Cafeteria Line or Brown Bag? Sanctification Through School Lunch

This year one of our children will take lunch to school, one of our children will buy lunch at school, neither will have a choice and both will complain. But the Holy Spirit does not waste an opportunity, even one as small as school lunch, to heal us from our sin and sorrow and make us more into the image of Jesus. 

Sanctification is a healing journey that is returning, restoring, and rebuilding all of creation, preparing us to live again with our holy God. One day all foods will nourish, and all hearts will receive that nourishment with gratitude that leads to worship. 

But for now, when it comes to meals in my house, it can sound more like the Israelites, “We never eat anything – only this manna!” (Numbers 11).     

School Lunch

My reading this summer included Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York by Elizabeth Passerella. I enjoyed the memoir and could relate to the author’s thoughts and experiences on parenting, being a southerner, and following Jesus. As a mom on the cusp of a new school year, I read her reflections on school lunch and thought about my kids’ lunches and other seemingly insignificant choices we make at the beginning of a new academic year. 

Passerella writes, “School lunch is character building. They (her children) have to stand in line in the cafeteria, practice patience and flexibility, and deal with disappointment. None of that can hurt.”1 She lists compelling reasons for choosing school lunch for her kids: purchasing lunches provides one less opportunity for kids to congregate into “haves and have-nots” while at school and mortifies her sinful pride in her ability to make perfect lunches with personalized notes. She points out that her kids do not have food allergies, are curious eaters (a term I prefer over “good” eaters, which implies other children are “bad” eaters), and that her district’s lunches provide culturally appealing options. 

In another book I recommend for foodie parent readers, Tasting Grace: Discovering the Power of Food to Connect Us to God, One Another, and Ourselves, author Melissa d’Arabian writes about her own poignant story of being fed by the kindness of school nutrition staff during a time when her family experienced food insecurity and hunger. “…the lunch ladies…changed my life, and food was their main tool. Yet they did more than feed my body. They offered me compassion and made me feel valuable. By sharing God’s provision with me, they reminded me that I was worthy of receiving his gifts, of food and of belonging.”2

As with school-choice, school lunch is not a one-size-fits-all approach. My family has benefitted from different choices during different ages and stages. The combination of these authors’ perspectives and my experiences give me pause as I consider the upcoming year. What can we learn about loving our neighbors, stewarding our resources, or caring for our children through school lunch and other mundane choices we will be making over the next ten months? 


In moments when lawnmower parenting and excessive self-care seem to be the only option, it takes wisdom to know when and how to stop and go in ways that are not purely self-serving. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God: your sanctification.” While Paul is talking specifically here about sexual immorality, he is also talking broadly about living a life pleasing to God. As Christians, we are called to live a life not simply free of sexual sin, but full of self-control, love for our brother, and honoring God (vs. 4-7), and, we have the Holy Spirit to help us (v. 8).3 The process from sin to self-control, loving our neighbor, and obedience to God is sanctification.

In John 6, Jesus uses a young boy’s sack lunch to perform the miracle of feeding five thousand. In John 21, the disciples recognize Jesus after he cooks and feeds them breakfast. What if the boy had not brought lunch or if the disciples had each brought their own individual breakfast? The point of these stories is not the food; the point is Jesus. Where Jesus is, there people are well fed. When Jesus is the center of our decision-making, there his followers and the surrounding community have their needs met. 

I mistakenly think of sanctification as an individual process that is preparing me for a place I am going to one day (heaven). But the Bible describes sanctification as a process that is communal for all of God’s creation and children and for the new heavens and new earth when Christ returns. 

This fall, as we begin to move from our individual homes and family vacations back to our school communities, God will sanctify us together. A cafeteria, a sports team, a school board, or committee are all places for us to “practice patience and flexibility, and deal with disappointment.” As Passerella notes, “ none of that can hurt.”

Serving Others

During a difficult week of parenting this summer, and as I thought about sanctification, I stumbled upon Paul Tripp’s Parents are Works in Progress. Tripp teaches that as parents, we are Christ’s ambassadors to our children, and I would add, in our communities. We are not change-agents. Only God through Christ can rescue and restore hearts in our homes, workplaces, and schools. Rather, we position ourselves to see the places where God is working, and we bring the message, methods, and character of the King we represent into those relationships and spaces.4   

It is very likely that I will be invited to join in the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in service to my children as I daily bear their grievances about school lunch (or homework, practice, etc.), encouraging them to move from complaint to contentment and gratitude for school food, teachers, and coaches. It is also likely that my children, spouse, teachers, and other parents will be invited to join in the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in me, as they experience the effects of my sin, encouraging me to move from anger, impatience, or envy towards the fruit of the Spirit.

School communities are a unique time and place to offer ourselves in the name of Jesus. A new academic year, with new classmates, with new teachers, or in a new school, can offer fresh opportunities to serve our children and their schools. In the same way that the Lord told Moses to gather the elders to share the burden of the people with Moses when they complained about the manna, the Lord has given us schools and churches to share the burden of parenting. Even more, He has given us Christ Jesus to not only share the burden of parenting, but to bear the burden of all our sin. The hope of the gospel is not just for me and my family, but also for our community.  

Parents, join us for Rooted 2023 to hear a workshop with Syler Thomas, “Bootcamp for Parents of Teens and Tweens.” If you can’t stay for the whole conference, check out our one-day Saturday pass.


  1. Passerella, E. Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York. Thomas Nelson, 2021.
  2. d’Arabian, M. Tasting Grace: Discovering the Power of Food to Connect Us to God, One Another, and Ourselves. Crown Publishing Group, 2019.
  3. Book of 1 Thessalonians Summary: Watch an Overview Video. BibleProject. Accessed on July 24, 2023. 
  4. Tripp, P. Parents are Works in Progress. The Gospel Coalition. Accessed on July 25, 2024. 

Dr. Melissa Powell is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). She is married to Chris Powell, Executive Pastor at North Shore Fellowship, and the mother of two children. An old dog, a good book, a big salad, and a long walk are a few of her favorite things.

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