Over the 10 years I've been writing this blog, I've voiced my frustration over making school lunches for my boys many, many times. My frustration was caused by a simple fact: They hated almost everything I put in their lunches, or they came to hate it after a short period of loving it. But, there was another reason it greatly frustrated me.
I ate the same lunch every day in school from first grade until high school graduation: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, a Tastykake and school-bought milk. The type of Tastykake may have varied, but the rest was always the same. Why couldn't my kids just embrace one lunch and make it easy?
The simple answer is, they didn't want to eat the same thing every single day.
What makes some of us embrace uniformity? The Atlantic's Joe Pinsker investigated the reasons why.
After reading the piece, I took to Facebook to ask friends if they eat the same thing every day for at least one of their meals, wanting to understand their motivation for doing so. Their answers mirrored those of the people who were interviewed in The Atlantic. It seems the lack of variety in meals boils down to one of three things.
Ease of decision-making
Choosing to eat yogurt for breakfast every single morning takes some of the decision-making stress out of the start of the day. (Photo: Lauren Craig/Flickr)
Pinsker reminded readers that's it's not a problem to eat the same thing every day, as long as that meal offers a variety of nutrition. Looking back on my school lunch, I don't think it was too bad. There was protein, fruit and milk. Whole wheat bread instead of white bread could have upped the nutrition, but it was the 1970s and '80s. I don't think any student brought brown bread to school in my suburban neighborhood at the time.
Eating the same thing every day — particularly if it's nutritious — is easy, and that's why many people choose to do it. It was certainly easier for my mom to pack the same thing in my brown bag every day than to switch it up regularly.
Ease of decision-making was the number one reason people gave me for eating the same breakfast or lunch every day. A bowl of cereal was the number one "I don't have to think about it" breakfast. Oatmeal and yogurt were also among the quick, easy breakfasts people mentioned. In fact, every response I got to my non-scientific survey was about breakfast.
Mornings are hectic for most people, so having a go-to food for the morning makes a lot of sense.
Ease of preparation and portability
Ease of preparation can go hand in hand with ease of decision-making, but it doesn't have to. I would have gladly prepared something a bit more complicated for my kids' lunches if they would have just eaten the same thing every day, although I acknowledge that not all parents have the time to do that.
There were a few comments about taking the same thing every day to eat in the car on the way to work. Portability plays a big role in that detail and a granola bar and banana breakfast fits the bill.
Diet and nutrition
The third reason people gave for eating the same thing every day was that a uniform meal fits into their diet or nutrition plan. Some people who work regularly have found the right combination of breakfast food for fuel, so they stick with it. Others who have dietary restrictions, like needing to eat gluten free, find it easier to eat the same thing rather than risk eating something they shouldn't. And those looking to lose weight find it easy to control calories and portions by sticking to the same breakfast daily. Again, ease of decision-making overlaps a lot with dietary needs.
The one response I didn't receive from anyone was that they ate the same thing every day because they truly liked the food. I'll confess: I still eat PB&J several times a week — but not every single day — simply because I love it.