Lunchables or Momables… Who’s Influencing Our Kids?

by on May 27, 2010 · 32 comments                       

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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.

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{ 26 comments }

1 jess May 27, 2010 at 9:27 pm

wow those all look amazing and delicious!!

2 Alison Moore Smith May 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Totally clever title. Now if I could just get someone to make up all these yummy lunches for me. :)
.-= Alison Moore Smith´s last blog ..Garage Doors =-.

3 Kristie May 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm

What fun lunches! I can’t stand lunchables. My son was telling me about his friend who brings them so we just talked about healthy eating habits (which he knows a lot about!). I need to get some little containers so I can add stuff to the big part of the lunchbox.

4 Shannon May 28, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Love the article, Kelly!

I so wish, at least for a week or two, that someone would make me lunches like this. Instead, I spend time making mouse wraps & cow eggs for the kids. Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair. ;o)
.-= Shannon´s last blog ..Gluten Free Bentos – a guest post =-.

5 Kelly Lester May 28, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Ha! Since when is parenthood fair? LOL!!

6 Shannon May 28, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I know, but after three years of this (officially 3 years on June 11, I just checked), I think I should get at least one lunch! ;o)
.-= Shannon´s last blog ..Gluten Free Bentos – a guest post =-.

7 Lisa @ Corporate Babysitter June 1, 2010 at 6:55 am

Terrific post/commentary. I would love to cross-post this at my blog — interested?
.-= Lisa @ Corporate Babysitter´s last blog ..Youth advocates honored for work banning candy “tobacco” products in St. Paul =-.

8 Erin June 1, 2010 at 9:39 am

Wow, beautiful lunches. Great post on lunchables. I was horrified the first time I witnessed a mother give one of those to her kids.
I wish I’d found this site when my kids were younger. It’s hard to be creative every day when you are a tired mother of young children. Good to have some help like this.

9 Kelly Lester June 1, 2010 at 9:52 am

Erin! Thanks for your comment.
You’ve got a fantastic blog and I was really impressed with your post about media marketing to kids in particular: http://www.marketingmediachildhood.com/2010/05/will-your-child-eat-onions-if-shreks.html
I shared it on Twitter with my followers. Following you now. Great to know you:)

10 Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth June 5, 2010 at 9:35 am

Kelly, I love this article, as I’ve been using these tactics to ‘sell’ healthy food and counter-market media messages for quite awhile in our nonprofit, Shaping Youth.org. (e.g. http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=1493)

We use hands-on media literacy games like “Dare to Compare: A Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition,” offering a ‘switch pitch’ and 5 pronged persuasive strategy to basically ‘fight fire with fire’ when it comes to tapping into motivations/marketing ‘cute’ etc. (for example, ‘using Shrek Against his drek: Getting Kids to Eat Green!” http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=475

Would love to cross-post w/attribution/bio etc. to get more eyeballs on it if you’re game. (I’ve already tweeted, shared, etc.) Looks like we have lots of mutuality and opps for alliances…Pleasure to virtually ‘meet’ you. (I’m @ShapingYouth on Twitter btw) Best, Amy

Founder, Exec. Dir.
http://www.ShapingYouth.org
Using the power of media for positive change
.-= Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth´s last blog ..Summer Fun & The War Play Dilemma (+Online Gaming Stats) =-.

11 Lauren @ Hobo Mama June 8, 2010 at 12:03 am

Those are too, too adorable! How much fun to open one of those up in the lunchroom and feel so loved. Of course, my thought as a mom was, “Won’t I be setting the bar a little high?” Ha ha! I can’t be that creative every day. ;)
.-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..Sunday surf: Parenting when childfree, and updates on ultrasounds and circ, sucking and squats! =-.

12 Kelly Lester June 8, 2010 at 12:50 am

Thanks for your comment Tweet Lauren! Your blog is terrific :)

13 Amy August 30, 2010 at 7:50 am

Before I found your boxes, I used to buy a couple lunchables at the beginning of the school year. I washed the containers, refilled them with whole wheat crackers, REAL cheese, and dried fruit, and tried to tape plastic wrap on the top. And then had to remind the kids not to throw them away, so we could reuse them. We called them Momables :) But they always got smashed in the backpacks, and I’m sure the plastic was full of chemicals. Your containers are MUCH sturdier, safer and nicer looking. I am so glad we found them!

14 Kelly Lester August 30, 2010 at 8:18 am

So funny! At least you tried. I just told my kids ‘NO!’ (They know I’m no fun)
Glad I’ve made it easier to take the Lunchables idea and make it healthy, easy, and affordable.

15 Ana C November 10, 2010 at 8:09 pm

the lunches are awesome.. are you using cookie cutters for all those shapes?

