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Ah the humble sandwich.
It comes in many shapes and forms, using different varieties of bread combined with a dizzying array of fillings that span the gamut of texture and flavour. With countless options, there’s literally a sandwich for everyone. It’s the staple of family picnics, and the stalwart of childhood nutrition that is the school lunch.
Yes, despite originally being considered as "man’s food" to be shared during late night gaming and drinking sessions, the 19th century namesake of the 4th Earl of Sandwich has, over the years, migrated across the social spectrum to become the mainstay of children’s lunch boxes around the country and around the world. Which is all well and good, but filling my daughters’ lunch boxes has evolved into one of the most trying parts of the daily grind.
School lunches have become the bane of my weekday mornings, and constructing them in the early morning tends to bring forth a tirade of under-the-breath expletives than wouldn’t be out of place in a Gordon Ramsay kitchen.
You’re thinking "how hard can it be to make a couple of sandwiches", and not many years ago I’d have been on exactly the same wavelength. A few slices of bread, a bit of filling, chuck it all together and Bob’s your uncle!
Except he’s not… because with the girls things are never, ever that simple. Physically making the sandwiches is easy — it’s the bread-and-butter psychology that’s trickier to grasp. The real problem is lack of consistency. The girls are as fickle as the Irish climate when it comes to their sandwiches: they all insist on something different, and they never want the same things more than one day in a row. Pleasing the three of them involves more permutations than I care to calculate at that hour in the morning.
And before you say it, yes, I’ve tried the "like it or lump it approach" — making the logical assumption that if they were hungry they’d eat what they were given. It didn’t work. Sandwiches would come back uneaten, and three ravenous children would descend on the contents of the fridge.
And so I continue to wrestle with the daily lunch box conundrum — sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong and always finding it frustrating. Another option — one that friends advocate — is letting them make their own lunches, but the chaos that would ensue in that scenario doesn’t bear thinking about.
When I was in school my parents were spared the angst of preparing daily packed lunches. We had school dinners, complete with dinner-ladies, and while I can’t remember that much about them, I can’t help thinking that they’re a better idea than all this mucking about with packed lunches. Maybe the fact I can’t remember much about them is an indication that they weren’t that… well, memorable, but they were freshly prepared, hot… and they meant my mum and dad didn’t have to go through all that rigmarole with the sandwiches.
But school dinners aren’t on the agenda here, and aren’t likely to be any time soon… so we’re resigned to the ongoing packed-lunch fiasco, and I’ll continue to hone my sandwich skills hoping I can get it right more often than I get it wrong.