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Is that right? Chef Boyardee whole-grain Beefaroni is 'secretly nutritious'

Perhaps you've seen the latest clever ad from the folks at Chef Boyardee, in which parents go to lengths to keep children from hearing that the Beefaroni they're eating contains whole-grain pasta.

Setting aside for now the observation that the girls at the table appear old enough to read the can themselves, the message in this ad and Chef Boyardee's overarching "Obviously delicious, secretly nutritious" campaign is clear: Kids won't go near any food that's supposed to be good for them. There's plenty of debate in nutrition circles as to whether it's smart or appropriate to conceal healthful ingredients in food; I'm in the camp that doesn't support such subterfuge. (And I do object to Chef Boyardee's featuring broccoli so prominently in this print ad, when Beefaroni contains no such greenery.)

Still, Chef Boyardee is hardly alone in trying to lend its products a health halo. And using pasta made from whole grain is a step in the right direction. This canned pasta's first ingredient is tomatoes (well, water and tomato puree), followed by water, beef and pasta. Of course, those ingredients are followed by "less than 2%" of more than a dozen whose names are familiar to can-label readers, everything from high fructose corn syrup to soybean oil.

My question about this Beefaroni is this: Just where is it supposed to fit into your kid's daily diet? A serving -- one cup of pasta mixture -- has 240 calories. It provides 12 percent of the daily value for fiber and 13 percent of the DV for potassium, but 18 percent of the saturated fat DV and nearly one-third -- 31 percent -- of a day's sodium allotment.

As I wrote in the "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column a few weeks ago, each of a child's main meals should contain roughly a third of the calories he or she needs in a day (1,000 for a sedentary little girl to as much as 3,200 for a very active teenage boy) and should contribute in similar measure to the day's total nutrient needs (6 ounces of grains, 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 5 1/2 ounces of meat or beans, plus 2 servings of fruit, 3 servings of dairy and a bit of healthful fat).

The Beefaroni can says a serving of what's inside provides 15 percent of the daily grains and 20 percent of the vegetables you need, along with 10 percent of the meat.

No matter how you do the math, Beefaroni's providing way more sodium and fat than is warranted by the proportions of other nutrients it supplies. And it does nothing to help meet the daily dairy or fruit goals.

I hate to be a scold, and I really don't object to feeding kids a can of Beefaroni now and then when you're pressed for time. But you should be mindful of how it fits into the day's overall nutrition needs. And, like the girls in the ad, your kids should probably have their canned pasta with a glass of milk. And an apple, for good measure.

And let's all practice saying words such as "whole grains" around our kids. I'm pretty sure they can handle it.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 27, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Kids' health , Nutrition and Fitness  
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In the commercial with the mom who's been given a time-out for blabbing about the whole-graininess they talk about the beef ravioli as an after school snack. That's no snack, that's a fourth meal!

Posted by: kbockl | August 27, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I absolutely disagree with the notion that its OK to give a kid a can of Beefaroni at ANY time. It is simply NOT necessary. One can of whole tomatoes, half an onion, a couple teaspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for 20-30 minutes. Thats all it takes to make a basic tomato sauce. Make it, put it in the fridge. Buy a box of Dececco macaroni that cooks in 5 minutes. Boil water in a small pot and use hot water to further reduce time (depending on the size of your kid, # of kids, and # of servings your making- you dont need to always use a huge pot of water). Take the cold sauce from the fridge, add a few tablespoons per serving size to the drained, hot pasta, add half a tablespoon of the pasta water, and the hot pasta will quickly heat up the sauce as you mix.
Its too damn easy, far more efficient, much healthier, and more appropriate than grabbing what is nothing more than a can of sludge and feeding it to a kid because one simply doesn't have enough time to eat well. It takes forethought. If you aren't going to practice forethought, don't have kids, because its a requirement.

Posted by: oo7 | August 27, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

"Just where is it supposed to fit into your kid's daily diet?"

Nowhere; it's garbage and should be treated as such.

Posted by: reiflame1 | August 27, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

There is seriously not that much wrong with beefaroni. Yes, the salt is a little high, but my kids get no salt at breakfast and homemade dinners where we control the salt, so going over 33% at lunch is still going to keep them on a good sodium level for the day. You're talking canned tomato sauce, beef, and pasta. There is seriously nothing worse in this can than what is in a can of campbells soup. Beefaroni is much healthier than apple juice, because juice is simple sugar (which happens to be sourced from apples and not from cane, but without the fibrous fruit is handled by your body in exactly the same insulin-spiking manner) with a vitamin supplement, which some kids drink more than once a day!

Posted by: mb129 | August 27, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but if it has seeds, IT'S A FRUIT!

