Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Lunchables" Should Carry a Health Warning

I'm working on a book about food shopping, and that is taking me to parts of the supermarket I usually ignore. In particular, I focused on a section of the meat case set aside specifically for Oscar Mayer's kid-targeted "Lunchables."

These supposedly all-in-one lunches look cheap: only $2.99.

But after I read the labels and had a look at what was inside, I saw that these are actually expensive, high-profit combos whose ingredients are worth no more than $1.50. Plus, they are so empty of good nutrition and full of fat and sugar that they should carry a health alert to warn parents off.

Something like: Warning: Lunchables may make your children fat and add to their risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Judge for yourself. "Cracker Snackers, Bologna & American," consists of:
  • 6 Ritz crackers
  • 1.5 oz. processed American cheese
  • 1.5 oz. bologna
  • 1 "fun-size" Butterfinger--the size you give away at Halloween
  • a 6 oz. Capri Sun "Flavored Water Beverage"
This tiny lunch will leave almost any child hungry an hour later while jolting their body with 23 grams, or nearly 6 teaspoons, of sugar. (1 tsp. sugar = 4 grams)

Overall, there are 410 calories in that "lunch" because of the unconscionably high amount of fat and sugar it contains. Everything in the package except the cheese is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. The Capri Sun also contains the artificial sweetener, sucralose, just in case it wasn't already sweet enough. (The taste made me gag.)

The total fat content is 20 grams, 9 of them saturated, no surprise since these "foods" contain unhealthy oils including cottonseed and hydrogenated palm kernel oil. There's even half a gram of trans fat.

An adult eating this will take in 35% of their total recommended daily intake of salt. For a child, depending on age, it could be an even higher percentage, but the standard nutrition label is based only on an adult eating 2,000 calories a day.

Kraft, which owns Oscar Mayer, fully expects that kids will be eating this "lunch." The company shamelessly promotes it to kids by putting it in a box whose graphics tie into the x-box game, Banjo-Kazooie, and a chance to win a Banjo Bash party.

The only good thing kids will get out of this combo is 13 grams of protein, usually the one nutrient Americans never lack.

Dietary fiber? None. And if you recognize most of the names in the ingredients list you must be a chemist.

Parents, beware. The apparent convenience of a "Lunchable" carries an invisible price: your child's health.

I'll report soon on what Kraft has to say about this product.

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