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Is That Right? A Full Serving of Vegetables in Chef Boyardee

The current ad for Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli shows a kid eating a bowl of the stuff while his mom tries to prevent his dad from saying what the voice-over eventually announces: "There's a full serving of vegetables in every bowl of Chef Boyardee. Just don't tell them."

The first ingredient listed on the can is indeed "tomatoes." Leaving aside the fact that tomatoes are, technically, fruits, let's look at what else the label says. Each one-cup serving -- there are two per 15-ounce can -- contains 240 calories (70 of them from fat), 8 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber -- and 900 milligrams of sodium. A serving provides 6 percent of the Daily Value of Vitamin A, 2 percent of the DV for calcium, and 10 percent of the DV for iron.

For comparison's sake, a medium-sized tomato, at 27 calories (zero of them from fat), delivers 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein, and just 7 milligrams of sodium. The tomato also offers 25 percent of the DV for Vitamin A, 32 percent of the DV for Vitamin C, 1 percent of the DV for calcium and 2 percent of the DV for iron. (I got my numbers from

Of course, few kids are likely to choose a tomato over beef ravioli. But if you're going to serve your child a bowl of canned pasta thinking it's just like giving him a nice healthful vegetable, you might want to look hard at the nutrition facts. Vegetables shouldn't pack a bunch of sodium, for one thing. And what on Earth did Chef Boyardee do with the Vitamin C that tomatoes naturally contain?

I don't really have anything against Chef Boyardee products. What I do object to is the notion that we parents have to be secretive about sneaking healthful foods into our kids' diets. The Boyardee tag-line "Obviously delicious. Secretly nutritious." paired with the ad-mom's outlandish efforts to keep her son from hearing that the food he's eating is good for him is kind of insulting to the kid, isn't it?

I know, it's supposed to be funny, and perhaps I should lighten up. But by encouraging kids to associate yumminess only with foods that aren't good for them, are we doing them any favors?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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Why is it OK to sneak healthy food to a 'kid' but it's insulting to a 'child?'
Elitism rears its ugly head again.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | June 26, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

If you don't actually *teach* kids what a healthy diet looks like, then they will default to eating like an average American, ballooning up into obesity like an average American, and dying an early death from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, like an average American.

"Sneaking" healthy food into your kids teaches them nothing. But making sure they eat nothing but healthy food, starting from their very first spoonful, will mold their brains in an indelible way.

And if there is only healthy food in the house, then the battle is already won. So never, ever, ever buy Chef Boyardee's canfuls of empty calories.

Posted by: DupontJay | June 26, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Being 1/2 Italian, I'm vehemently opposed to Chef Boyardee products, as they give a false impression of what Italian food really is (fresh, simple ingredients). Not to mention the sugar - Italians do NOT, I repeat do NOT ever add sugar to tomato sauce. So many wanna-be Italian sauces in the supermarker taste like ketchup to most Italians. So glad my children would never eat such garbage...

Posted by: PoloGuy1031 | June 26, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I have a nearly 2 year old. We regularly offer her veggies, fruits, grains, protein - all in healthy, up-front versions. But she's a toddler, and has shifting likes and dislikes. She hasn't realized how wonderful green veggies are yet (despite us regularly offering everything from lettuce to asparagus to peas). She's apparently turned off to the color green in food - it's the only thing I can think of. BUT...if I sneak peas on her fork behind "tortellini" (good, fresh ones, or whole grain pasta - she calls it all tortellini), I can get her to eat them - sometimes. And spinach - she'll usually eat our version of "creamed" spinach (cooked with a little yogurt or sour cream and an egg). Or if I'm lucky, I can "sneak" the green stuff in scrambled eggs, which she adores.

She's nuts about just about any kind of fruit that isn't slimy (seriously - she won't touch mango - I think it's the texture), but the green stuff, well...

Posted by: alisoncsmith | June 26, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh, to add, I love me a bowl of Chef Boyardee - about once every 6 mos (might have to tonight). I'm under NO delusions that it's even remotely Italian, PoloGuy131, but sometimes massive amounts of sodium taste good.

Posted by: alisoncsmith | June 26, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Things that are good and easy to get into them, like water, are never at issue.

Posted by: blasmaic | June 26, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Parents shouldn't have to do this kind of analysis on canned food. Thanks for doing it for us.

This type of marketing is much more objectionable than Cheerios' health claim that was attacked by our own bureaucrats at the FDA.

I've noticed that Fig Newtons are trying to be "healthier." Figs are loaded with fiber (not to mention other phytonutrients), but you won't find much in Fig Newtons. Where did it go?

-Steve Parker, M.D.

Posted by: SteveParkerMD | June 27, 2009 2:50 AM | Report abuse

"But by encouraging kids to associate yumminess only with foods that aren't good for them, are we doing them any favors?"

No, we aren't, but this commercial wasn't written and paid for by concerned parents - they're just they audience. The commercial belongs to the American food industry, which doesn't care about children's health - it cares about selling more food. They want children to associate "yumminess" with their products, not with fresh produce. If we let ourselves be educated about nutrition by the people who are pushing high-fructose corn syrup, sodium, and highly processed foods, we are fooling ourselves if we think we're getting the whole truth.

Posted by: redweather | June 29, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

but for what it's worth, i think that the commercial is absolutely hilarious, even if i would NEVER eat a bite of chef boyardee! :)

Posted by: redweather | June 29, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

There's no vitamin C left in the tomato sauce because it can't survive being cooked.

Posted by: martlet | June 29, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

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