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Behind The Lunchable: Convenience Over Health?
"Lunch for a school-aged child is probably the most important meal of the day, mainly because it might be the only full meal many kids actually eat all day."
Telling you what to feed your children is not the goal here. The objective is to understand why it is certain corporations appear to be in charge of what goes into children's bodies and what exactly it is they are feeding our children.
Corporations know parents are busy and tired. They make life easy for the time-strapped parent. But at what cost?
Lunch for a school-aged child is probably the most important meal of the day, mainly because it might be the only full meal many kids actually eat all day. From personal experience, I know that as far as time goes, breakfast is generally a rush and there isn't always time to prepare a huge, home-cooked meal.
If a child only eats cereal or a piece of toast for breakfast (and many do) then they are going to be ravenous by lunchtime. This is the best time to pack healthy foods in your child's lunch because even if something isn't their favorite, chances are they'll be hungry enough to eat it.
Dinner can be a difficult meal to eat properly at as well. This can be a chaotic time within a household and many times a family will eat frozen or fast food to save time.
This is why lunch eaten at school is quite important.
"After studying focus groups of mothers, it became clear that the main frustration moms had was a lack of time for preparing meals on busy days."
The Lunchable Is Born
Lunchables were created in 1985 by Bob Drane, Tom Baily, and Jeff James in order to help Oscar Mayer boost their bologna sales.
After studying focus groups of mothers, it became clear that the main frustration moms had was a lack of time for preparing meals on busy days.
This was especially true for working moms.
The Lunchable was packaged in the same style as a TV dinner, packed with crackers, and marketed towards feeding kids quickly, thus saving time. In 1988 Oscar Mayer merged with Kraft, who then added cheese to the mix (cheese product that is).
If you're not familiar with what a cheese product is, it's a food product made from cheese and sometimes other, unfermented, dairy by-product ingredients; plus emulsifiers, saturated vegetable oils, extra salt, food colorings, whey or sugar.
Processed cheese has a much longer shelf life, and because of its ability to be mass-produced, it comes at a lower cost to both consumers and producers.
Is The Cost Worth The Content?
A Lunchable that comes with a dessert and drink costs between $2 and $3. A Lunchable that just comes with the processed cheese, meat, and crackers can range from $1 to $1.70, depending on sales or where you shop. Not to mention, the "desserts" provided are candy bars, and the drinks provided are frequently made with GMO high fructose corn syrup.
So, if you are sending your child to school with a Lunchable 5 days a week, at the cost of approximately $2, you are basically spending $40 a month on Lunchables. And that's if you only have one child. Add another child, make it approximately $80, and so on. Does that seem reasonable considering the amount of salt and fat in most Lunchables exceeds at least half the daily limit for what an elementary aged child should be eating?
If you make your child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you'd be spending much less and adding an orange or an apple doesn't cost that much either. Using whole wheat bread for a sandwich helps give kids the whole grains they need, whereas Lunchables only provide crackers with white, refined sugar.
"It's no secret that the United States has a bad reputation for health. Per The Lancet study, the United States tops the list as the most obese country in the world."
Childhood obesity has doubled over the past 30 years in the United States and has quadrupled in adolescents. Obesity is attributed to taking in too many calories while burning only a few. Obviously, exercise is a must, but these pre-packaged lunches packed with tons of calories, fat, and salt are not helping the dire situation concerning the health of our future generations.
The amount of modified food and processed cheeses and meats children and adults are consuming is astounding. I wouldn't say it's cheap, but it is convenient. I wouldn't say that one apple, one homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some milk in a thermos are more expensive than a Lunchable with almost no nutritional value whatsoever.
The other element that's attracting kids and their parents to the processed food tray is fun. The Lunchables are more fun to eat, and I'm sure your kids come home begging for a Lunchable because "so and so" has one packed by their parents every day.
It's a trap.
Your child may have to deal with a boring, healthy lunch. There are worse problems, and they may thank you when you are older for it. I know it's hard when your child is only concerned with having what all the other kids have. Maybe they can have a Lunchable as a treat once a week or once every two weeks.
"...major corporations have convinced even the most savvy of moms that they can make their lives easier by feeding their children garbage. "
There has also been a lot of controversy over what schools in the United States are serving for lunch. Michelle Obama worked hard to get schools to offer healthier lunches and faced a huge amount of backlash for it.
Many schools in other countries offer exceptionally healthy lunches compared to the U.S. It's no secret that the United States has a bad reputation for health. Per The Lancet study, the United States tops the list as the most obese country in the world.
The risks of obesity go on and on. Everything from heart disease, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, and other ailments are attributed to the influence of obesity. If your child already has a weight problem, and they are only 7 or 8 years old, then why would you continually feed them something at lunchtime that contains 45% their daily value of fat.
In the ham and "cheddar" Lunchable that doesn't even come with a drink or dessert, the amount of fat is 18 grams. That's 9 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat and 8 more grams left over. That is a lot of fat and no fruits or vegetables at all.
"It's not about who has time and who doesn't. It's about the fact that when you have a child, you are responsible for nourishing them with foods that will help them grow and thrive. "
Convenience Over Health?
Making lunches can be a total pain when you're tired and just want to relax, especially if you have more than one child in school or you work very long hours.
What we all need to remember is that many of the problems our kids may suffer from in the long run due to lack of proper nutrition, overload of fats, calories, and sugar will far outweigh the irritation of packing a healthier, homemade lunch. Think about the doctor bills, if nothing else.
What has come out of many of these lunch debates has been yet another war between working moms and stay-at-home moms. Many working moms will say they simply don't have time and pre-packaged lunches are their daily staple. I have heard the comments myself from working moms, saying things like, "Well, I work, so I don't have time to sit around all day and make Pinterest-style lunches for my kids."
It's not about who has time and who doesn't. It's about the fact that when you have a child, you are responsible for nourishing them with foods that will help them grow and thrive.
These major corporations have convinced even the savviest of moms that they can make their lives easier by feeding their children garbage. What's worse is that some of these corporations who make this processed stuff actually try and advertise that their products are healthy, by adding synthetic vitamins to juice drinks and some sugary yogurt on the side.
Just remember, at the end of the day, who's getting rich off of your choices. In 2012 Kraft reduced the thickness of their cheese and meat in order to save 40% in profits.
Apparently, one of the founders of Lunchables, Bob Drane, won't even feed his own children his time-saving product. One of his children was allegedly quoted as saying they only eat healthy foods. That is convincing enough for me.