Shocking, but True

I’m dismayed to report this. The truth hurts. Most of the new people who come to this blog find it through a google search for “lunchables.” The evidence is overwhelming and disheartening.

For those few of you who don’t know, Lunchables are kind of like the Swanson TV dinner for the school lunch crowd, but in my opinion only worse. Like TV dinners they appeal to our sense of order, a kind of high sodium, high fat bento lunch box. Kraft says it was designed to be “gift-like.” According to their website, “Recognizing that the prepared lunch category was a relatively untapped market, Oscar Mayer set out to create a product that would revolutionize the industry, create a solution for busy moms and help to boost company sales.” I don’t like to think of my child as an “untapped market,” and I’m not so sure that helping busy moms (and dads?) really was a priority over company sales.

The people at Kraft work hard putting together combinations that kids will love. Take the combination of Pizza and Cracker Stackers: “Inside you’ll find a tasty new pizza-flavored cracker, cheese and pepperoni-flavored sausage along with a sweet treat for afterwards. With two different varieties available, with or without a Tropical Punch Kool-Aid Jammers for even more lunch yum.” Ick.

Yes, food can be “fun,” but that’s not the first word I think of when I’m putting together a meal. I don’t really need an action figure (or “brigade”) to entice me toward roast chicken. Do you?

David Kamp wrote a good piece about this in The New York Times back in May, complaining about how many restaurants and parents assume that unless kids have chicken fingers and French fries they won’t eat anything else. I don’t think the fear is that our kids will starve, but more that they will be a nuisance to our own dining experience. Kamp goes to nutritionist Marion Nestle (What to Eat) who criticizes the notion of “kids’ food.” You know the fun stuff, like lunchables. What are we teaching our kids about food when we fill our shopping carts and contort our menus with foods that entertain because of a shape or (worse) a cartoon character tie-in?

The Times recently reported on a study that showed that kids thought the food wrapped in the McDonalds brand packaging tasted better than the food that didn’t. According to the article: “Almost 77 percent, for example, thought that McDonald’s french fries served in a McDonald’s bag tasted better, compared with 13 percent who liked the fries in a plain white bag.” They go on to say that the same was true for carrots and milk; they tasted better to the kids when they came wrapped in the brand paper packaging.

So I’m with the guy who hates lunchables. I apologize to all of you who find this site and are discouraged, think me snob, or some no fun kinda gal. My mission this school year is to pack more hummus and make school lunch tables a safe place for plain carrot sticks and bean salads. And I promise to try to steer My Girl toward regular food and away from food marketed as fun for kids. I'll keep you posted.


Ken Sternberg said...

I am so totally with you on this. My 12 year old son still nags me in the supermarket trying to make me buy this crap. I don't give in and tell him how I think it's a gimmick (and not a very good meal), and how it completely ignores any semblence of environmental responsibility. I mean, every little tidbit is wrapped separately. It would probably be pretty depressing to know the energy and environmental factors involved in making this product. Sorry, Kraft, you'll have to find some other parent to buy your junk.

Jenifer said...

Hey Deb---Missing you at the Aussie meeting on Saturday. Why can't we figure out a way to get together? Jenifer

kim said...

It's a great point you make, and an interesting article too. It's something that I noticed when we go out for dinner...we as adults have three pages from which to choose, and Olivia has her pick from five items. It really goes against the whole "be an adventurous eater" message that I've tried to instill in her. It's too bad that more restaurants won't try making smaller portions of adult meals, so that we don't have a generation of kids who will eat nothing but plain spaghetti and chicken fingers.

SF Mom of One said...

OMG, Deb, I had stopped looking over here for new entries and then...wow! A ton of content for me to catch up on!

I love your pesto article (but I wont go back and post to that, ok?)

You know my ambivalence about this stuff. I have given X, my almost 10 year old, Lunchables, because it is something she WILL eat for lunch. I suppose I did this to her somehow, but she is a really really picky eater. I always told myself I would not be the kind of mom who cooks separate meals, but I am. She will simply NOT eat for quite a while if she doesn't have something palatable to her. She eats a lot of mac-n-cheese. At least she likes the "natural" kind. At this point, my concern is getting enough calories, protein and fiber into her to keep her going. Seriously. She fades out at school because she won't eat anything I send in her lunch.

OK, there is my personal rant. I am with you on the commercialism, and in general, segmenting KIDS into their own world and market.

Nice entries, sorry I have been missing!!