The kid with the stinky lunch
November 15th, 2011
12:15 PM ET
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Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and these next two weeks, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. Catch up on past coverage and stay tuned for the live blog from our Secret Supper in Chicago on Wednesday night starting at 6:00 CT.

When you're all grown up and on your own and have lived a bit of life, it's easier to find peace with your weirdness. All those little and large things that set you apart as a child - your goofy-looking nose, talent for playing bassoon or obsession with the insides of small electronic devices - are what make you the gorgeous, fascinating, resilient adult you are today.

Back then, though, kids may not have been so kind. Conformity is key in formative years - it teaches us all to walk on the right, chew with our mouths closed and remain reasonably clothed in public places. But it can have a cruel edge if wielded by the callow.

Enter the elementary school lunchroom, where a break from the regimen of the day can often descend into food-flinging anarchy. PB&J or bologna sandwiches are the brown bag standard, and anything other than that is regarded as plain old freaky.

Kids from immigrant families are up against a lot, and the pressure to assimilate to their new culture outside the confines of home can be overwhelming. For many it's a matter of retraining speech patterns, learning all new pop culture icons or convincing their parents that really, it's okay to dress down in jeans and sneakers; everybody does. But they can't control what goes into their lunchbox - and other kids take keen notice.

Stella Fayman already felt like a visitor from another planet when she came to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1989, and lunchtime was a whole new universe of discomfort. She says, "I would bring Russian food and the kids would make fun of me and call my delicious homemade meal an 'alien sandwich.' Now as an adult, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is a treat because of how much I used to envy those American kids with their Gushers and perfect little lunchboxes."

It was the smell that gave away Maria Liberati. Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, Italian food didn't have the same have the same molto delizioso cachet that it does now.

Liberati recalls, "I can remember attempting to find a place in a hidden spot to sit in the lunch room because I usually had an Italian type of panini sandwich dripping with olive oil and oregano or a cold meatball sandwich, and for dessert Italian biscotti and a piece of fruit. Others had the local Tastykakes for dessert. Everybody else would bring in a PB&J or bologna and cheese."

She continued, "Of course my lunches were difficult to hide because you could smell that fragrant tomato sauce or the panini with fresh oregano from a mile away. I would place the lunch bag in the cloak room with my coat and try to cover the brown bag so to mask the fragrance."

Fortunately, the shame faded over time; Liberati is now a noted cookbook author, specializing in Italian recipes.

And again, the smell was a finger pointing straight at Hungarian immigrant Wanda S. Miarecki. In the 1950s, her grandmother would send her to school with a lunch of Limburger cheese sandwiches and a hard boiled egg and possibly sardines or a lard sandwich sprinkled with sugar. Sister Agnes would send Miarecki to sit at the back table in her Catholic school cafeteria and as she notes, "Needless to say, I didn't make any friends."

For humor blogger Alexandra Rosas, the benefits of a traditional health drink were lost in translation. On the Tiki Tiki Blog, she recalls her Colombian grandmother sending her to school in the mid-1960s with a thermos of yerba buena, also known as mate, if she had a stomach ache. Already an outcast, she failed to win any new friends when she answered the class's questions about her beverage with a literal translation, "It's good weed drink!" - which they immediately ran home and told their parents.

Pablo Solomon, now an artist and designer, grew in a multicultural home in Houston, and was bullied every day as a child. Lunch, however, provided a little bit of respite. Though his parents were poor, they got him a Roy Roger's lunch box.

Solomon says, "Because my meals were often foods that the other kids could not recognize, at least they did not beat me up for my lunch. I would have such Mediterranean delicacies as kibba, dolmas, feta cheese, stuffed squash and cabbage - even baklava and huge date cookies. Throw in the occasional tamales, epanadas, sausages, containers of various soups, beans and stews, a variety of homemade breads - and I ate well." It was a comforting little slice of home in the middle of a trying day.

Sandro Gerbini grew up in upstate New York to a father born in Lebanon. From first through third grades lunch was a similarly harrowing experience that turned out to be a cultural bridge to her classmates.

Gerbini recalls, "While the other children brought their white bread, peanut butter and fluff lunches, my sister and I were packed with elaborate Lebanese pita wraps filled with ingredients ranging from hummus, baba ganoush, and Greek yogurt with olive oil, olives, tomatoes and mint. I distinctly remember multiple occasions where I came home to my parents in tears, begging them to pack normal kid lunches for me so that I might be spared the embarrassment of being scrutinized by my typically cruel first and second grade peers."

Luckily, an astute teacher intervened, turning it into a cultural lesson for the class, inviting students to bring in a dish representative of their heritage. Gerbini says, "Most students were either brave, or were trying to appear so before their friends, and ended up trying a bit of everything, sampling cuisine from nearly two dozen different cultures. The event was such a hit that by the next week my formerly odd-ball lunch was suddenly in demand by former skeptics. I began exchanging bits and pieces of my lunch for whatever unusual foods their parents had packed for them and never again was my Lebanese lunch a source of distress for me."

Julia Simens, who has lived on five continents and parlayed her expertise into a book called "Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child" fondly recalls a lesson in cultural pride gleaned from Jesse, a fellow student at her school.

She says, "I peeked over his shoulder to see his packed lunch, a meat stick on fluffy white potatoes. As he ate more and more of his meal we had the conversation that got me to understand the difference between pounded yams and mashed potatoes. I even took a small bite, bland but doable food. When Jess pulled a large piece of meat off and smiled at me while he chewed and chewed. I had to ask him what type of meat he was eating. I never expected to hear 'snail.' When he offered
this BBQ delight I had to decline."