Posted by: schafer-family | August 27, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

The only thing I can add is that, back in my drinking days, Beefaroni was my food of choice when trying to cope with a killing hangover. It must have been the high fat and salt content. (This was long, long before the whole grain pasta, by the way.)

Posted by: jhpurdy | August 27, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Most any can of any brand of dog food is probably healthier than this crap.

Posted by: citigreg | August 27, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Not every child runs from nutricious food! I've eaten vegetables ever since I can remember, and know plenty of kids who eat vegs and fruit by choice. It all goes back to what you learn at home: if whoever is in charge of the kitchen cooks from scratch, there is more real food and probably less sodium. There's no excuse for putting 30% of the daily max of sodium in a can of anything marketed to kids.

Posted by: ratperson | August 27, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Why would you want to add milk to this disaster? Humans don't have any need for cows milk. No animal has a requirement for milk after infancy. The less meat you eat, the less calcium your body takes.

Posted by: fernva | August 27, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Everybody loves to knock prepared foods as garbage but I guarantee you the vast majority of homemade meals is just as bad (or good).

Posted by: nuzuw | August 27, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the assertion that Beefaroni is NOT nutritious, no matter what Chef Boyardee says. But, I ate the occasional can of Beefaroni growing up, as well as Spaghettios with meatballs (which I LOVED), and canned soups with breathtaking amounts of sodium. At the same time, my mom cooked most things from scratch and maintained a large vegetable garden in which I helped. I grew up fit and active, eating and enjoying nutritious food and vegetables. Still do. So the occasional can of junk didn't hurt me. It's all about balance, people. To a busy mom, the occasional can of Beefaroni can be a godsend. To the commenter who couldn't understand why anyone would open a can of Beefaroni when it's so "easy" to make homemade tomato sauce and cook pasta, I say "do you work outside the home 40 hours a week and have a kid?" I do, and when my 16-month old daughter, who now eats whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, broccoli, etc., gets a little older, I'm quite sure I'll be opening the occasional can of Beefaroni.

Posted by: MHinNC | August 27, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

@MHinNC- yes I do work outside the home, care for two children under 4, and still cook their food. Beefaroni and its ilk are crap, no matter how you try to sell or justify it.

Posted by: oo7 | August 27, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

i agree 100% with all of the foregoing comments fore and against...please vote for me in november. Steny Hoyer

Posted by: DardenCavalcade1 | August 27, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

A bowl of dry dog food with milk would be a better meal.

Any parent feeding their kids this canned crap should be prosecuted for child abuse.

Posted by: veerle1 | August 27, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Beefaroni is better than starving if that's all you have to eat. Ounce per ounce it is much more expensive than cooking for yourself. It is much healthier to fix it yourself.

No family should be without a modern pressure cooker. Food cooks in just a fraction of the time and it helps retain all the nutrients. It uses less energy and doesn't heat up your kitchen as much.

Posted by: alance | August 27, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

I think I smell Whole Foods shopping bags in some of these opinions. Meanwhile, I snicker at your elitist blatherings as I spoon freshly heated Beefaroni into my anxiously salivating gullet.

Posted by: Apostrophe | August 28, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

What adds to the mess, if it's at all possible, are stores like CVS that are replacing brand products like Beeferoni with their own generic brand .. where a quick comparison of the labels shows such generics contain even more saturated fats and sodium (and you wonder how they make it cheaper). So, save a few pennies and dump even more of what you don't want into your kids' diet.

Posted by: tslats | August 28, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Actually, I prefer Mini Ravioli smothered in Parmesan cheese, all washed down with a rum and Pepsi. MMMM!

Posted by: Blarney | August 28, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Processed food marketed as "healthy" is a sad joke on the consumer.

Feeding your kid an equally quick, equally cheap meal of home-cooked brown rice and beans with a side of fresh veggies would be infinitely healthier than this fatty, salty canned glop.

If you're teaching your kids that this heavily marketed, taste-engineered mouth-candy is "food", you're failing as a parent.

Most adults in this country are overweight. Parents have a DUTY to make sure their kids don't just eat "like everybody else", otherwise they'll turn out fat, "like everybody else."

Posted by: kcx7 | August 28, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Most adults in this country are overweight.

Actually it is only 30% that are overweight, so that is not most. Nice fact checking idiot.

Posted by: Axel2 | August 28, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Fact-check yourself, Axel2. The national OBESITY rate hovers around 30%, but when you add in the number of adults that are "merely" overweight, the total figure exceeds 50%.

I will excuse your confusion (but not your ad hominem) by recognizing that the statistics are often confusingly presented by breaking out "overweight" and "obese" as separate, non-overlapping categories, when in fact most people intuitively think that if you're "obese" you ALSO belong in the "overweight" category.

Posted by: kcx7 | August 28, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

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