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What Happened to Sandwiches?

Photograph by Getty Images

Raise your hand if your kid likes sandwiches.

If you're a parent with a child under the age of 12, chances are he or she won't eat anything resembling the sliced bread staple you grew up with: tuna, lettuce and tomato; bologna and cheese; turkey; roast beef; PB&J. The grape jelly seeped through the white bread, but you still ate it up greedily. Ditto for the tuna. Bologna wasn't your favorite, but you were starving, and no one wanted to trade it for a Slim Jim.

Today the lunch you send off to school with your child sits in stark contrast to those you once toted. Instead of a sandwich our generation's offspring get fruit salad, tabouli, hummus, pasta salad, Greek salad, Caesar (dressing on the side!). There are soups and yogurt parfaits in stainless, insulated containers and nestled alongside reuseable ice packs. Sometimes there are healthy, flax-filled cereal bars, or sushi hand rolls. And yes, you've been known to cook a pot of mac-n-cheese-with-broccoli and pack it up, all before 6:30 a.m.

There's a simplicity to the sandwich that has been sacrificed on the altar of spoiled taste buds. Yes, spoiled—my children included. A research scientist I interviewed once at Yale's Rudd School of Food Policy and Obesity told me that this is the first time in history (i.e., ever) that children have been so picky, that people under age 7 get separate meals made, just for them.

RELATED: Living With My Picky Eater

My husband tells my children: "It's preposterous that you won't eat sandwiches." To which they stare back blankly, as if to say, "What's the big deal about a sandwich?" I guess it's not necessarily that sandwiches are healthier, or even more filling. Then why is it so annoying to me (and other parents I know) when kids won't eat them?

Mostly convenience. Sandwiches are highly portable and easy to make. Slap those slices of bread on a cutting board, lay down your filling, cut it in half and boom—lunch. If you have more than one child, its construction process perfectly suits an assembly line. Compared to a cucumber hand roll or salad, that's pretty efficient. Of course selecting a filling for your sandwich has become more complicated: Sliced turkey or ham? Watch out for chemicals. Tuna? Too much mercury. Peanut butter and jelly? Banned from school due to an allergy.

"Just make sandwiches for the kids anyway," my husband said. Until he started collecting and opening the lunch boxes at the end of the day.

We've taken so much of the treat-i-ness out of sandwiches (including the ultimate mouth-watering accompaniment, potato chips), that there's no incentive for a 6-year-old to consume them.

"You didn't even touch it!" I hear him cry from the kitchen, and I sit back smugly. "See?" I think, watching him wave around the sweaty, once-delicious-looking-but-now-inedible offering. The exercise seems infinitely futile, too. Like Sisyphus, send off a sandwich to school each day, receive it intact but inedible six hours later, throw it in the trash and repeat the whole process the next day. There's got to be more to life.

Maybe sandwiches just tasted better back in the day—made with gooey white bread, sweetened peanut butter and sugary jelly (no bits!), with processed meat or mayo-laden tuna. We've taken so much of the treat-i-ness out of sandwiches (including the ultimate mouth-watering accompaniment, potato chips), that there's no incentive for a 6-year-old to consume them. And while some of us were once forced to "finish your milk," no one's making kids eat lunch before heading off to the play structure.

RELATED: Quick & Healthy Back-to-School Lunches

Or maybe we should just blame it all on the demise of white bread. Yes, it's nutrient-free—one recent book even described eating white flour as "tantamount to smoking cigarettes"—but it made lunch so damn good. Kids today may have no objection to the concept of a sandwich, just to the fact that you can't taste anything on the inside when you're so busy fighting your way through half an inch of seeds and twigs.

Whether it's the dense bread, the mercury-laden tuna, the nitrate-littered deli meat, or the peanut allergies that puts the final nail in the coffin, we must prepare ourselves for the lunchbox sandwich becoming obsolete. I can't remember the last time I ate white sandwich bread, but if I'd known it would be my last, I would have shed a tear.

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