Siemens contined, "I am sure Jesse would take his favorite treat with him ay place on the world that he moved to since it was his favorite and often showed up in his lunch bag."

And Devna Shukla, an Associate Producer for CNN's AC360° digested an important insight in cultural pride in her essay Stall confessions: Life lessons from my lunch box, recounting the tale of finding a kachori in her lunchbox. It was a favorite at home, but in the lunchroom, she was so embarrassed, she ate it in a school bathroom stall. It was the most shameful moment of her life, she says, but she's since grown from it.

Shukla writes, "It struck me that while our country has many obstacles facing us, it seems that we are embracing each ingredient that goes into the melting pot of American culture. I learned such an important lesson from my lunch box, and my kachori. Today I am proud of both my Indian and American roots. If I could go back, I would tell that little girl in the bathroom to be proud of herself and her culture, and eat that kachori with pride – outside the stall."

Do you have any true tales of alienation or acceptance in the school cafeteria? Please share them in the comments below and we'll highlight our favorites in an upcoming post.



soundoff (334 Responses)
  1. catmomof17

    If it were only in school! I love ethnic foods and have weathered many comments on my "fragrant" choices for lunch at work. Of course, as an adult, I just told them to pi*s off...LOL!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  2. bd

    Why don't they become acclimated then and eat normal food...

    November 16, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • rachel

      Seriously? Normal food? What the heck is the matter with you that normal means anything other than what YOU know and are comfortable with? Who cares what people eat? If you don't like it, don't eat it. But there is no reason to judge something that is really not your business.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • whiskers

      Normal? As in peanut butter on white bread? Hilarious.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Grobo

      Ouch... define normal...

      November 16, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Valentijn

      I'm not sure I'd call bologna and american cheese on wonderbread "food", much less "normal".

      November 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • pierce

      Acclimated!

      LOL. Why don't you use "normal" words?? LOL

      November 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Hunny

      What is normal bj? Your PB&J?

      November 16, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  3. Jorge

    Yesterday I read an article concerning congress turning back proposed legislation to make lunchroom food more healthy for our kids because of 'pressure' from the fast/frozen food industry. I can't help but feel the frustration of those who are trying to leave their kids a legacy of healthy habits and trying to teach them to eat right while school districts use their parent's millage taxes to put a slew of unhealthy processed cr@p in front of them come lunchtime. I'm American-born with a foreign family who has come back from 26 years overseas (so you could, in a sense, see us as immigrants). My wife an I have instilled a sense of family foodieism and healthy eating in our 14 year-old to the point where she loathes to eat contemporary lunchroom food (which quite frankly, is one step above pig slop nutritionally) and instead hoards a serving of the previous evenings avocado/tomato/sweet onion salad with salt cod and olive oil, paella, chicken escoveich or whatever was on the table the previous evening whenever she can. She doesn't particularly care what the other kids say but she's told me that teachers ask her if my wife or me are chefs. Maybe they should pick up a cookbook or two.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  4. Onyx

    Umm...wow. Is this really the biggest problem immigrant kids have in schools? If so..then shut up. Because no one really cares.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • MPP

      It seems easy to say that nobody cares, but in school when you are surrounded by your classmates and friends who care if you are a part of their group, it does matter. However I agree with the writer, kids need to be preached early in childhood itself that being diverse is OK, and 'normal'. This would help them grow out of the fear and stress.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  5. Peggy

    As a child, our family had an income that lower than most of my classmates. Although I normally had the regular PB&J lunches, occasionally my mom would pack sardine sandwiches because that's the only thing she had to give us. I hated those days because then the kids would tease me and complain about my smelly lunch.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:59 am |
  6. Jenn

    This oddly enough reminds me of my mother. She's kind of a health nut, and other teachers make fun of her food in the staff room. (Meanwhile they're stuffing their faces with school lunches of pizza and corn dogs.) lol Poor Mom has taken to eating her lunch in her classroom.

    November 16, 2011 at 3:55 am |
  7. SSGJughead

    My father passed away when I was 2 yrs old, life must have changed for us. I do not recall having lunch money,Momma had 5 kids. Life is better now, I have never balanced a check book, always knew not to spend more than I made. Single and retired military, I have money in the bank, you would be surprised. I drive a 1998 Camry that I bought for 3,600.00 but could buy a new car. Life is better.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  8. Beth

    My dad made my lunch every day because I have serious allergies. I was never allowed to eat school lunch. I was never embarrassed by the food my dad made though. All of the other kids were in awe of the fact that I had a dad who cooked. My mom cooked too but with 4 girls to get ready, Dad handled most of the breakfasts and lunches.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  9. Susan B Carlson

    I had my eight year old read this article and her comment was "Ewwww, disgusting." To having a peanut butter & jelly or bologna sandwich for lunch! She has taken sushi, albondigas soup, feta cheese & veggies on skewers, hard boiled eggs, large chunks of grilled tuna, salmon, swordfish, and trout. Beans, lentils, hummus & pita chips. Soba noodles with tofu, hot pot, cashew chicken and rice, I mean., I could go on but you get the picture. Her kindergarten teacher told me all the adults looked forward to seeing what she brought for snack and lunch. Won't eat sandwiches and will only eat La Creme yogurt. So, I'm not sure why an "unusual" lunch is cause for ostracizing, but it hasn't happened to us......

    November 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Melissa Echterling

      I guess you're trying to sound pretentious?

      November 15, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
      • Beth

        I guess you're trying to be rude?

        Many of us do not eat a "typical" American diet full of fat, sugar, and carbs. That makes us healthy, not pretentious.

        November 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
      • whiskers

        Dunno, listing all of those just to illustrate a point does sound pretentious to me.

