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A simple rice lunch shapes the way Lilia Grundy prepares for Lent.

The day had arrived—it was “Rice Lunch Day” and I was anxious. You see, this day was the culmination to everything we had been putting into practice for the Lenten season as part of my third-grade religion project.

This was decades ago, but I still remember the scene vividly. Tables lined up against the wall in our cafeteria. Mothers (including my own) made their way inside to drop off crockpots of rice that they had volunteered to prepare for our class. This would be our lunch today—plain, white rice and water.


school children in uniforms, running


The pathway cleared and students were invited to come forward to scoop up their own bowls. As I waited in line, I observed that a couple of the pots had been quickly emptied. I overheard a classmate say, “Make sure to go for those, they have lots of butter and salt on them!” pointing to the nearly empty pots. As I approached my turn to scoop, I noticed that indeed, the empty pots trickled with left-over, buttery streaks.

I was deflated—this was supposed to be a day of a sacrifice, a day of commemoration, a day of uniting ourselves to the cross. We third graders of Good Shepherd School had prepared for this. We had saved up all the coins and change we could muster to collect them in the small rice boxes that had been distributed to us. The total amount of money raised would be sent to those who couldn’t afford to eat. And we were to join in the suffering of the poor on this Rice Lunch Day by only eating rice and water—plain, bland rice, definitely no butter.

I was disappointed that my fellow classmates decided to take what I considered was the easy way out and opt for the most flavorable option they could find.


bowl of rice with butter


The Harvest is Hard

Ok so perhaps I was being too critical of my fellow classmates—the difference between our bowls was a mere two ingredients: salt and butter, no biggie, right? Back in my third-grade mind, I just couldn’t understand why the simple directions were not followed. Children: Expect to eat only rice and water for lunch. Volunteers: Please donate a pot of white rice—NO added butter or salt. I saw the flier with my own eyes. I read the instructions. Surely, we were all in this together, right?

Well, the day passed by, and we all went on with our lives, but that day stuck with me. I was proud of my mother who followed “the rules” by contributing plain white rice as instructed. And I was grateful to my parents who encouraged me to test my will to its limits. Most importantly, I had taken that lunch to reflect—so what students had salted butter on their meal. The reality was that there were millions of others around the world that wouldn’t have anything to eat that day.

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Mortifications are needed so that we can build our spiritual muscles to carry the crosses in our life. #catholicmom


You know rice harvesting is long, tedious work. “The process is seriously labor intensive, requiring more steps than you might think would be necessary for such tiny, little grains,” writes Alison Spiegel.

For me, Lent is this time of hard work – penance, fasting and giving to the poor. That Rice Lunch Day forever stamped this notion into my mind. It’s not easy and it’s supposed to be hard. I guess that’s why I feel like my fellow classmates were cheated. Not because they added a few more calories than I—but because they didn’t get to experience some pain.

Mortifications, the practice where we “put to death’ all of our vices, sinful habits”—are needed so that we can build our spiritual muscles to carry the crosses in our life.

No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance. (St. John XXIII).



bowl of plain rice with ceramic cover


Starchy and Filling

So many years have passed since Rice Lunch Day, and I’ve made many mistakes in my life along the way. But thanks be to God, I always found my way back to Him. Like rice, a nutritious, starchy filler, prayer has kept me full and satisfied. And when I fast, I remember in my emptiness that I am never alone.

This Lent, I’ll continue to offer my penitential sacrifices because they help me grow spiritually. I’ll encourage my own third-grade twins to participate in a Rice Lunch Day because perhaps this will set a foundation for them for years to come. I want to instill in them the confidence to turn to God in all things … and that yes, they can eat a bowl of rice, minus the butter.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God. (Leviticus 23:22)


Copyright 2022 Lilia Grundy
Images: Canva Pro