Lunch box by
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Prompted By Mealtime

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Meals were a challenge when I was a resident on hospital rotations.  There were no official breaks, no lunch, dinner, or breakfast hours, just work that had to be done and rounds to attend.  Sure, there were cafeterias with overcooked steam trays of food, but they weren’t open 24/7, and weren’t free.  Finding a moment to hydrate, scarf down a few calories, and use the restroom could succumb to the pressure of the next admission, chasing down labs, writing up notes, or even napping.

I learned that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs must be obeyed—I was not a functional person without attention to a few basic self-care principles.  It seems that training programs have evolved a bit in recent years, but back in the 70’s, being tough and putting up with physical deprivation was integral to becoming a physician, and women felt even more pressure to prove they could do it.

In any case, enter the lunch box.  I got a kid’s soft-sided thermal one with planets on the cover, and brought it with me every day.  For days “on call”, that meant packing it to cover lunch, dinner, breakfast the next day, and lunch again.  It was stuffed with granola bars, yogurt cups, fruit, maybe a sandwich or miscellaneous leftovers, until the  sides were bulging and straining the zipper.  But it kept me fed and became my lifeline, averting too many “hangry” meltdowns.

it worked so well that I carried a lunch box to work ever since, and became known for the whimsical version of the day. But I could invent a mealtime whenever I needed it, and believe everyone I worked with was happier with a less stressed-out me.




Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    I am amazed that a hospital would not have some form of 24/7 eating — if not exactly dining — facility, especially for its own 24/7 staff. But I love your solution, Khati, and you have made it into a delightful story. And very different from that of so many of us who naturally gravitated to writing about family meals.

    Is that adorable VW bus an actual lunchbox of yours, or do you still have a planetary one? And, just as a side note, there is a lovely Indian 2013 movie called “The Lunchbox,” based on their brilliant system to deliver home-cooked meals to the workplace (Harvard Business School has even written a case study about the system):

    • Khati Hendry says:

      That is a picture I found of a lunch box that appears to be identical my current lunch box. One of my colleagues got one in red after lusting after mine. As it turns out,cafeteria workers have shifts and services are not always open. Vending machines don’t cut it either. Our local hospital has limited hours—and now with COVID there is not even public access. Not to mention the unappetizing choices there and me being cheap.

  2. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Khati, and I love the VW microbus lunchbox. Pretty amazing that you could manage to pack it with enough food for lunch, dinner, breakfast the next day, and lunch again. Those meals, however erratic, were so important to keep you going. Thanks for a different perspective on the concept of mealtimes.

  3. Bless you Khati and glad your lunch boxes helped keep you nourished as you pursued that rigorous medical training.

    We didn’t need Covid to remind us how much you and your healthcare colleagues are owed our respect and thanks.

  4. Marian says:

    I’m glad medical training has evolved somewhat, Khati, and love your solution at the time and today. I adore cute lunchboxes. Your experiences give a whole new meaning to mealtime. You are so right about food at hospitals. Before COVID, Dick was hospitalized and I was with him there for 36 hours straight, and food was a problem. I can only imagine now what it’s like for the healthcare workers. Kudos to you.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      You might think medical facilities would be more tuned into the importance of food for the health of all—patients, staff, visitors. Only if you are lucky. And you are right—eating on the job in time of COVID—what a challenge. Good health to all.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    As the spouse of a medical student and resident in the early 70s, I remember the brutal demands. I feel guilty in retrospect that I didn’t pack him a lunch box like yours. Because his residency was in psychiatry, it was much less demanding than yours but still a challenge. I was home with two babies, which presented its own challenges. I’m glad things became more reasonable pre-COVID. Now, my heart goes out to all who are on the front lines of dealing with this crisis.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you for this great story, Khati. You reference your own training (I remember reading a book in my 9th grade biology class about the demands of grueling medical training; I think it may have been called “Dr. X”), but interject that new “hangry” term, which fits perfectly. Your solution is simple, elegant and the lunch box (as everyone else says) is adorable! Maslow’s hierarchy met!

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