        November 16, 2011 at 10:11 am |
        • justaperson

          Listing all of that does make them pretentious, but they are right for the most part. Nowadays, home cooked foods make a child seem "nurtured" where before it just meant they were to poor to afford the prepackaged garbage when it was expensive and exciting. Now it's reversed. I remember begging for lunchables as a kid and tv dinners being a huge treat. (They came with BROWNIES) When my sister started school it became clear that it was the opposite, I had packed her leftover sushi from a treat dinner I made because it was expensive and I didn't want to waste the leftovers and the kids LOVED it. I had a very low budget to feed my sister and I while I was in high school, despite being middle class Americans, and had to budget very carefully, but I figured out that if I skipped lunch and only had a soda (cool for my age at the time) then I could spend that little bit of extra money to give her the extra positive attention in the cafeteria. Now that I have moved out and my mother lavishes attention on my sister, she makes her own lunch and often spends an hour or longer making it look pretty.

          The pretentious original poster probably only does it for the "cool points" the PARENT getsfrom the teachers, rather than out of concern for her own child. I was brought up in a rural yuppy area where "wholesome" and "real foods" were buzzwords for parents. For us that meant brown bread sandwiches from bread-machine baked bread and farm raised chicken was the norm, cosmic brownies were the ultimate novelty and higher ranked than some amazing home baked cookies. Did it matter that we were to ones doing all the work? No. As long as our parents knew that teachers thought they were making it for us, that's all that mattered to them. I still remember hoarding little debbie cakes in my closet to eat at school because I always had a home made lunch. What seems out of reach is what kids desire the most. I always treated "fancy" fruits like mangos as a treat for my sister, and she's grown up a lot healthier than I have. (when we went grocery shopping, I'd buy a mango and we'd split it before taking the bus back home. I'd always tell her to wash up and not to "tell on me" for buying mangos. We'd always make sure to throw the peels and pit out before we got home as well. I still use that tactic on her at 13, where I buy her clear mascara and lip gloss because all the other girls wear makeup and she's not supposed to. The clear mascara and lip gloss don't do anything really, but she can surrupticiously apply it in the restroom with the rest of her peers, but it will seem special because it shows her natural beauty. I even bought her some fancy moisturizer to put on instead of foundation, because she doesn't need it. None of those girls need it, but it gave my sister the bonding experience she needs without her having to paint up. Plus it gives her just enough "danger" from doing something that isn't allowed to satisfy her without the real "danger" of her getting in trouble. But I spoil my sister a lot now that I have a little bit of money. When she is "allowed" to wear makeup by her mother, I'm taking her to Ulta for a makeup lesson because I had to learn from the beginning at 20 having never been allowed to wear it when I was young enough to get spending money that didn't go to groceries.)

          July 16, 2014 at 6:04 pm |
    • Sun

      That is excellent Susan! I'm a chef, and my son took his lunch every day until high school, he wouldn't touch the stuff in the cafeteria, he said it smelled bad and looked weird! He took pasta, pizza, fresh veggies and fruit, all kinds of salads, home baked goodies (I own a bakery) that made him the envy of all the kids at his table. The kids begged to change lunches, my son refused. Smart kid!

      November 16, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • PH

      There is a precedent here, and I would not deny you the right to continue to seek or maintain the admiration of the other adults at her school that are aware of the vast lunch options your child may brings to school on any given day.
      People often validate their self-worth in the least expected places.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:47 am |
      • whiskers

        Well-put!

        November 16, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Mikey

      I'm sure the trout was grass-fed, the vegetables free range and the rice locally grown.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • justaperson

      Actually, reading it now, you sound even more pretentious. Why does it matter what the "adults" think of her lunch, when it's the children that most often do the bullying? I'm not saying you shouldn't feed your kids good food, but have you ever asked your child what the other kids think of her food? Maybe the other kids tease her about the food she brings in, but doesn't have the heart to tell you, or is too afraid of you. Often adults who care more about another adults' opinion more than their own child's will neglect their children when they are no longer a "shiny commodity."

      You can feed them healthy food, satify your need for bragging rights, AND make something that both your child and the children around them will find cool. Veggies cut out with cookie cutters and a nice home-made yogurt dip can do wonders for a child's health without stigmatizing them. Hell, I even make my OWN leftovers look cute because people are a lot more tolerant of "weird" things when they are cute. I get more complements than complaints when I make a pretty lunch of the same food I threw in a tupperware the day before, deemed gross by my coworkers. Some of them even want to try some.

      If you really want bragging rights from other adults, I suggest looking at class studies and what certain demographics are looking for most. The very poor, for instance are more concerned about getting "enough" food because you never know when your next meal is. The upperclass is more interested in the appearance of the food, if you tack on a fancy name and put it together beautifully, it seems like more care was put into it and by effect, more time; which is considered a luxury that most parents don't have. Apple slices and peanut butter are a norm for school lunches where I come from, but if you cut stars out of the apples and put honey greek yogurt into the dish instead of peanut butter, it's much "cooler" and healthier.

      July 16, 2014 at 6:27 pm |
  10. sockpuppet

    I've seen kids embarrassed by bringing weird lunches, eating cafeteria food, NOT eating cafeteria food, having "poor" lunches, not having money for snacks, and for not having lunches at all. There is no one group that had it any harder in that regard. And at least these kids HAD lunches, unlike some of us. I would've taken a stinky lunch any day to avoid everyone asking me why I wasn't eating again.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  11. Maria

    Although one of my parents immigrated from Argentina, I simply preferred different foods... I wanted a liverwurst or a hummus sandwich any day over pb&j. I got the same kind of flak, but at least my lunch tasted better. :)

    November 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Carrie at TikiTikiBlog!

