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Is That Right? New Lunchables Are 'Wholesome'

You've got to hand it to the folks at Kraft. They are pretty darned crafty.

The company's recently added a new line of Lunchables to its repertoire. Earlier incarnations of the packaged-lunch products have often been cited as poor choices for kids' lunches because of all the calories, fat and sodium they contain and the sparse nutrition they offer.



Kraft's Web site says the new offerings are "wholesome," which my Webster's dictionary defines as "promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit" or "promoting health of body." That's a very clever way of suggesting health-promoting qualities without actually coming out and making a health claim. "Wholesome" has the added advantage of bringing to mind the word "whole," which, as applied to foods, is one of the current top buzzwords implying healthfulness.

Kraft notes that its new Turkey + Cheddar Sub Sandwich Lunchables product, for example, now features "spring water" and applesauce, "bread made with whole grain," "turkey made with 100% turkey breast," plus 2% cheddar cheese. Rounding out the little lunch is a serving of Mini Nilla wafers and a sleeve of Tropical Punch Kool-Aid powder.

The new package has 360 calories, 70 of them from fat, and 600 milligrams of sodium (25 percent of the Daily Value). This may well be an improvement over the previous turkey-and-cheddar-cracker-based Lunchable, which comes with a 100-percent-juice Capri Sun beverage, has 420 calories, 120 of them from fat, 750 mg of sodium, and just a single gram of fiber. The older cracker variety (the sub sandwich is a new innovation) remains in the lineup.

But I invite you to scan the rest of the ingredients in the new Turkey + Cheddar Sub Sandwich Lunchables. Does it look "wholesome" to you? Kraft has managed to turn a simple turkey and cheese sandwich, something every caretaker able to buy a Lunchable ($3.49) can easily afford and quickly slap together to stick in a lunchbox, into a chemistry set. Just reading the list of ingredients -- I stopped counting at 119 -- is exhausting; perhaps they figure we'll just give up.

The applesauce is made with apples, apple juice concentrate, water and ascorbic acid (or Vitamin C, which likely accounts for the meal's providing 100 percent of the Daily Value for this nutrient, for which the other variety, even with its real fruit juice, only offers 25 percent of the DV). So far, so good.

But as for that lovely "spring water," Kraft takes its time mentioning the artificially sweetened drink mix that comes with it. The touted 2 percent cheddar cheese turns out to be "2% milk reduced fat cheddar pasteurized prepared cheese product." And about that "bread made with whole grain." Would that be the white wheat bran that appears far down the list of the bread's ingredients, long after the "enriched bleached wheat flour"? Or the malted barley flour, which, while it does impart some fiber, is added to baked goods mainly to keep them soft and moist? Or the wheat germ, of which the bread contains 2 percent or less? In any case, the whole meal -- applesauce and bun included -- provides just 4 grams of fiber, or 16 percent of the DV.

When my kids were really little, I'll admit I succumbed once or twice to their requests for Lunchables; they were in turn succumbing to peer pressure, particularly from the example of one child who was so "lucky" she got to take a Lunchable to school every day. While my family's outgrown Lunchables altogether, I can still sympathize with the parent who occasionally caves and provides a Lunchable as a treat.

But to pretend that these meals are "wholesome" strikes me as absurd. What about you?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 11, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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Comments

My kids are 6,7,and 8 and I've heard their cry for lunchables many times. What we've done is create our own "lunchables" with healthy turkey, cheese, crackers and fruit. I don't have the cool box but we make the lunches together and that seems to take some of the sting out of not having the coolest lunch at school.

Posted by: reeceb | September 11, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Hey parents out there - do you have children with chronic problems with diarrhea? Help them avoid the preservative known as "ascorbic acid" for awhile and see if that helps. I've even had arguments with doctors over it and am always told that it is the same as "natural vitamin C." NOT!!! And my body tells me so. Within an hour of ingesting it, I'm in the throes of diarrhea so severe that I can't make it across the room. I've recently learned that it is made from corn - another product being made from what is probably GMO corn that has been sprayed with Roundup.

Posted by: judyinmichigan | September 11, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Mmmm. Those ingredients are making my mouth water. Best thing about lunchables? If my turkey sandwich sits out for a couple hours, it goes stale. Not my lunchables! I got lots stored in my bomb shelter. They'll be causing colon blockages and premature menstruation for my infant son for decades!

Posted by: steveboyington | September 11, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Before we started giving her lunchables, my daughter was always hungry at lunch. Now, not only is she full every day, but she has matured into a healthy woman ready to bear children. All the boys in her kindergarten class are really hot for her, except for the weird rashes she gets and the facial hair.

Posted by: steveboyington | September 11, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Is it really THAT difficult to make a nutritious Lunchables meal? I don't understand why Kraft seems so resistant.

Posted by: NYC123 | September 11, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Is it really THAT difficult to make a nutritious Lunchables meal? I don't understand why Kraft seems so resistant.

