Lunchables or Momables… Who’s Influencing Our Kids?

In my twenties, I waited tables at a couple of swanky spots, and it always amazed me that these restaurants could serve just about anything, and people would pay for it – sometimes at exorbitant prices – because it wasn’t just about the food, it was about the “presentation”. Restaurants know that just a swirl or drizzle of luminous sauce,  the right color and shape, will make you overlook the shortcomings of whatever else may be on the plate.

And so it goes with Oscar Meyer Lunchables – compact little “meals” of highly processed foods containing those “kid magnet” high levels of saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Although environmentally unfriendly, a Lunchables’ cute, compartmentalized meal tray inside a colorful box creates an appealing “presentation” to children.

When my kids were little, I too was guilty of buying this stuff. Not too often, but in my weaker moments, with said kids in tow and four more shopping aisles to go, it was simpler to appease them than to again explain why I wouldn’t rack up good mommy points feeding them non-nutritious “meals”.

Kraft, who owns Oscar Meyer Lunchables, has recently taken their “presentation” to a whole new level, with a commercial marketing their product through schools (which should be teaching kids about nutrition, rather than making them the victims of advertising).  Go to YouTube and watch the video.  Even though it’s a “contest” giving out field trips for entire classrooms, it’s really a commercial to sell Lunchables.  I admit that the commercial is well done, and the kids are very cute as they’re “punk’d” into believing that the aliens are real.

Though I was taken with the kids, I was NOT taken in. The makers of Lunchables are clearly taking advantage of these terrible economic times where funding for education is being cut at every level. “Nothing opens a child’s mind like a field trip,” says the commercial.  It’s a great tagline, and there’s a lot of truth in that. But here’s another truth – nothing opens a child’s body up to obesity like bad eating habits. Children are targeted with billions of dollars in food advertising and marketing each year, usually resulting in parents buying what their children want, rather than what their bodies need.  In a brilliant Huffington Post article entitled “How Can We Expect Our Kids to Make Healthy Choices”, Christina Pirello blasts McDonald’s for “making money off your kids’ desires”. The seducing quality of a toy offered with a high-fat, high-sugar “Happy Meal” makes anything healthy, sans toy, pale in comparison. It’s not surprising that we’re having trouble getting Susie to eat her carrots.

Often the advertising is flagrantly misleading, convincing you that something is healthy when actually, it isn’t. Lisa Cain of Snack Girl fame does a great job of exposing one of these campaigns in her piece about Tostitos corn chips, calling the company on it’s implication that eating a bag of Tostitos is actually a healthy thing to do because they’re made from vegetables or whole grains or both.

In their commercial, Kraft makes no such claims about the ingredients of Lunchables, called “a chemistry set” by The Washington Post. But by performing a “good deed”, Kraft deflects a lot of bad publicity about the nutritional value of their product and makes unwitting co-conspirators out of the schools and teachers who participate in the field trip giveaway.  And while educators are supposedly struggling to make our kids smarter, bad eating habits are actually making their students stupid.

According to the Lunchables commercial, “It doesn’t get better than this.” Um, actually, it does. Parents are becoming aware that presentation and innovation are key to kids’ healthy food habits. With an empty compartmentalized lunch container and a little imagination, you can replace Lunchables with what I like to call a “Momable”. Healthy alternatives to junk food that can be served with flair and fun – in other words, it’s all in the “presentation”.

As you can guess, I’m pretty passionate about this subject, and my recent guest blog post over at Simple Good and Tasty further explores the concept of making food “kid-friendly” – appealing to our children so they’ll get the good nutrition they need.

Below are a few examples of kid-friendly, good-for-you meals. The lunches I make for my own kids aren’t nearly as fun, so thanks to a few of my new bento-making pals who are responsible for these glorious goodies 🙂

I love you lunch

“Momable 1”:  Celery, mandarin sections, red pepper suns, a piece of ham steak with “I love you” written in cheese, yogurt, frosted mini wheats and yogurt covered raisins. Photo courtesy of  Bento Madness

walking With the Elephants lunch packed in an EasyLunchbox

“Momable 2”:  Elephant jelly sandwich on whole grain bread, shaped into mommy & baby elephants. Fruit leather shapes, some cheddar cheese elephants, peanuts. Elephant-shaped boiled egg and some strawberries and grapes with a cute elephant pick added for decoration. Photo courtesy of Another Lunch

“Momable 3”:  Tuna salad wraps on multigrain tortillas w/carrot ears and cucumber faces, fresh fruit, and homemade zucchini-carrot muffin. Photo courtesy of What’s For Lunch at Our House

“Momable 4”: Cucumber carrot flowers, organic covered raisins, a butterfly sandwich adorned with fruit leather, ripe raspberries. Photo courtesy of Another Lunch

Take dinner on the go packed in an EasyLunchbox

“Momable 5”: Smiling ham & cheese sandwich on Nature’s Own Multigrain Sandwich Rounds. A cow shaped egg, some carrot, celery & cucumber stars, and a little container with ranch dip. Blueberry bread &  fruit salad. Photo courtesy of  What’s For Lunch at Our House

►Even MORE great DIY “Lunchable” ideas HERE.

Top photo courtesy of MOMables.