      Amen, Maria.

      I guess I got lucky I grew up, and went to school with, a bunch of Cuban kids. We all were eating Arroz con Pollo and Picadillo for lunch.

      For us, PB&J would have been weird!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  12. Diane

    I am of mixed Eastern-European descent and I was raised in the 50's with lots of great fresh food. My mom was a fabulous cook and occasionally made amazing sandwiches but most often packed my lunch box with the previous nights leftovers. Since she made a fresh pot of soup almost every day that meant I took a lot of soup to school, which was usually not a problem, except when I brought things like borscht or sour kraut soup. The kids in my classes always thought that was pretty freaky, but I never remember feeling different in a bad way. Maybe it was the pride in our heritage that my family instilled in me, because I kind of enjoyed being different and I raised my kids to be proud of being themselves. Plus, after awhile most of the kids would badger me to trade parts of my lunch with them, and it didn't take me long to realize that flat, tasteless Wonder Bread sandwiches were not some thing I wanted any part of.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  13. steve D

    Wow... "food bullies"? Really? Is there nothing our PC divas will not dredge up, to show how rough life is?

    NEWSFLASH! Bullies, at all levels, will pick on those who are different, weaker, less likely to fight back.

    So, if you are dress weird, you'll be confronted. If you speak with a weird accent, you'll be confronted. If you have strange habbits, you'll be confronted. If you have a weird sounding name, you'll be confronted. If you bring smelly food to lunch, you'll be confronted. The ironic reality is that while striving to establish their identity, our kids (all over the world) demand conformity from their peers.

    The PC crowd seeks to eliminate the confrontations. Instead, we need to develop people with stronger backbones, with more confidence and personalities that will stand up to bullies and defend themselves. Even better, they may even defend others against these bullies.

    Bullying will not stop because we wish it to, or because people say it's bad or because we bring up more examples of fragile people. Hey, maybe your idiot parents should have realized that the limburger, sardine and onion sandwitches were not the most appropriate thing for a 12-year old to eat. But they didn't so the "locals" made fun of you.

    Bullying is an ugly part of human nature, and it will always be with us. The best we can do is to confront and cause the bullies to move along, until the day they realize that a burrito or a panini is a great lunch treat. Though I'm still not up for the sardine and limburger sandwitch.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  14. Skegeeace

    You know, I'll bet the children of immigrants eat a lot healthier than PB&J and Gushers. I'll bet they'll have the last laugh when it comes to their health.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  15. cacique

    I think I was the only one kid with a bean and cheese burrito and a large glass of water. That made me the favorite of a dozen bullies, who decided to leave me alone after I farted all over them.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • cacique

      Since then I decided to get more sophisticated regarding my school lunches. I made sure to include soft bean tacos and hot souce, the nutritious burritos, and my favorite, bean dip and chips with a side of avocado. That great variety made me look forward to lunch time.
      It was later in life that I discovered bean tostadas and my second favorite, bean soup.
      However, I was out of my mind when I found out an exquisite bowl of chily beans that one of my girlfriends prepared for me back in the day. I would have married her if her younger sister wouldn't have presented with a concoction she came up with: chicharrones and beans in hot red souce. The flour tortillas were a true luxury.

      November 16, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  16. amy

    I went to school in a small town, and we were allowed to go home for lunch in elementary school, which I did. My mom made me lunch everyday. On the rare occasion that I got to eat lunch at school (which I would sometimes beg to do so i could spend more time with friends), my mom would pack my lunch. But it wasn't like the other kids: she packed my sandwhich in a bag, then in foil. Then she would pack my a can of 7-up and wrap it in foil (to keep it cold she said). All I wanted were the same things my friends had – the same chips, sandwhich on white bread with the crust cut off, and a juice box. I would have given anything to be like them. it wasn't until I was older that I realized how lucky I was to have a mom at home and be able to go home to a hot lunch. But as a kid, I was mortified when I took out my 7-up wrapped in tin foil.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Adriana

      My mom used to wrap soda cans in foil too!! I thought I was the only one who had to suffer through that haha!

      November 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  17. nancy

    i was born in this country. my school lunches, which i brought from home back in the 60's, was NOT pb&j. i hate that and i still do. my lunches somethings were fried chicken, home soup in a thermas that kept it hot until lunch, salami sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, or whatever was left over from dinner. i was made fun of because i did not eat the pb&j. to this day, i still think i had the better lunch. my classmates did not know what they were missing. and, today, i still bring my lunch to work. my boss is always asking what do i have for lunch today because it smells so good.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Mikey

      Maybe if your parent had made peanut butter, baked bread or made jelly, you might have liked it. Each to their own.

      November 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  18. M.E.

    I remember in high school, we had a group of Japanese people visiting and a few joined my friends and I at lunch. Thanks to a lot of time in Hawaii, I had a pretty solid base of knowledge concerning Japanese food and it was fun to trade for the good stuff and watch my friends as they tried the more odd foods while I sat those out. I was the only one who liked most of it though, apparently arari crackers don't fly well with middle class high school kids. Good thing they didn't bring poke' or I would have been a real outcast for going face down on a pile of delicious pickled seafood heaven.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  19. Eily

    While I was born in Arizona, my parents are British. They were the ones who taught me how to speak so I have a slight accent without ever living in England. So that was strike one. Then the lunch....strike two. Cheese and pickled onions? I am 32 and I still hurt a bit from the bullying. Strike three was being really pale and liking football....I mean soccer.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  20. ieat

    It's a different world now. Culinary cuisine has become such a thing in America thanks to all the cooking shows. I really don't think these issues still apply.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Kim

      Actually, unfortunately these issues do still occur. My daughter gets teased at school for bringing in one of her favorite Danish lunches – mackerel in tomato sauce served on dark heavy rye bread. It's the Danish equivalent of a tuna salad sandwich. It's gotten so bad she's quit eating her favorite lunch – which is a shame as it's actually quite healthy.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  21. M

    No. 1 this reminds me of the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Moose-ca-ca!

