We’ve made some progress when it comes to school cafeterias.  The middle school has a microwave that students can use, and I hear some cafeterias even offer salad bars and (real) pizza.  The tables and chairs are still awful, but at least they’re working on the food issue.

Even so, there are some things that never change.  The lunchbox hierarchy is one of them.

When I was a kid (back in the days of the dinosaur) it was a pretty straightforward system.  Brown bagging it sat at the bottom of the pyramid.  Sandwiches got smushed, chips were crushed…shoot, half the time you’d pick up your bag and an apple would bust through the bottom, dumping your food all over the floor.

Then there was the metal character lunchbox with a latch that snapped shut, often right on your finger.  While it was sturdier than the paper bag this one had its drawbacks, too.  The character added a coolness factor – well, that along with the awesome thermos – but the lunchbox structure was challenging.  Hard enough to knock out a bully, but too bulky to fit inside a backpack.  Your food was better protected from outside elements, but there was still a crush factor from the hard stuff rolling around inside.

Sitting at the top of the pyramid (at least for girls) was the awesomely cool Charlie’s Angels bag with matching thermos.  Nothing established your cafeteria social status quite like plunking one of those babies down on the first day.  The seventies outfits, winged hair, super cool action poses…

Besides having limited lunch boxes, it was an entirely different world back then.  We sucked it up.  We drank warm drinks, ate smushed potato chips and sandwiches, and were lucky to get a cookie for dessert.  We ate what was packed, smushed or not, and we liked it.  The end.

Today’s cafeterias?  It’s an entirely different scene.

Kids have insulated lunch boxes to keep cold things cold.  Sandwich tupperware to protect soft, squishy bread.  Bento boxes to transport complex meals without danger of foods touching.  And the fervor inducing Lunchables are always fun.  Add in two desserts plus Doritos and you’re talking lunch of champions.

Seeing as I’m not ten I’m a little unclear on today’s hierarchy, but I’ll give it a shot.  There are still some brown bags floating around out there, so those would still make up the base of the pyramid.  The next step up would be those handy sandwich tupperware – crust, no crust, it’s all better when it’s not as flat as a pancake.  Bento boxes are the next level up.  Kids might not fully appreciate their awesomeness, but being able to eat food they love at lunch?  That’s always a winner.

I’m just a wee bit sad to say Lunchables hold top spot in the hierarchy these days.  I know, I know…sometimes parents cave to the need for convenience, sometimes simply because we know it’s a lunch they’ll actually eat…either way, having a kid next to yours in the cafeteria open a Lunchable surely causes a stir.

I wonder what they’ll invent for the next generation of cafeteria occupants?