Sunday, December 9, 2012


I just ate a Lunchable for the first time in a long time. This past semester, I collected data for the GREEN Project Lunchbox Study at Tufts, which is a school-based nutrition intervention designed to improve nutritional quality and eco-friendliness of the foods children bring from home to school. During my time with GREEN, I visited a handful of schools and looked at a number of lunches and snacks. There were a lot of standard ham and cheese sandwiches, a ziplock bag of grapes, or a fresh apple wrapped in a napkin. There was also a lot of Goldfish crackers, other packaged crackers and chips, and packaged fruit snacks. Some had ethnic choices like chapati and lamb curry, and there were also the nutrition students' favorites such as oatmeal with dried fruit and pine nuts. Oh, and when did everyone start drinking Capri Suns? 

So, to revisit my own childhood lunch days, I'm going to ignore for now that my elementary school used to cater from McDonald's, Burger King, and Joe's Pizza, and focus on one of my all time favorites, the Lunchables, which I noticed is still popular among 3rd and 4th graders today. Let me start with this: Lunchables are not cheap. They range from a little less than $2.50 to around $5 a pack, and you're not getting much substance. The Basics package contains 6 crackers, 6 slices of turkey, 5 slices of cheese, and 2 Oreos. Other options also contain a Capri Sun, or there is always the highly synthetic pizza choice or the ever questionable nachos. 

Let's do a quick look at the nutrition facts. 330 calories, 30% saturated fat, 24% sodium, and 16g of sugars. It could be worse, but we haven't even looked at the ingredient list yet which includes everything ranging from high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavorings, preservatives, and many terms I am rather unfamiliar with. Let's keep in mind that we're looking at a couple of crackers, turkey, cheese, and cookies. Why does the turkey contain so many ingredients that are so undeniably... not turkey? Also, the percentages I listed before are for a 2,000 calorie diet. Who eats these Lunchables? Kids, mostly. For those under the age of 14, it is recommended to consume about 1200-1600 calories per day. And fat makes up more than 40% of the calories in this meal, with 30% of total fat consisting of the "unhealthy" saturated fats. Also, this Lunchable did not come with a fruit drink. Imagine the sugar count if there was a Capri Sun in the mix, as well! 

Overall, parents, there are more nutritious choices for your kids out there. If you do decide to give them a Lunchables, try throwing in a fruit to supplement the meal so that your kids can get some extra fiber and vitamins. You can also make your own Lunchables by buying a cool compartmented sandwich box and just slice up some chicken breast or low sodium cold cuts, throw in sliced low fat cheese or some yogurt, add some whole grain crackers, and berries or carrot sticks... the options are limitless! 

I have a couple standing questions for Oscar Meyer:
1. Why is there one less cheese slice compared to the turkey and crackers?
2. When was double stuffed Oreos the norm? When did you decide to include those instead of classic Oreos? 

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