    And 2 kids tend to be such picky eaters. How is it the immigrant kids eat that stuff? Or do they throw it away?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Ana

      they eat it because thats what they eat at home. If I wasn't raised with tostones and arroz con habichuellas (my spanish spelling sucks) I would hate it.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  22. Vic

    My daughter is in the 1st grade and her school does not serve any lunch. In fact, non of the 5 public elementary schools in our district have a kitchen. All the children bring their own lunch and snacks. I make her a fresh and healthy lunch everyday. We are lucky enough to live 1/2 a block from school so sometimes our nanny will make her a hot lunch and bring it to her around lunch time. But it is never PBJ sandwich or Lunchable. I have a good collection of bento boxes and she LOVES her bento lunches. Her favorite lunch items are California roll sushi, raw carrots and hummus, fresh fruits, home made wonton dumplings, soba noodles in soup with fresh vegetables. She has NEVER come home complaining that other children make fun of her lunch, but she does tell me how other children would say they wish their moms would make lunches like hers.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • gemma

      Is it you or the nanny who makes the lunch? Please, get over yourself and your goofy lunches. Sounds like a princess raising a princess.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
      • rb

        That was a nasty comment. I wish all kids could have that "goofy lunch" eberyday instead of the instant crap that most kids get. Kids need to eat healthfully not white bread and processed meat everyday.

        November 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
      • Willow

        Mmm...sounds like someone is jealous.

        November 15, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
      • Diane

        @Gemma – It is obvious you are a bad parent. If you were, a good parent, you would see that serving your kid processed foods and white bread is not very good for their health. This mother is actually a GOOD mother because she cares about what her child eats and not what is the norm. "Normal" food is why American kids are FAT. Parents feed them lots of sugar, bad carbs and processed meats. I can almost bet you are obese. Don't be envious because she has a nanny. She obviously has the means to have one.

        November 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
      • runsoutside

        Before criticizing a bento box meal or any other meal, realize that what some folks in this country consider a fancy, princessy lunch is a perfectly normal meal in another part of the world. My Asian parents still think a cold meal is just not proper!

        Do you think Japanese parents swoon and brag about their kids' palettes when they declare they want a cheeseburger?

        November 15, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • rock woman

      oooh, a nanny. oooh, bento boxes. oooh, hot lunch delivered from home. Egads.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Luthien

      Don't bother with the nasty comments. They probably don't know what a Bento is!!! They are SO MUCH fun! And healthier than a Peanut Butter Sandwich (Which only raises FAT kids). Congrats on being a good mother. The other are just lazy moms who rather take 5min than 20 making something healthy. ^^

      November 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
      • jac

        Or maybe they are not lazy. Maybe, just MAYBE they can only afford PBJ sandwiches for their kids. Maybe they are doing good to afford that. Not everyone can afford a nanny to prepare hot meals and deliver bento boxes. Why is everyone so judgemental and intolerant? One of the points of the article is that even in food choices kids (and adults, too) are intolerant and/or ignorant or anything outside their own small world.

        November 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • amy

      Good for you!
      Raise you child as you think best.
      She is a lucky little one to have a mom who cares what she eats.
      Happy Days!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • cg

      My dad used to pack my lunch with a sandwich on wheat bread that I wished was white bread. He also used to include a cheese sculpture that he sculpted out of cheddar cheese. It embarrassed me because I desperately wanted to be "normal." I used to hide my cheese sculpture so no one would see and throw it away. Now I'm an artist and I wish I had been brave enough to admire my dad's lunch box art.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      and how does she reply?–"oh actually that's my nanny; don't be jealous of my food–I envy you the time you have with your real parents instead of hired help"

      November 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
      • retired

        It's abundantly clear who's the jealous one.

        November 16, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • sockpuppet

      hey and you know, while you're gloating about the wonderful spendy meals you send with your child, why don't you teach her and YOURSELF some humility and let her know not everyone can afford sushi for lunch, and you should both just be thankful that you can.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
      • mumbo

        The ingredients she listed aren't spendy at all.... try doing a little grocery shopping yourself for dinner once in a while.

        November 16, 2011 at 2:13 am |
      • Amy

        Spendy lunches? I am absolutely certain she spends far less on these food choices then the average parent who send in the expensive Lunchables or packed/prepared foods. Sushi primarily means cooking with rice. It is a very economical way to eat!
        One of my favorite things to do for my girls is to send in fresh Avocado Maki. I set my rice cooker (found at Target and used a coupon) the night before to have fresh rice for the morning, add a little rice vinegar (pennies, the amount used), roll it up in a piece of nori (healthy and not expensive) with 1/4 of an avocado (an avocado costs me roughly $1.50), slice it up and you have a delicious, fresh lunch that is very healthy. If I'm feeling into it I might even add a drop off food coloring into the rice water and have pink or blue rice for the maki! So cute, the kids love it and their teachers are envious! The leftover rice is used in my lunch for the day or my husband's or I freeze the rest and use it for another Bento style lunch for another week. VERY inexpensive to make, doesn't take any longer to make it then a nasty bologna sandwich and I have happy kids and I'm a very happy mom knowing what they are eating. And yes, they eat every last bite.

