Every Sunday, 6-year-old Julia Payton sits down with her mother to talk about tacos, turkey sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs and other first-grade culinary delights.
Julia and her mother, Cynthia, peruse the school district's menu for the next week and plan what the Prairie Park School student will be eating each day. With her mother's assistance, Julia decides if she's going to eat school lunch or bring her own.
What Julia vetoes: Bierrocks and the baked potato bar. What she supports: tacos, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.
So on days when the school district is serving up German-style sandwiches, spuds and other foods the first-grader shakes her head at, Julia breaks out her pink Barbie lunchbox and brings food she likes.
On Monday, as students around her were eating submarine sandwiches and hamburgers, Julia enjoyed pita bread filled with turkey, string cheese, melon slices, carrots and a cookie.
Cynthia Payton likes giving her daughter a say in her nutrition.
``She makes pretty good choices,'' Payton said. ``She's 6 going on 30. She's very cautious.''
There had been times in kindergarten that Julia had come home hungry because she hadn't liked what the school kitchen was serving, so before classes started this week, Payton asked Julia if she wanted to eat school food or bring her own lunch.
``She said she'd like to try doing both,'' Payton said.
A former school cook, Payton makes sure her daughter packs something from each of the four food groups. The first-grader gets a choice of vegetables and fruits, Payton said.
Payton believes she's teaching her daughter about how to make healthy choices that will stay with her throughout life.
`A low-fat kind of kid'
Joey Von Knorring, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Prairie Park, also passed on the school lunch Monday.
He opted to bring a sandwich, Trix low-fat yogurt and low-fat pretzels.
``I'm a low-fat kind of kid,'' Joey said with a big grin, pointing to the ``little apple pieces with vinegar'' that were awaiting him.
His mother, Ronna, later points out that the ``vinegar'' was actually ginger ale.
Joey helps pack his lunch, Von Knorring said. She encouraged Joey to bring his lunch after eating with him at school a few times and noticing he didn't eat enough.
``He's been a hot lunch kid, but I was concerned about him getting enough to eat and not wasting food,'' she said.
Like Julia, Joey scouts the district's menu in advance and decides when he'll eat school lunch and when he'll brown-bag it.
Bobby Knight -- who was quick to point out he doesn't have the same temper as a certain Indiana University basketball coach who shares his name -- brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and lemonade for lunch Monday.
The 7-year-old, a second-grader, was very specific about his sandwich and drink.
``That's chunky peanut butter,'' he said. ``It's pink Country Time lemonade. The jelly is strawberry jelly.''
But after a few mouthfuls, Bobby realized his sandwich was made with plain peanut butter. Oh, yeah, he doesn't really like chunky peanut butter.
Schwegler School sixth-grader Vicki Bentley, 11, has brought her lunch from home since first grade. Her father packs it for her, she said. On Monday, she carried a bologna and cheese sandwich, an apple and Oreo cookies in her blue and green mini-cooler.
A nice alternative
Kara Roberts, 11, also in sixth grade, has brought her lunch from home for about three years.
``The food started tasting pretty bad,'' she said, taking a break from her ham sandwich, celery sticks, cookies, fruit cocktail and chips.
For Babu Telikepalli, 11, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Hi-C punch seemed like a better option Monday than school food.
He's been bringing his lunch since he started school, he said.
``Usually I have a banana or an apple, and some days chips, cookies and stuff,'' he said.
Kara said trading lunches isn't really an option.
``It's like illegal here,'' she said.
-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.