No amount of coffee and yummy cocoa granola bars can help me this morning.

Last night was wretched.  Walked in the door, kids in tow, at 5:38 p.m….walked back out the door, sans kids, sans hubby, half of my dinner clutched in my fist, at 6:03.  Yup, that’s how Tuesdays sometimes go, during choral season.  We had a serious meeting last night prior to our usual 7 p.m. rehearsal; logistics and fall-out from that kept me at the hall after rehearsal until 11:15.  In short, by the time I got home, physically and emotionally wrung out, it was nearing midnight, and there were no lunches packed.

Oh, sure, I could have tried to do it this morning, but mornings have a way of evaporating in our house; somehow, the fifteen minutes it takes L. to get his shorts on and the twenty-odd minutes of chasing P. around to do, well, pretty much anything that needs to be done with his small person, manage to make mornings pretty much a surefire vortex into which all possible productivity disappears.  Plus, by 11:40 last night, I could tell with great certainty that today was not going to be a day when I could possibly get away with skipping time-consuming tasks…like washing my hair.  Brushing my teeth.  Getting out of bed.

So I opened the fridge and found NOTHING.  I mean, NOTHING.  I’m accustomed to finding at least some sort of leftovers…and instead, there was a cold, lonely expanse of tundra, traversed only by a baggie of sweet potato fries, the various condiments and raw ingredients necessary to create actual edible food items, and a few odds and ends, none of which amounted to a meal by any stretch of the imagination.  As I stood blinking in disbelief — these things almost NEVER happen in my house — I briefly and deliriously considered going really, really old-school and heading out into the wilds of my nighttime backyard to hunt the neighborhood critters.  Okay, not really.  But what a blog post skunk panini would make.

Aarrgggghhhh.  I nearly slammed the door shut in disgust.  The only thing running through my mind was “I’m waaay too tired for this *&$!”  I had a moment of pure sympathy for all those parents who say they are a) too tired; b) too busy; or c) too frankly annoyed to pack their kids’ lunches.  Midnight lunch box duty is clearly not a good idea.

But here’s the thing: I really don’t believe that there is such a thing as too tired, too busy, too annoyed, or too ANYTHING to pack a decent lunch for your kids.  Food and shelter are sort of the bare minimum of parental responsibility, aren’t they?  And though people’s definitions of “food” clearly vary widely, when I think of food, I think of things that will actually fuel the boys’ bodies, help them grow and develop, and hopefully not poison them slowly with toxic chemicals or pickle their organs with preservatives and synthetic “edible” products (HFCS, anyone?).  Luckily, I’m one of those people who has the means and access to provide some of those higher-quality real foods, as opposed to “food products,” for my kids.  So lunchboxes are simply not negotiable, even at (Oh Lord) 11:45 p.m.

I gathered the scattered remnants of my harried brain cells and ordered them sternly to work with me for just 10 more minutes or so.  Feebly, they ground out something resembling a plan: start with the sides and snacks, worry about the major stuff later. Numbly and clumsily, I complied.  And suddenly, the fog started to lift.  I had options.  I just didn’t instantly remember that I had options.

Let me be perfectly clear: if it had been necessary, I would have gotten up early this morning and driven to the grocery store for a dash-in, dash-out procurement of something like a rotisserie chicken.  I would have shown up at preschool, clutching my reusable eco-friendly grocery sack, chest heaving, the smell of chicken permeating my unwashed hair, the gleam of madness in my eyes.  The teachers would have known I was serious.  And they would have taken the poultry, backing away slowly, and slipped it into refrigeration without comment.  Because they KNOW I’m crazy when it comes to food.

Fortunately, that particular scene wasn’t necessary, because I do plan for the unexpected.  It’s just that the refrigerator tundra is so rare that I actually manage to forget, between times, that I’m prepared for it.  But on hand last night were several things, actually, that could have easily become lunch.   While I’m all about home cooking, from-scratch food, and whole ingredients, I’m not above the careful choosing of a few “convenience” foods that are nutritionally sound and can be kept in reserve, just in case.  Heck, almost anything’s better than a Lunchable, Gogurt, and Froot Snacks (which, by the way, was the lunch one of L.’s classmates had yesterday — with a side of Yoo-hoo).  Some of our favorite go-to items are:

Sunflower butter (because the kids’ schools are nut-free)
Frozen heat-and-eat fish fillets (we cook them up and put them in the lunchboxes; the kids don’t mind them cold)
Cheese of all kinds — shredded, sliced, sticks — so you can do various things with it
Canned chunk light tuna
Hardboiled eggs
Sugar-Free applesauce cups
Organic yogurt (for P.; L. won’t eat yogurt)
Whole-grain crackers
Plain microwaveable popcorn
Raisins and other dried fruits (for L.; they’re a choking hazard for P.)

The list could continue a bit, but you get the idea.  And most of those items were actually in the house last night.  So, despite my immediate reaction of shock and desperation, the boys went off to school today with lunches that not only relatively passed Mommy’s muster, but with which they were very happy — leftover baked sweet potato fries and a frozen fish fillet are my kids’ equivalent of chicken nuggets and tater tots; it’s practically junk food, as far as they’re concerned!  L. has his fish and fries, some popcorn with raisins mixed in, a cocoa granola bar, and a sugar-free strawberry applesauce.  P. has fish and fries, organic yogurt with fruit and veggie puree on the bottom, an applesauce like his brother’s, and a tomato muffin.  They’re not the healthiest, most beautiful lunches I’ve ever packed, but for a midnight fridge raid, they’re not bad.  And frankly, all the experience has done for me is affirm my faith that you don’t have to be a geek like me — or even a decent cook — to pack a good lunch, relatively free of processing and preservatives, for your kids.  A little label-reading and a semi-stocked pantry will do the trick nicely.  Or you could always make a mad dash for the rotisserie chicken.