        November 16, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Amy

      I also pack my children Bento style lunches. In fact, it's a hobby of mine. I love collecting cute little boxes and accessories and making them fresh, healthy lunches that they will enjoy. They not only taste good, are healthy but they look great too! I have children who only eat enough to survivie (unlike their mother, LOL!) and if I put a little effort into it, and love, it shows and they eat more of it!
      My daughters are also vegetarian, so eating the school lunch isn't always an option. I also save a lot of money by providing their lunch from home, usually leftovers from the night before.
      My favorite lunches for the girls are hummus and veggies, slices of cheese or pieces on skewers with veggies, fruit (usually cut into cute shapes) and pretzel dipping sticks.
      I have had many of my younger daughter's preschool teachers ask if I will make them a lunch too!!! On the days when I have a little extra time I also make a nice Bento style lunch for my husband and he is very happy indeed, with his peers asking him what I made him that day and can I make them one too!
      Don't let other people make you feel bad because you choose to put a little extra effort and love into making your child's food! If that's how you show you care and that you love them, go for it!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Vic

      Wow, I didn't realize paying someone to watch your kids because you're a 2 working parent family so that they can provide your children with a better public school system and a safe neighborhood would be cause for criticism. We also have a 10 month old baby. Having a nanny at home was the cheapest option because it would cost more for an infant daycare and extended care for our 1st grader after school. The nanny is a necessity, not a luxury. I'm not getting my nails done or getting spa treatments while having someone else raise my kids. My husband and I both have 10 hr work days (counting commuting time) so on many days, I'm making her bento lunch at 12:30am. Our nanny cooks only occasionally a hot lunch and that's when I do all the prepping already and she just cooks and deliver (cooking is not one of her duties). The norm at our house is that all the food is prepare by me or my husband. And her bento box lunches cost about $1 a day. My friend who's daughter is also in the 1st grade, but goes to school in another district, pays for school lunches at $2.75 a day and I would bet at much lower food quality. I make lunch for her precisely because it's cheaper, not the other way around. So for those who thinks a healthy prepared bento lunch and having a nanny is living the luxurious and pampered "princess" life, think again.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  23. Lisa Kelsey

    I used to bring Greek salt-cured olives to school with my salami on rye sandwiches (wrapped in waxed paper instead of plastic baggies like everyone else's). The kids would scream, "you're eating prunes, ewwwww!" And, in our house the word for mustard was always "senapé," (Northern Italian dialect) so that was what I asked for on our first "hot dog day" at my Catholic school.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  24. Phil

    In High School, my son would try to weird out his plain vanilla buddies. The two biggest successes were pickled quail eggs and bentons' bacon. (not at the same time!)

    November 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  25. Tori

    I'm an adult and I've been ridiculed for what I pack for lunch at the office. My husband is a chef and we eat exotic foods at home pretty often. I've gotten everything from "What's that?" said in a tone that adds the unspoken "Gross" to it all the way to snotty comments about me thinking I'm better than other people just because of something leftover from the night before that other people have either never tried or never heard of. I've gotten that "That stinks" comment, too. Even stuff that other people would have brought to lunch has been met with snide comments because we made it different than they did. I think some people get stuck in the mean kid from school bully complex and never leave it.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Oldtimey Man

      How lucky you are!!

      November 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  26. chris

    Pack you lunch? Ha! 80% of Los Angeles Unified school district get free or reduced price lunches. LA Daily News has a story about how the LA Unified immigrant kids won't eat the healthy new lunches and are going hungry because breakfast and lunch at school are the only meals they get all day.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      when they get hungry enough they'll start eating it

      November 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  27. Mrs Senorita

    I work at an elementary school with a really high percentage of immigrants, refugees, and first-generation Americans. Almost all of them get free or reduced lunch. Very few have the "problem" of getting home-packed lunches that are different from the majority, because there is no majority – mostly it's a plurality of Hispanic kids. And every single fourth-grader wants the Asian noodles that the Burmese kids bring in as a snack. This piece smacks of lazy nostalgia and isn't speaking to the reality of immigrant kids in school cafeterias today.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  28. Jrod

    Dumb article. I was sent to school with ethnic foods also but just the same, if an American kid was sent to school with his mom's meatload leftovers, he would be made fun of also. Kids are kids. If its not the food, its their not so hip lunch box or their plain milk vs. some new cool juice box. Get over it.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  29. Diana

    Not only did I grow up feeling like a bit of an outsider for bringing Macedonian baked goods like zelnik with leeks and feta cheese to school for lunch, but my bigger issue may have been the paper bag I brought it in! My father worked at a paper bag manufacturing company and was allowed to bring home the "irregulars" so we never had a shortage of slightly oversized, waxy white bags. I didn't think anything of it until one day someone joked that I brought a big bag of donuts to lunch. Oh how I wished for a bologna sandwich and a juice box in a brown paper bag!

    November 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Leslie

      My mom was an Avon lady, and she used to pack my lunches in Avon bags. I was mortified because all the other kids brought their lunches in either a plain brown paper sack or a decorated lunch box.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  30. Fuyuko

    American kids get picked on because of their lunch choices too. It really isn't just immigrants kids. Children at certain ages don't understand/cope well with differences. It is an opportunity for parents and teachers to discuss cultural issues and tolerance.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  31. Josie

    I'm one who moved around a lot growing up, and honostly I've even brought lunches to school that the other kids looked at me (and my siblings) weirdly. Guess what, who cares. I enjoyed every single meal. One time it was smoke sausage and sourkraut. We had moved back from Germany recently and my mom had made it for dinner. It was one of the best lunches I had, and it's still one of my favorites. Another time my dad made chinease at home (from a Chinease cook book a good friend gave him), and we got strange comments on eating those left overs as well. I'm grateful to have moved around and gotten to try local and even cultural foods. One of my favorites from where I am living now....green-bean dumpling soup!

