Kraft Heinz, the makers of Lunchables, have been trying for years to get their snack packs into schools. After some retooling for higher nutritional value, they’ve finally succeeded. This fall, the company will be rolling out Lunchables for schools to offer Kindergarten through 12th grade students for purchase or free through the National School Lunch Program.
The Lunchables available in school cafeterias will not be the same as those sold in markets, though. In order to adhere to the guidelines of NSLP for school meals, there has been a change in what makes up the popular pre-made eatables. They now contain more grains, less sodium, and a fruit or vegetable to compliment. (The high sodium content of Lunchables is a large factor in what has previously kept it out of cafeterias.)
But there are still some concerns about whether or not they’re as successful as Kraft Heinz is claiming. Lauren Au, assistant professor at UC Davis’ Department of Nutrition, studies the effects of school nutrition programs and their success. For the moment, Au, is skeptical. She says she’d want to see the full nutrition map for the revised Lunchables to determine whether they’re actually a beneficial addition to school cafeterias. She’s not the only one. Meghan Maroney, federal child nutrition programs campaign manager at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), worries about children becoming confused between school-provided and store-bought Lunchables.
They’re Healthier, But By How Much?
“…if the products are reformulated to meet NSLP guidelines, they will taste different from Lunchables sold in stores because of lower sodium, saturated fat and other requirements. This can be confusing for kids,” Maroney worries. But Dianne Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association, welcomes the addition partially from a financial standpoint. She claims that this might be helpful for school districts with labor shortages and higher food costs.
“As school nutrition guidelines get increasingly complex, we’ve seen companies leaving the K-12 segment…It’s good to see a company interested in selling to this segment. But I would see Lunchables as one of a couple of meal options, and not that schools are getting away from offering a daily hot meal option.”
When we thirty-somethings were growing up, Lunchables were the coveted item of the playground. If a kid had one, they were the talk of lunchtime. But that’s also because you could eat a mini pizza and usually got Oreos with it. It was the highest indulgence from the perspective of a nine-year old. But indulgent the same way as a carton of ice cream. While you ate your apple slices and PB&Js, Billy got to have the child-equivalent of fast food. The “better” food at the time. And anything processed is going to be worse for you than something made from basic ingredients. So whether or not these Lunchables will actually prove to be a healthier alternative remains to be seen.