Founder of blog-turned-magazine Lunch Lady on the release of issue two, life in the Australian bush, and how her daughter being bullied at school inspired a tasty new enterprise.
CHARLOTTE RIVERS FOR MOTHERLAND
Congratulations on the release of the second issue of Lunch Lady, you must be super pleased?
Thank you so much. I have to say, it’s a bit of a special one. Each time I flick through it I’m just in love with every page. There are so many great recipes in there, but also some really interesting reads, like ‘Does art make your kid smart?’, ‘What effect does colour have on your kids?’. ‘Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?’ And, of course, there is a craft activity. I really enjoyed the process of producing the second issue, I had learnt a lot during the process of issue one coming together and I was keen to put my new skills to the test. I’d never done this before and I have to admit I was freaking scared, but I find those challenges are the ones that have the most incredible outcomes. And so far this is pretty incredible.
The Lunch Lady blog, and subsequent magazine, came about when your oldest daughter, Maya, was bullied for her packed lunch at school…
Yes, one lunch-time I went to surprise Maya at school. I noticed she was sitting on one side of the school hall and the rest of the kids were on the other. It’s pretty heartbreaking to see your kid dealing with that kind of stuff. You love them so much and you think everyone else should love them, too. When she told me the kids had been bullying her for the lunches I’d been making her it made me feel so guilty. I asked Maya if she wanted me to make her lunches like the other kids at school and she was kind of insulted that I would suggest that. She loved her lunches and she thought that the kids at school were the ones who were missing out. So we decided to start the blog together, we were a team. We shared our story and one of her fave recipes. It went bananas! I couldn’t wait for her to get home from school so she could read all the positive comments from people who had experienced the same thing, or who just thought she was a legend.
And then you published your first magazine last year, how did that come about?
It has all been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest. I still find myself catching my breath and pinching myself all at once. A couple of years ago I launched a few projects to see which one would stick. Fortunately and unfortunately they all did. I was burning out and my friends and family were worried about the hours I was working and the effect it was having on my health. While travelling in Wales, for one of the projects that stuck, I thought a lot about how I could consolidate all the things I loved doing into one project. With Lunch Lady being the one thing I was most passionate about, it had to centre around that, but also make me a living somehow. At 3:30am it hit me. I grabbed my laptop because I needed to get it down, it felt like a real moment in time that had to be recorded, for some reason it seemed big. I was going to make Lunch Lady a magazine. Then when I got back to Australia I received an email from Louise Bannister, one of the co-founders of Frankie magazine, asking if I had ever considered turning my Lunch Lady blog into a magazine. And here we are.
Can you tell us about why you’re so passionate about kids food?
I think it started with the end of my marriage, to be honest. I tried to think of as many ways as I could show Maya she was loved, safe and cared for. I started to bake things for her lunch-box and put little notes in with it. It grew from there. What’s inside an ideal kids lunch box? I’m not sure there really is an ideal lunch box, kids like different stuff. I have two step-daughters and they like entirely different things to my daughters so I have to tailor the four lunch boxes to each of their likes and dislikes. For instance my youngest isn’t into cheese, which I am seriously struggling to comprehend. At the moment though, during the warmer months, their school lunch boxes will have a salad, a healthy snack (something I bake at home) and a piece of fruit. As the seasons change so does the main element of the lunchbox. Winter is my fave because I get to pop hearty homemade soups in their thermoses. I imagine them in the playground at lunchtime opening up steamy lunch and it warming and filling their bellies.
What does your average day look like?
I really wish I had an average day, my days and weeks never really replicate each other. I have two daughters, Maya Rose, 11, and Pepper Lou, 7 and two stepdaughters, Helena, 9 and Tia, 7, so there are things that are done everyday. They include getting up at 5:30am to go for a run through the bush, having coffee, making lunches, dropping the kids off at the bus stop and then going back home for more coffee and work. These are the days I love most. But often I am away from home, and my kids, for photo shoots, meetings, markets and other worky things. This is what I find hardest about my job, but sometimes I get to bring the girls along with me, which is one of the best things about it. It’s all swings and roundabouts, isn’t it? We live in the country, just north of Melbourne. I love the stillness here, the sense of escape and the giant skies. I can think here. There are some things I miss about Melbourne – the super duper yummy food that’s everywhere and the amazing creative community – but I am only an hour and a bit away so it’s still within my grasp.
What kind of mum are you?
I am overly affectionate and childish with my kids, giggling about farts is an all-time favourite. I love talking with them too and engaging in big questions. We have a book in the car that we write things down in that we need to ask Google when we get home (I don’t have all the answers). I believe life experiences are the best teachers so I try to get my kids out in the world and out of their comfort zone as much as I can, without scaring the life out of them, of course. I want my kids to grow up to be happy, confident and capable.
What has been the biggest surprise about motherhood?
What surprised me most was the intensity of love and connection with another human being. I’d do anything for those two little people without ever questioning it.
What life lessons, loves or passions do you hope to pass on to your children?
I hope my kids grow up to ask questions, travel and to not be scared of taking chances on things they truly believe in or love.
And what can we expect to see from the Lunch Lady over the coming year?
I’m currently working on issue four, which is looking amazing.
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