I remember it (I never actually saw the movie; I heard it when it was playing in the car while I was driving during our family's own cross-country trip). The Olsons' characters wanted to skip a lunch stop in order to make better time, but one of the guys protested.

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"We can't skip lunch,'' he said. "Lunch is like the fifth most important meal of the day!"

With the three teenagers that still remain in our house, eating is a constant process. During weekends, the kitchen requires a traffic signal for safety. I rarely have to worry about expiration dates.

During the week, during the school year, meals are more sporadic, based on activities and school schedules and, in the winter, illnesses of one sort or another. When the kids get home from school or post-school activities, I make sure I am nowhere near the kitchen. It's too dangerous in there. Standard rules of behavior don't apply.

While breakfast and dinner are sometimes whirlwind affairs during the school year, there is one constant that exists related to meals, and that is the school lunch.

In our family, school lunches consist of a sandwich (three different kinds, of course), a salty snack, a sweet snack and a drink, all placed in a properly labeled paper sack. It's not complicated. But precision is required. That's why the kids want Mom to make their lunches. Mom is the queen of precision.

Despite her busy work schedule that causes her to leave the house when the kids go to school and return in time for dinner, my wife Janice likes preparing the school lunches. I understand. Although I'm sure some parents think teenagers should be able to prepare their own lunches, and I have no question our kids could do so if asked, making lunch for school is one of the few things we as parents have left to do for them other than pay the bills.

Plus, the kids know Mom cares for them when they open the lunch and notice that she always includes a napkin.

I don't include a napkin. When it comes to making lunches, I don't do anything correctly, according to the kids. Even if I included a napkin, even if I did everything the exact same way Janice does, the kids know when Dad made lunch. And they are never happy about it.

When I am required, or allowed, to make the kids lunch, I do have a tendency to stretch the boundaries of the standard lunch fare. I know the rules and requirements and follow them, but I really hate unnecessary repetitiveness. If potato chips were in the lunch on Tuesday, I'm throwing crackers in on Wednesday.

(Oh, wise reader, I see your hand is up. You have a question. How do I know what was in the lunch on Tuesday if Janice made it that day? The answer is, in the mornings, it is my job to put the lunches together, throwing the items from the refrigerator, like sandwiches and drinks, into the paper bags. But that was a good question).

Our kids apparently do not want to be surprised by what is in their lunch. Even if it is something they like, they don't want to be surprised. Frankly, I'm not mature enough to make their lunches in a straightforward manner.

When the kids were younger, Janice would occasionally put notes in their lunches, letting them know how much she loves them. I secretly applauded that idea. As far as I'm concerned, parents should be aggressive and even potentially embarrassing about declaring their love for their children.

But I'm thinking love notes in lunch from mom and dad don't go over well in high school (even though we all know the other kids would secretly be jealous of Dan or Lindsey if they saw that Mom inserted an "I love you" note inside their lunch sack.)

I wonder about my kids at lunch. I would love to have an opportunity to secretly watch them at lunch. It's got to be a great time for socializing, it's a break from the more demanding parts of school and it's an opportunity to recharge for what's ahead in the day.

But I would love to see if my kids look at their lunch with any kind of appreciation for what Mom has prepared that day. I would love to know they know how much Mom cares about them, and that the sack lunch is just one way she shows it.

And I wonder if they give thanks every day that Dad didn't have anything to do with it.

• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.

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