Column: The golden days of pasta sandwiches

When I was in high school, my mother would complain about how much money she spent at the Riverside Almacs. She said my brother and I, and my father to a lesser extent, would devour $200 worth of groceries in one week, and at that time $200 went a lot further than it does now.
We split a gallon of milk at dinner. We’d all but finish off a family pack of split chicken breasts — she always baked the chicken — and then marvel at my father as he discovered new sauces to dunk his chicken in: ranch salad dressing, blue cheese, straight mayo.
It seemed we ate not until we were full but until the baking sheet or the casserole dish or stew pot was empty. Until the dishes were cleaned and the cook, my mother, felt she had done her job to satiate the appetites of two “growing boys.”
It was not a healthy way to eat. I know that much now.
In high school I’d bring two sandwiches — big sandwiches packed thick with deli meat — and a package of ring dings and a piece of fruit and probably a granola bar. I’d buy a milk or two at the cafeteria and I remember how I’d still feel hungry an hour or so later.
By the time basketball or football or baseball practice was over I’d be famished and wondering what Ma had whipped up for dinner: spaghetti and meatballs? lasagna? hot dogs and beans?
I don’t know how nutritionists expect today’s high school students to fill up on an 8-inch turkey wrap and a piece of fruit. I suppose that is part of my beef with nutritionists. They are a nice enough sort — usually quite fit and articulate — but when it comes to food they are function-first, taste second.
They’ll tell you there’s a delicious way to eat a 96 percent lean hamburger and wince when you tell them about a recent trip to Five Guys. There is no delicious way to eat a 96 percent lean hamburger, not unless it’s slathered with mayo, grilled onions and three slices of American cheese.
That is the truth.
When I was in high school, Wednesdays were all you can eat pasta fest days: piles of ziti or rigatoni, with butter or red sauce, and stacks of white sandwich bread to sop up the sauce at the bottom of the tray. I used the bread to make pasta sandwiches — yes, two slices of Wonder bread jammed with mushy pasta. Some of you are cringing, I know you are. But at that time, those pasta sandwiches were legendary.
Now there’s a salad bar at the school. We might have had a salad bar when I was in school, but I can’t remember for sure.
I am supposed to say that the move to smaller wraps and less grains and mandatory fruit is good for students. I am supposed to say there’s a lot of science behind today’s school lunches. I am also supposed to say that a pasta sandwich on white squishy bread is not the picture of a healthy lunch.
I know I’m supposed to say all those things, but I’m just having a hard time forming the words.


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