Posted by: NYC123 | September 11, 2009 9:36 AM

Probably because Kraft makes its living off of highly-processed food "products." So Lunchables are a win-win for them -- take the exact same food you already make and sell, repackage it, and sell it for multiples of the price you'd get selling them separately.

That said, I'd be interested in comparing the nutritional value of the Lunchable sandwiches to the same turkey and cheese sandwich brought from home. If you're using Wonder Bread, Oscar Mayer turkey, and Kraft singles, it's pretty much six of one, eh? Really, any kind of standard meat-and-cheese sandwich isn't going to be top of the nutritional food chain.

Posted by: laura33 | September 11, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

The Other Paper ran an interesting column on bento boxes earlier this week. Perhaps enterprising parents could purchase a few bentos or otherwise "cool" lunch containers, and use these for healthy versions of Lunchables. It would be far cheaper and much healthier, as others have noted, and with a little creativity, it would look spectacular.

Posted by: mwallace8831 | September 11, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

The Checkup also wrote about bento boxes a few weeks ago:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2009/08/back_to_school_with_bento_boxe.html

I think they're a great idea. And to laura 33: I was kind of picturing real, not processed, turkey breast and a slice of real cheddar cheese on some real whole-wheat bread -- with some nice veggies tucked in, too!

Jennifer

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | September 11, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Before we started giving her lunchables, my daughter was always hungry at lunch. Now, not only is she full every day, but she has matured into a healthy woman ready to bear children. All the boys in her kindergarten class are really hot for her, except for the weird rashes she gets and the facial hair.

Posted by: steveboyington | September 11, 2009 9:15 AM

Interesting. I have 3 rather stubborn nose hairs that defy tweezing. I ate a lot of lunchables. Hmmm.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 11, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | September 11, 2009 10:43 AM

Agreed. I just doubt that a lot of folks throw together a "real" turkey sandwich with veggies on whole wheat bread for their kids -- or that the kids eat it if they do. :-) I kind of had that "duh" moment myself when I swore off Lunchables, then found myself packing basically the same thing!

My problem is that I'm competing against the school cafeteria, which is infinitely more compelling than turkey-on-wheat. For ex., even my relatively healthy eater won't eat whole wheat; she'll toss the bread, or worse, take two bites and toss the whole sandwich -- then go buy chips or cookies. Now, I hate white bread on principle; tastes great, but stripping all nutritional value, then "fortifying" it with a little bit of what you just took out, seems fundamentally wrong. But all the whole wheat in the world won't do much good in the trash can. So I have to find something that tastes good enough for her to eat, but which has a reasonable amount of nutrition in it (for us, potato-wheat bread has worked out pretty well).

Sometimes I do almost a homemade Lunchable -- a slice or two of meat or cheese, a box juice or milk, some fruit, a small container of edamame or carrots, etc. She's a real grazer, so that seems to suit her more than sandwich-fruit-milk. The bento box idea seems like a good one, except then you get into the whole "it's supposed to be pretty" world - not to mention more dishes. . . .

Posted by: laura33 | September 11, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

@judyinmichigan
Have you been tested for celiac disease or other gastrointestinal disease? People who are celiac often have uncontrollable diarrhea literally minutes after ingestion.

Posted by: ajbouche | September 11, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

All those chemicals in the Lunchables are needed - they preserve the texture and "freshness" of the "food." Think how long those lunchables sit in the lunch meat section - not appetizing.

How should we feel about a claim of "wholesome?" The improved product does seem better, but we worry about folks buying it, thinking it's "healthy." However, those are the same folks who can't or won't make lunch at home (I hate to tell you how many parents drop off MacDonald's meals for lunch at 11 a.m. - they are too busy to make lunch but can run by Mac's).

"Wholesome" Lunchables are better than the alternatives (no lunch, chips and candy from a machine, or cookies from the cafeteria). Kids eat at school what they eat at home, mostly. My kids asked for Lunchables a few times - one even was allowed one per week for a while, because all her friends did. She got tired of it and went back to making sandwiches or bringing leftovers (she was lucky enough to have a classroom with a microwave).

Can we blame a company for catering (pun intended) to our weaknesses? If the "wholesome" label causes parents to buy Lunchables rather than sending Mac's or money for chips, I can live with that - I know those folks are not going to be making home lunches no matter what.

Posted by: drmary | September 12, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I bought my daughter a Lunchables once, for a field trip. It was the ham-cheese-cracker variety. Now, I have packed my share of deli ham, Kraft singles, and Ritz crackers lunches, and I know it's no nutritional powerhouse. But the Lunchables version of the same lunch was absolutely horrible. I couldn't believe how bad the crackers were. Bad crackers? And the ham was unbelievable -- thick and tough and gristly. My daughter couldn't eat it and never asked for one again.

She is a grazer, too and will not eat sandwiches. My other two kids will only eat whole wheat bread on their turkey & cheese sandwiches -- they've had it since they were babies and that's what they're used to -- they can't stand Wonder Bread when it is served at Grandma's house.

But I agree with the poster who said it's better to eat the new "healthy" lunchable than candy, chips or nothing at all. Sad.

Posted by: popcornvie | September 14, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse

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