    November 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • f

      oh yea
      i have gotten packed lunches before that are a little weird, not all the time, but sometimes. I didn't care, i don't even remember anyone saying anything, i am in high school. And f they did, too bad, i enjoyed my lunch, and i guess now laugh at them because they were missing out on some good lunches instead of the generic lunch all students had.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  32. Beth

    Even now that I am working, I still bring my own food. I am Asian and I crave for rice everyday. There are some people at work that kind of have that look at my food and even make comments. I couldn't care less about what they say especially when I bring the fish with the head. I ate the foods that I grow up with though I tried eating fastfood but it's just a waste of money because it's like a snack for me. So I still have to cook to feed my hunger. I am just not satisfied with spaghetti, sandwhich and ham. And most of the time my food is way much healthier anyway. So regardless of what they say, I take pride about my food.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Truth@Beth

      Where in Asia are you from? My wife is Vietnamese and when I bring pho or cha gio to the office, it is usually pretty popular. I know what you mean about the whole fish though. That took some getting used to when I visited her family.

      November 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  33. Sloppy Josephine

    I have a feeling the people interviewed were not so much embarrassed by their lunches but are actually now bragging that they were so exotic back in the day... i mean boohoohoo – fresh oregano, on a sandwich – she must have been such an outcast to those kids that had to get free/reduced lunch. Growing up is so hard.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      You obviously don't remember how cruel small children generally are to anyone who is different. Your post reeks of jealousy and envy. I'm assuming you were a bologna/cheese everyday child? Don't assume bad things about people just because you feel bad about yourself.

      November 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
      • Brian

        @Dave in Portland, who wrote in response to Sloppy Josephine: "I'm assuming you were a bologna/cheese everyday child? Don't assume bad things about people just because you feel bad about yourself."

        Good job making assumptions yourself. The scenario that "Sloppy Josephine" hinted at is at least as plausible as the scenario presented in the article.

        You may want to gain a little personal perspective.

        November 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  34. MissPurrr

    Bravo to the teacher for actually paying attention to surroundings and taking the time to give a lesson on food culture. Even though children are raised by parents, it's up to those figures of authority to make sure children are aware that things that are different aren't a bad thing. Just to the naysayers...I don't encourage babying but I discourage bullying and cruelty to our own human beings.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Michaela

      I agree that it was the only good piece of advice in this article. Thank you for bringing that up

      November 16, 2011 at 1:50 am |
    • Kate

      Yes, that struck me, too. My daughter had a teacher like that and you wouldn't believe how a group of third graders can inhale "exotic" foods! A good teacher is worth his/her weight in gold.

      November 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  35. Multi-Tasking @ Work

    I grew up in the city as well...our school was a huge melting-pot of cultures. as a white girl, I was the one that brought the stinky foods since my parent were culinary teachers and traveled all over for spices. boy, did I want that PB&J and Bolgna sandwich on squishy white bread. I was so embarassed that quite a few times I threw my lunch away and just got stoned instead. those were the days! I would do anything for a do over on those lunches now

    November 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  36. Blanche Knott

    To me eating international foods is the best thing about a meal. Those spices, aromas and strange objects add such mystique and romance. However DO NOT EAT THESE FOODS ON A PLANE. The smells at 30,000 feet in turbulence do not hold up.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  37. Henry

    Really, "immigrant" kids should be so lucky as not to have pb&j or bologne sandwiches. My kids went to grade school in a large urban Canadian city, a country in which your heritage is embraced and not looked upon as non "North American", and I'll get flack for this but more specifically American. Their lunches reflected what we ate on a daily basis at home and their classmates were no different. I would guess there might have been 10 different ethnic backgrounds in any class. Long live the foods of the world and kids of this world, and let's not let our kids think not bringing white bread to school is being a social outcast. Ignorance really is taught at home you know

    November 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  38. Leigh

    My kids think it is cool that their Indian and Asian friends in school do not bring in sandwiches. There is a lot of food swapping and interest. Not all kids are cruel – in fact, most are not.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  39. Jim P.

    I see this as a failure both of parents and of the schools in the past. A very bigoted attitude to anything "different" and the schols wasted many teacjing opportunities.

    I once had a good friend tell me with a straight face that he preferred real American food like pizza and Spaghetti. he was a great guy but had grown up in a very religious household and so lacked a lot of cultural9and indeed regular) education.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  40. Sayward

    You know, everyone, at one time or another, has been bullied, made fun of, laughed at, been set a part from others, was made to feel embarrassed, made to feel different, and any other "poor me, I've been mistreated as a child" moments in their lives. We can all think back and find a specific moment where something "life crushing" happened to us and made that moment in our childhood stink. So what? Get over it! That kid with the "normal" PB&J sandwich, that you so coveted, may have had that sandwich because that was all his parents, or parent, could afford. I ate PB&J. I ate lots of bologna. I had friends that brought what I considered "better" food items in their lunch. I had friends that brought what I considered "weird" food items in their lunch. That's life! We are ALL different! Time to move past all the "poor me I'm an immigrant" attitudes! Sorry, I don't mean to offend, but I'm just tired of the "self-pity party" that people have now days. People need to stop feeling sorry for themselves!

    Bravo to the teacher who used the differences in the meals to teach a valuable lesson.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Tori

      Yes, everyone has likely been teased or bullied at some point in their childhood. However, not everyone has gotten bullied and teased every day, all day, to the point that other kids were afraid to be friends with them. Some of these kids with different lunches probably went through that and I assure you, it isn't something you just get over.

