Lunchables are heading to school. The ready-to-eat packaged lunch has recently been approved to join the menu at school cafeterias nationwide through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
Kraft Heinz has created two meal options that comply with the program’s guidelines: the “Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stacker” and “Extra Cheesy Pizza” Lunchables. Kraft Heinz spokesperson Jenna Thornton told NBC News that they meet NSLP guidelines by having “a specialized recipe that incorporates more protein and whole grains, reduced saturated fat and sodium, and an increased serving size.”
This change in the Lunchable ingredients comes after the debut of new guidelines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce sugar and sodium in school meals. The two Lunchables are separate from those sold in grocery stores because of their “improved nutrition.” Five components must be offered to students: : fruit, vegetable, protein, grain and milk. At least three of them must be taken by students — including at least one fruit or vegetable, CNN reported.
According to ABC News, Lauren Au, an assistant professor at the University of California Davis’ Department of Nutrition who studies the effectiveness of school nutrition programs, said, “Research shows that high intakes of sodium will over time increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and other diseases.” She added, “The concern also is that young kids who are exposed to high sodium in packaged foods early in life could develop a preference for high-sodium foods throughout their lives.”
Meghan Maroney, federal child nutrition programs campaign manager at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told ABC7 that the change to healthier ingredients to fit national school lunch guidelines could change the taste compared to what’s available on store shelves and might therefore be confusing to children.
Kraft Heinz advertised the turkey and cheese Lunchable to have 2 ounces of meat/meat equivalent alternatives, the equivalent of 1 ounce of grain and “meets whole grain-rich criteria.” The cheese pizza Lunchable has 2 ounces of meat/meat equivalent alternative, 2 ounces equivalent of grain, one-eighth cup of red/orange vegetable and “meets whole grain-rich criteria” required by the federal guidelines.
Ingredients for the Turkey and Cheddar Lunchable include roasted turkey with added smoke flavor, as well as preservatives such as sodium nitrate and tertiary butylhydroquinone (a synthetic aromatic compound), while the pizza option includes sodium benzoate, a preservative that’s common in processed foods, according to NBC.
School districts that struggle with employee shortages and a high cost to prepare meals could view Lunchables as beneficial because they do not require much preparation and do not need to be kept frozen.
“As school nutrition guidelines get increasingly complex, we’ve seen companies leaving the K-12 segment,” Diane Pratt-Heavner told CNN. “It’s good to see a company interested in selling to this segment. But I would see Lunchables as one of a couple of meal options, and not that schools are getting away from offering a daily hot meal option.”
News Source: https://www.deseret.com/2023/3/14/23639532/lunchables-will-soon-be-offered-in-school-cafeterias-nationwide