School lunches have gone to hell in a hand basket.

Each and every day, I make my oldest daughter’s lunch. It doesn’t matter what it is – anything to fill her stomach. Her lunch bag usually contains one of two staples; a ham sandwich on a roll or good old PB&J. If for some reason – flood, earthquake or nuclear attack – I don’t have either of these items on hand, she’ll settle for a bag of cereal or some saltine crackers with butter.

Anything to avoid the lunch line.

I’ve asked her in the past if she would mind buying lunch that day. Perhaps I had cramps or felt under the weather and was therefore unwilling to slap together some form of consumable for her noon meal. And her answer is always “no, I’ll make something.”

When I ask her if the food at school is that bad, she says that has nothing to do with it. There just isn’t enough time to wait in the line and eat your lunch. By the time you get your food you only have about 4 minutes to sit down and eat it. She’d rather have the time to eat a crappy lunch and BS with friends than bother with the lines.

You see, lunch has changed since I was in school. When I was a wee lass in grammar school we had a whole hour for lunch. The entire school broke for that hour and once you ate your lunch you had the rest of the hour to play, socialize or poke around town. We had no school cafeteria – that was only available in the high school – so you either ate what mom packed in a brown paper bag (no cartoon character lunch boxes for us) or grabbed something to eat in town.

That’s right. You could leave the school grounds and eat at a restaurant. Our grammar school was in the center of town, and there were a variety of places you could grab lunch if you were lucky enough to have the funds to do so. Lunch out was a rare treat for me, and on the odd occasion where mommy crossed my palm with the requisite $1.50, I was in heaven.

Should I get pizza at Benny’s? 2 slices and a soda for $1.25 or so. That left you change to go to the Variety Store for candy afterward. Or you could head down to Joe’s Subs for a half of a #1 – Ham, cheese, and cappicola loaded with shredded lettuce, tomato, onion and oil & vinegar. There were also 2 options for burgers; Hilgens’ where you could get the student special for your buck fifty (burger, fries and a small soda) or Lange’s, whose fries were of the krinkle cut variety – which I preferred.

And let’s not forget the most coveted option – going home for lunch. Oh, I was so envious of the kids who lived close enough to the school to walk home for lunch. What a total break from the rigors of the school day that must have been – to sit in your own home eating a sandwich and watching a cartoon or two before you had to head back for round two of learning those three R’s.

I only did home lunches in the most dire of cases…like my lunch fell in a puddle. That was when I would run the 9 blocks home, shovel anything edible in my mouth and run right back to school. It was more fun to brown bag it and have time to play.

In middle school your options were somewhat limited because the school was further away from town than the elementary school, and in high school you were too far away unless you had a car. But the point is you had time. Time to take a real break from learning – then you went back to class somewhat refreshed.

My kids don’t have that. They only get around 20 minutes for lunch. That is barely enough time to eat if you pack a lunch that does not require re-heating. My youngest has access to a microwave this year, but she says on days the line is so long that you barely have time to eat once it’s hot. She will buy lunch occasionally, but the lines at her school aren’t as long or move faster. My oldest? She flat out refuses to stand in the line.

It’s one of the things that sucks about their generation. Yes, they have the internet and iPods and TV on demand. But for some reason their school day is like a boot camp – learn! learn! learn! There are few breaks where they can recharge, especially once they get older and their course load is more taxing on the brain.

Lunch time was golden when I went to school…a time to kick back and relax; catch up with friends and maybe step outside for some fresh air. Now it’s an episode of Beat the Clock – cram in your food and get the hell back to class.