16 Kelly Lester November 10, 2010 at 11:34 pm

These shapes are made with cookie cutters and also I know that a lot of folks use http://www.thelunchpunch.com They have lots of fun shapes, just right for sandwiches. Lots more inspiration here: http://www.easylunchboxes.com/neat_ideas/fan_sites/index.htm

17 Qtpies7 April 28, 2011 at 7:30 am

Those lunches are quite cute! However, I think lunchables a couple of times a year are not a big deal. And neither is going to McDonalds. It isn’t shame on McDonalds, it is shame on the parents who do it too often. Obviously some parents are able to to say NO, and not go all the time, or even ever. It isn’t the company’s fault, it is the parents for not being in control of how often or where or when kids eat. Bad foods here are there are NOT the problem.
I like cheesecake. It isn’t good for me. But I am going to eat it. Eating it every day would be stupid, and my fault, not Sara Lee’s fault. I wouldn’t go bad mouthing Sara Lee because I couldn’t say no.
When people start packaging up these cute and healthy little meals, I’ll buy them. But for now, I am stuck buying lunchables on those rare occasions when we go to the zoo or something. :)
Qtpies7 is the cool author of..Let the wedding preparations begin!My Profile

18 Kelly Lester April 28, 2011 at 7:56 am

A treat or picking up something for convenience is certainly OK on occasion. I agree. LOL, I love and eat cheesecake too. The problem is, as you say, with the folks who eat stuff like that all the time and or/feed it to their kids on a regular basis. If that’s all children are given, they cannot differentiate between healthy and unhealthy food, & they’ll grow up reaching for what they know: bad-for-you, over-processed junk. While I don’t blame the food companies for people making bad choices, I do applaud the companies that strive to put truth on packaging and wholesome ingredients inside it. With all the influences that these huge companies have on our health, am I dreaming that they should aspire to offering us things that are actually good for us? Until the, my EasyLunchboxes offer a way to pack up cute and healthy meals that have your own personal choices inside.

19 Susan Semadeni April 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Great idea-and very cute lunches. I grew immediately disenchanted with a chain of indoor toddler-play facilities that states on their site: “We currently offer a variety of choices for both adults and children. We have yogurts, cheese sticks, lunchables and other tasty snacks for children. We also have pizza by the slice available.” While I’ve never seen pizza available any time I’ve been there, the prepackaged fruit cups, Uncrustables, Lunchables, and other (crap) food we encountered on our very first visit ingrained in me that we will NEVER eat there. Our first time was with several other moms and kids, and we all had the impression we could bring our own food. (What mom wants to eat a Lunchable, after all?) Plus, a few have allergies, and one’s child was still on baby food. We were actually ‘reprimanded’ for bringing our own food in, until I snapped back that some had allergies–because apparently THAT is sufficient to not have to purchase their junk food. (Maybe my child and i will be allergic to preservatives, artificial colors, and trans fat next time!)

I do have a question about the boxes, though–does the sectioned lid fit well enough that something runny–juice from the fruit, applesauce, yogurt, or a veggie dip–would not ooze into the larger container and make a sandwich soggy?

20 Kelly Lester April 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Hi Susan, Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the play place. Oy! I wouldn’t go to a play place like that either. I’m a little disheartened to read that it’s already a chain with food policies like that. Not parent friendly or good for the kids! We had a GREAT place near us go out of biz that actually DID offer really healthy options that were both good for you and adult friendly. Takes more than good food to stay in business though. The rent must have been unreal. The place was huge….. What a loss. We were so bummed when it closed.
I don’t recommend putting runny foods or liquids into the containers. Especially for kids who may not always carry them upright. I have put a few dots of ranch dressing in the bottom of a compartment with the carrots on top and it has been fine. But they are definitely not leakproof. Here’s a little more on the subject on one of my blog posts: Leak Free Lunch Box Containers http://bit.ly/bQ6mZt And more info on the FAQ’s page of our website: http://bit.ly/b3guEh

21 Hope August 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I HATE Lunchables! I don’t understand their appeal to children. The food is horrific and the containers are non-reusable. My son loves it when I use a small biscuit cutter to cut meal and cheese to the same size as a cracker and let him make his own “lunchable” with WAY less fat and preservatives. Throw in salad from the night before, fruit and juice (in a reusable thermos, of course) and off to school he goes. I consider myself a lazy parent, but seriously, how hard is it to pack a healthy lunch?!

22 Kelly Lester August 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I know! Totally agree. It’s not really that difficult to make lunch, but the packing can often be a pain, especially for more than one child. My containers and coolers definitely make it easier, but if packing a lunch is simply not on someone’s to-do list, well, I guess that’s why the packaged food is making those companies rich :(

23 DavetteB December 23, 2011 at 9:42 pm

These are so cute – even my 13yo liked the one with the elephants :o)

Nice to show that healthy doesn’t have to be yucky or boring; you could even add a bookmark or cute eraser for the ‘prize’ every now and then.
DavetteB is the cool author of..Frugal Friday – What Not to BUYMy Profile

24 Kelly Lester December 23, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I like the way you think Davette! Love the little prize idea :)

25 Krist February 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Wow these look great, very talented, I just have one negative comment and I hope you don’t take this too hard but if you gave that I love you one to your son, he’s going to get picked on in school. Sorry just had to say it

26 Anna Roberts June 24, 2014 at 1:15 pm

I completely agree with you that companies should not be able to advertise to kids in schools, especially for foods as unhealthy as Lunchables. That’s why I get so upset about how kids are targeted by McDonald’s in the same way when we all know the connection to diet-related disease. These companies have finally found a way to subvert parental authority because parents have no control over what their kids see in school. I find Mcteacher Nights, where teachers work for a night and kids go with their parents to buy the food, to be particularly upsetting because it generates so much good PR for McDonald’s but the schools barely benefit with so little money going to them relative to McDonald’s revenue from the night. Thank you for bringing this issue of advertising up! It is important for more people to know how corporations like Kraft and McDonald’s have exploited the economic times and use stingy fundraising activities in order to better their public images.

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