I grew up as a lunchbox kid. My mom made my lunch every single day. For us, it was a financial decision. I think lunches were $1 (or perhaps 75 cents) and that was a lot of money for three kids five days per week. So, we packed our bologna sandwiches in Tupperware lunch boxes (remember those?) and our hot soups in Thermoses and headed off every morning to school - until about the 10th grade when I think the whining got to be too much for my mom. Then, it was fruit punch and chicken sandwiches, courtesy of the lunch ladies.
My kids take their lunch to school. I'm not 100% sure why - it actually just feels easier for me to do it myself than to worry about giving small children lunch money. Plus, that way I know exactly what they're eating.
I also know what the other kids are eating. I get the skinny from my oldest child, who is quite the "lunch swapper" in her class. I am trying to discourage it but I have to say, she has a little bit of the Donald Trump thing going on. She gets some pretty good stuff.
My kids have soft sided lunch boxes, much like soft sided luggage. They're insulated so that the food stays cold - unlike the private school that my daughter previously attended (and preschool), there is no refrigerator for lunches.
A typical lunch is a sandwich on homemade bread or in a pita (don't get too excited - I have a breadmaker and breadmaking is kind of my "thing"). It's usually salami, a favorite for my children, and cheese or PB&J. They also get a juice box, a piece of fruit, something salty like chips or crackers, a protein (usually a cheese stick or a BabyBel) and occasionally, a sweet (like a cookie or granola bar - Clif bars are also popular in my house). Sometimes, I'll also throw in carrot sticks or pickles. Lunch for the younger kids is ridiculously early - my daughter's teacher calls it "brunch" since it starts before 11 a.m. - so they also need a snack for the afternoon. I don't pack a separate snack. Since their packed lunch is plenty big, I tell them to eat whatever they don't eat at lunch for their snack. It works, they never come home hungry.
I realize that my children are fortunate because we can afford to give them a good lunch every day. They also get breakfast. I hesitate to call it a good breakfast because amid the chaos in the morning, one or more of them often eat better than others... But I usually try to give them cereal or yogurt with granola; every now and then, they manage some boiled eggs and bacon.
But what about those kids whose parents can't afford to feed them a good breakfast or lunch? Fortunately for students in Philadelphia, the Universal Feeding Program, a partnership initiative of the School District of Philadelphia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides low-income students with a free breakfast and/or lunch. According to the District's web site, the program serves 200 of the District's 280 schools and provides an estimated 121,000 of the District's 167,000 students with breakfast and/or lunch - if you're doing the math, that's about 72% of Philly students.
The future of that program is a bit uncertain. The program has been threatened with closure a number of times, the most recent termination authorized in 2008. A number of politicians, including our Mayor and our Governor, spoke out against ending the program and US Rep Chaka Fattah was able to work out an extension. New bills are in the works, so keep watching to see what happens. You can follow school policies relating to school lunches, including updates to Philly's school food policies, at the School Lunch Talk blog.