      November 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  41. Heta

    Kids are more vocal about smell and shape of food. I try to take the same food for my lunch as my kid so I know how it smells and feels after few hours in the box. I will try to avoid food that gave out smell. Nowdays schools are teaching kids about diffrent culture at early age, that helps at some degree but if children are raised with prjudice at home it will show up at school too.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  42. Diana

    When I interned at an art gallery, the fat greasy owner would always make fun of my food and said it smelled "fried and disgusting" while he would stuff his fat face with Five Guys everyday. Yeah, oven roasted chicken = fried and disgusting.

    People can be real jerks.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • AleeD

      I was raised that you don't make disparaging comments about other people's food. It's very apparent that others were not raised this way.

      November 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  43. GSA

    To each his own. I'm Canadian, born and raised but my parents came here in 77 from India. I eat all kinds of foods and enjoy almost all of them. Ppl would complain about my food (only happened a few times though) when I was younger but no one was really rude about it. I can't complain, for me the smelliest thing ever is Mac n Cheese, hate it with a passion and reminds me of the smelly locker room in junior high.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Tammy

      @GSA, that's exactly the reason why I won't eat mac & cheese, nor parmessean cheese! If something I order has parmessean cheese as an ingredient that is sprinkled on top of my meal, I order it without the cheese, if they bring it to me and didn't omit the cheese, I'll immediatley send it back, it smells like dirty feet and I can't get past that.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  44. oh my GOD

    why did you single out "ethnic" kids. c'mon now. what about the plain old whiteys who had adventurous parents? wow, that's bad cnn.

    November 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  45. James

    Might have been a good story if it contained any info pertaining to TODAY's schools and not stories from previous decads. Perhaps the author needs to head to some schools today and see what kids are bringing and how the react to things that are 'different' in other students lunch boxes.

    November 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Wait ... what?@James

      "Kids from immigrant families are up against a lot, and the pressure to assimilate to their new culture ..."
      That sounds like present tense to me.
      At the end she asked, "Do you have any true tales of alienation or acceptance in the school cafeteria?"
      Changing the content of the post would invalidate the question.

      I thought it was a good story. Diff strokes for diff folks.

      November 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  46. Jenn Harrell

    I grew up a poor, white female in the South during the 1970's in a single parent home. I was on a free lunch program. My mother rarely bought lunchmeat, so when children were required to bring a lunch to school for a field trip, my mother always made egg salad sandwiches. I liked them okay at home, but they smelled terrible after several hours packed in a sack, and I was ridiculed. Although this article addresses foods from other cultures, I think a good theme in general would be tolerance and understanding for others, including those less fortunate.

    November 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Akira

      Hope you didn't get sick. Egg salad sandwiches sure don't keep for very long.

      November 15, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Jorge

      I hope the sun has shone upon you to where you can serve your kids and/or grandkids all the BBQ, fried catfish w/fresh hush puppies, mac and cheese, homemade cornbread, shrimp 'n grits, Southern style potato salad, sweet potato casserole, banana puddin', key lime pie and red velvet cake that their hearts desire. Just keep them busy so they don't get too big.

      November 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
      • Sick of your snitty ugly comments.

        Je rk off.

        November 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
      • Mary Baker Eddy@Jorge

        May God's love bless you and keep you all the days of your life.
        Give us grace for today. Feed the famished affections.

        November 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  47. Veena

    This one hit a chord. For me the issue was whether to eat my Indian food with a fork and knife or pick it up with my fingers as it is meant to be. I think a more kid friendly presentation would help bridge the gap a bit.

    November 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Heta

      I am indian and I can understand your pain. I eat my food as it meant to be. People eat sandwiches with hands why not my food even it's shaped diffrent.

      November 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Dhwanit

      I have my Indian food in our traditional style, no matter where I am. Even at my office desk too. Can't dream of eating Roti by fork n knife. Althoguh I use spoon for rice but I know people around from south india eat bare hand. I don't see any one complaining about them, and ofcourse never noticed any annoying faces.

      November 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
      • Ug

        I am Indian. I always pack lunches for my kids. Often, it is the lunch ladies at the school that put on a wierd face or comment on the kids' food and say 'how are you able to eat that yucky food' whenever they see rice or 'pav bhaji' – which is sandwich sort of thing with vegetables. I guess, adults need to be role models for younger children. None of the kids from this country or outside, have made fun of my lunch or my kids'.

        November 15, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  48. Jackie Wilson in 3rd grade

    In our school district in 1972, blacks were first being integrated into white schools. Jackie Wilson said she'd never seen a lunch like mine (she's black; I'm white) and asked to sample my bologna & American cheese sandwich. Since mom cut the sandwich in half, I gave her the half I hadn't bit into. She took a bite, screwed up her face, spat it out onto my plate and threw the uneaten half in front of me. That was the first and last time I ever shared a school meal with anyone.

    November 15, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Liz

      =( Ooh that is so sad, when we r kids we r the cruelest, mostly because we are at our purest and therefore lying and sometimes thinking about others feelings are concepts we haven't mastered.

      November 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Jackie Wilson

      I am now in upper management at a leading computer software company. Sorry, but that sandwich was disgusting.

      November 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
      • Jackie Wilson's supervisor

        Jackie, considering how late you are with completing your TPS report, you really shouldn't be wasting valuable company time commenting on stories here at CNN.

        November 16, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  49. Lourdes

    Great article, brought back lots of memories. I think those of us whose families were new to this country have done a great job influencing and encouraging a bridge between two cultures. Wasn't always easy, but benefits for all.

    November 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
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