My Traumatic Childhood Overdose on Alfalfa Sprouts & Cream Cheese

I’m not a picky eater at all, but I really hate sandwiches. I’ve been traumatized by years of half-hearted school lunches that my whirlwind parents threw together in the mad morning rush. Their philosophy was, “If there’s bread in the house, a sandwich will do.” They made sandwiches out of anything available, because the most important thing was nourishment. Unfortunately for me, my priority has always been taste, and that got terribly sacrificed when my parents made sandwiches for me.

This is it, folks -- what I was raised on.(photo: thekitchn.com)
This is it, folks — what I was raised on.
(photo: thekitchn.com)

The standby was lumps of cold cream cheese smeared on whole wheat bread and a layer of alfalfa sprouts stuck on top. That, with a milk bag of roughly cut carrot sticks and an apple, was generally my lunch. Sometimes I got mozzarella cheese and a smear of mayo on whole wheat, which was even worse because I’d dissect the sandwich and try to eat the components separately, but no amount of wiping with a paper towel could get rid of that awful mayonnaise. Once a week, I got cold cuts, which were heavenly, but Mom never bought enough to last all week and, inevitably, they all got eaten in the first day. When she bought a full log of summer sausage from the Mennonite farmer’s market, I’d eat that for weeks, stinking up the whole classroom with the strong garlicky smell. Tuna was okay, but equally strong-smelling, which isn’t cool in grade two. While my friends accumulated mountains of wrappers on their desks — wrappers Dunkaroos, Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit-by-the-Foot, Jos Louis, Lunch Mates, and juice boxes — I choked down my sprouts.

It got to the point where I preferred to go hungry than eat my awful sandwich, but my mother noticed at night. I tried to outwit her by disposing of my sandwich on top of a classmate’s Cheez-Whiz-and-Wonder-Bread sandwich, also in the garbage can, but the teacher caught us both. Finally my parents sat me down for a talk.

“What do you want to eat for lunch?” they asked.

“Anything but sandwiches, please,” I begged.

So they came up with the idea to buy a Thermos and send hot leftovers instead. It was a good idea in theory, but the problem was that Mom only bought one Thermos for me and my sister to share. Sarah Jane is two years younger than me, so she was in a different classroom. When lunch time rolled around, whoever had the Thermos ate one half of the food while the other waited impatiently; then we took turns rushing through the school to deliver the Thermos so that the other sister could eat her lunch, after everyone else had finished long before. Considering the school only had three classrooms, it wasn’t a far distance to go, but it still was darn inconvenient, especially when the leftovers were macaroni and cheese — our favourite meal — and the first person ate more than her fair share. That lasted for a while before my parents relented and bought a second Thermos.

Eating leftovers at school also opened up a whole new level of scrutiny from classmates. When I brought strange, exotic dishes like Greek moussaka, spanakopita, Pakistani kima, and even bean soup, there was a chorus of “Eeew, what’s Katherine eating today?” Most of the kids in my class didn’t even know what an eggplant was, while I longed to be like them, eating the yummy, sugary processed food that they got in their lunches.

Now, at home, I usually prepare a full-blown meal for lunch, be it soup or pasta or Asian fried rice. I still can’t stomach sandwiches, unless they’re made with very particular ingredients: the freshest bread, garlicky hummus, lots of meat, dill pickles, marinated eggplant, Cambozola cheese. Yes, that’s a good sandwich, but nearly anything else reminds me of those awful cheese-and-sprout days. My son starts school in September, so perhaps the past will come back to haunt me. I might find myself in my parents’ shoes, rushing around, trying to get out the door in time, throwing together whatever I can to make a lunch. So maybe it’s time to get over my residual sprout trauma. It might come in useful.

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17 thoughts on “My Traumatic Childhood Overdose on Alfalfa Sprouts & Cream Cheese

  1. Hilarious! You remember the funniest things from your childhood, and some embarrassing ones for me. I had completely forgotten about the shared Thermos. Sorry about that. By the way, your brothers aren’t that keen on the bean sprouts, either.

  2. OMG, so funny! Your parents sound absolutely hilarious. One thermos! Are they Scottish by chance?
    I get a right rollicking from my kids on the days when I’ve just bunged anything between two slices of bread. Big brother likes proper, traditional sandwiches i.e. if it’s cheese it has to have pickle too, tuna must be with sweetcorn, chicken with cucumber and mayonnaise etc.

    Little guy has his own ideas of food combinations – marmite and fish roe anyone? Or how about a sandwich sandwich? I’d assumed this involved a slice of bread in two slices of bread but no, it was two slices of bread (the first sandwich) in two slices of bread. Fortunately their school is a complete mish-mash of nationalities so no-one bats an eyelid at his weird sandwiches – they just assume that’s what Scots kids eat.

  3. Reading this whiles eating lunch at the local library…
    Lunch: leftovers from New Year’s Eve party (un-opened pâté, soft unripened herbed goat’s milk cheese, romaine lettuce in a recycled 2L frozen Cappuccino yogurt container as a lunch pail…will get german bread for supper. Bon Appétit!

  4. I started taking lunch with me when I went to High School. I made my own every night for a whole school year. When I went to grade 10—-I couldn’t stomach any sandwiches and never ate lunch. Even now, I only eat them if someone else makes them and they have to be made right then and there. It is amazing how your lifestyle is impacted by sandwiches.

  5. I feel for your mother. I don’t mind eating sandwiches, but I absolutely loathe making them. I got a Thermos right away (2 because they went to different schools), but the leftover heating often backfired because I would open the container in the morning to discover that their father had nibbled on it through the evening, not leaving enough for even one lunch.

  6. I can’t stomach the thought of what is actually in our grocery store deli meat and peanut butter isn’t allowed so unless we’ve got left over pulled pork or egg/tuna salad, I don’t do sandwiches! My son absolutely LOVES leftovers in his lunch and will even eat them cold (which is how most thermoses end up leaving the contents of the jar!!). My daughter on the other hand requires leftovers to be steaming hot and is therefore often disappointed and if she’s not impressed, she won’t eat it! The thermos issues we’ve been having is actually a soon to be published post for me – just finishing up our experiment with our new thermoses before it makes it out of my drafts!

    Making packed lunches isn’t nearly as fun as making lunch at home but it isn’t as bad as some make it out so be. For me it’s a matter of being prepared so I’m never left in a pinch – and when in a pinch I do half a bagel with plain cream cheese and a sprinkling of cinnamon OR a simple Caesar salad- both crowd pleasers here!

    1. I’m totally with you when it comes to not being left unprepared. Having a few basic things on hand can greatly improve the whole lunch-making process. It’s a real bummer that PB isn’t allowed at school. I don’t know how I would have survived without it as a kid! We still eat a ton of it at home.

  7. I always had sandwiches too, which might explain why I now eat them roughly never.
    The Pakistani Kima for lunch brought back so many delicious memories. I might have to make some tonight!

  8. PB is not allowed at school but they have come out with a soya butter that looks and taste (pretty close to PB, so much my oldest prefers it). By far the worst chore in our house, making lunches that all three will eat is no fun!

  9. Sprouts are the healthiest food on Earth. Whole wheat is light years ahead of white nutritionally. What the heck are you complaining about, lack of variety?

    Low socioeconomic class children living on cheap candy-like sandwiches have everything to learn from your parents.

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