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.