I’m not a super-techie person.  (I know, I know – shocking given the pristine condition of my blog and my stunning photography.  Groan.)  I don’t even own a smartphone.  Scratch that – I don’t even own a CAMERAPHONE.  My 10-year-old nephew’s phone takes pictures, but nope, mine doesn’t.  It’s probably about 7 years old, making it the triceratops of cell phones, which is okay considering that I don’t actually use it.  Pretty much, well, ever.  I don’t text, I don’t talk on the thing, and it’s rarely even on.  Sometimes I remember to charge the battery.  Sometimes.

So…I’m not a super-techie person.  The new world, in which there is an “app” for apparently EVERYTHING, is passing me by, and I don’t really care.  It does not bother me that I don’t have apps to help me do things, because most of the things I do every day are things I have figured out how to do without the help of technology.  I’m actually somewhat dreading the day when I inevitably obtain better technology, become addicted to some particular app, and realize that I can’t comprehend how I ever lived without it.  I know it’s coming.  But I’m going to try to live in the 20th century for as long as I can, damn it, and I’m not relinquishing my VHS tapes, CD player, or any other cherished relics of the bygone era anytime soon.

I do, however, enjoy playing around on the interwebs from time to time, and when I found this post from It’s Not About Nutrition, I had to check out the new fun internet excitement called the “Healthy Lunch Maker.”  It was my mistake, truly.  I should have known better.  But I took the bait and went to the Parents’ magazine site anyway, cursing the evil lure of computer playtime that I could pawn off as blogger research.

I’m…predictably underwhelmed by the HLM.  Almost to the point of malaise, actually.  And all I could think, at first, was: Did we really need an app for this?

Yes, I know it’s not technically an “app” (although I didn’t look closely – can you GET an app for the HLM?  Maybe?).  But my question stands.  Who among us – be honest – really NEEDS an online calculator tool that tells us how many calories, grams of protein, etc. are in our kids’ lunches?

It might be one thing, I suppose, if the tool were well-built – i.e., if it were at all useful.  Frankly, it’s not, at least not in my humble opinion.  I saw in some of the comments on the It’s Not About Nutrition post that a few people appear to have found some value in the thing, as it at least illuminates the fact that contrary to much popular belief, our young kids don’t need to eat an entire steer every day to meet the relatively modest guidelines for protein intake.  (That’s a relief.  I was getting tired of stewing up a venison haunch every time the kids got peckish.)  But seriously, a few useful tidbits of information here and there do not a truly helpful application make…and there are so many flaws with this HLM calculator business that I’m not sure I’ll be able to enumerate them all.

The short list of issues, as I see it:
1) The options are woefully limited.  A sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a drink?  That’s all I can ever pack in my kids’ “healthy” lunches?

2) The options are even more limited than they appear.  Bread options are almost nonexistent, and even though you can choose “whole wheat bread,” you can’t choose “whole wheat pita.”  Automatically, the calculations are going to be wrong if you’re packing something that varies at all from whatever standard brand they’re using.

3) If you make most of your food homemade, it doesn’t matter to the calculator.  The calculator doesn’t know.  So your homemade wheat sandwich bread will be whacked with the same sodium and sugar contents as the commercial stuff, which is almost assuredly a completely off-base comparison.

4) If you use pastured meats or nitrate-free lunch meats, or use fewer slices than they’re calculating, or use more cheese than they would, or any other possible variation…the calculator will be wrong.  You can’t set values, so who knows how your ham and cheese stacks up against their ham and cheese?

5) If you feed your child half a sandwich (as I do) rather than a whole sandwich, the calculator doesn’t know, because it doesn’t ask.  And sure, you could figure that out, theoretically…but why should you have to take extra steps when you’re using a tool that’s supposed to somehow “simplify” your life?

There are a lot more issues, some of them glaring (like the total lack of vegetable options)…but I’m stopping right here.  I’ve reached the real point, as I think about it, looking at the word “simplify.”

How in the world have we gotten so mixed up and so unsure of ourselves as parents that we feel any desire, any need, to seek validation of our lunch-making skills from some pre-programmed computer gizmo that doesn’t really tell us anything?  Is it simplifying our lives to plug lunch after lunch into this calculator and receive its critique of our food choices for our kids…or is it just another way to distance ourselves from the whole process of eating?

I could plug in a ham-and-cheese on pita, a banana, and some milk, and I could get some result that tells me how I’m doing “nutritionally” for my kids, relative to some guidelines, and based on a statistical average of nutrient values and caloric quantities that may or may not even apply to the food I’ve bought and prepared.  Or I could bake some whole-wheat pita bread with L. and P., and watch them get really excited about handling the dough and using the rolling pin, and see how L. hangs around next to the stove while it’s baking so he can beg for the first piece as it comes out of the oven.  I could think carefully and critically about the way our meat is sourced and handled and bring home a nitrate-free, uncured, pastured ham, cook it, slice it, and enjoy it with my family, knowing that there will be plenty of tasty leftovers for our sandwiches.  I could talk to my kids about whether they’d even want the banana today, or whether they’d prefer apples, oranges, pomegranates, dried dates, or any other fruit under the sun.  I could even (gasp) taste some vegetables with them, and pack up some green beans and carrots in that lunchbox, WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE CALCULATOR THINKS OF THOSE ITEMS, and see my boys’ healthy, smiling faces at the end of the day as they help me unpack their lunchboxes and show me that they ate their vegetables, with pride and enthusiasm.

I could even, heaven forbid, skip the sandwiches altogether and pack SOUP.  Or meatballs.  Or pasta.  I could pack anything my boys like, whatever they want me to pack for them, because a “healthy lunch” means SO many different things.  And if I, as a parent, engage with my kids around food and experience it with them, how much easier and more rewarding the lunch-packing process becomes!

So, Healthy Lunch Maker, I’m sorry.  I know you want me to use you to make the lunch-packing process “simpler.”  But truth be told, it’s already as simple as I want it to be.  I actually have to think about what goes into my children’s lunchboxes, and that’s a good thing.  Even better is the fact that without you, I don’t have to think TOO MUCH.  It’s too much information for me to have to wonder about calories and sodium and the recommended daily value for protein in a 3-year-old’s diet.  I hate to break it to you, HLM, but it’s actually much simpler to look at the colors, the variety, and the freshness of that 3-year-old’s food options, and let my gut tell me whether or not the lunch is healthy enough for him.

Food is not a “thing.”  It is an activity, a lifestyle, a daily ritual.  And for that, no, I don’t think we need an app.