- Everyone’s favorite pre-packaged meal pack is coming to school cafeterias this year.
- Two types of lunchables will soon be part of school lunch programs, a Kraft Heinz spokesman said.
- However, a child nutritionist told Insider that the downsides to school lunchables may outweigh the benefits.
Lunchables — the American brand of food for cool kids with wealthy parents and the staple of field trips for years — are becoming commonplace in school cafeterias across the country.
The do-it-yourself meal kit, loved by generations of children, will soon be part of the school lunch program, a Kraft Heinz spokesperson confirmed to Insider.
Freight Waves was the first to announce the next big step for lunchables, which have been sold in grocery stores since 1988. Kraft Heinz’s product is the first of its kind to be approved under the National School Lunch Program.
School administrators can currently purchase two “best-selling” lunchables specifically tailored to meet federal nutritional standards ahead of the 2023-2024 school year, according to a statement from Kraft Heinz.
The company produces 39 different Lunchables grocery store meals, including hot dogs, nachos and a variety of meat and cheese crackers. Each kit usually includes a main meal, a small dessert like a candy bar, and a drink.
But kids who grab a lunchable in their school cafeteria don’t have nearly as much variety. Students have their choice of the turkey and cheddar cheese cracker kit and the extra cheesy pizza meal.
The nutritional makeup of lunchables served in schools differs from those served in grocery stores to meet the nutritional guidelines of the Healthy Hunger Free Children Act of 2010, which requires foods served in public schools meet certain health standards.
Kraft Heinz has yet to release specific nutritional information about the new lunchables, but said the products are made with a “specialized” recipe that includes more protein and whole grains, offers larger serving sizes, and reduces sodium and fat.
The lunchables will be available for purchase in cafeterias and as part of the free school lunch program, a Kraft Heinz spokesman said. The company did not say the individual price per lunchable or the cost to the schools.
A Kraft Heinz rep didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s question about whether the meals would be state-subsidized. A spokesman for the School Nutrition Association confirmed that schools receive federal funding for serving meals under the free or reimbursable lunch program under the National School Lunch Program.
The USDA, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on contract details.
While kids might be excited at the prospect of eating a lunchable every day, a nutritionist told Insider she has some concerns.
Rachel Rothman, a San Diego-based pediatric nutritionist who specializes in picky eaters, said she never wants to demonize any particular food or shame parents for feeding their children, but she’s not convinced that lunchables’ move into Schools good for children is health.
“They said they make them more nutritious. It makes me think there’s something wrong with what lunchables are right now, that their diet isn’t up to par,” Rothman told Insider.
While the school versions may have healthier nutritional information than their grocery-store predecessors, Rothman said the colorful, fun packaging of lunchables could inspire brand awareness among children and easily “capture” young consumers, making them more likely to focus on the less-healthy versions at the grocery store.
According to Rothman, standard lunchables are high in sodium, contain no fresh components like fruits or vegetables, and consist of a prepared cheese product as opposed to real cheese — all aspects that leave a lot to be desired in terms of nutrition.
According to Kraft Heinz, Lunchables is currently testing the concept of adding fruit to the school versions for later this year, and the company plans to continue to focus on reducing sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
But it’s not all bad news for lunchables lovers. Rothman said the product’s “do-it-yourself” approach, which allows kids to stack their own cracker sandwiches and make their own mini-pizzas, could help encourage picky eaters to opt for the interest in mealtime.
“As a pediatric nutritionist working with children on the more selective side, this idea of autonomy to do it yourself is an amazing idea,” she said.
A supply chain solution
According to Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, school-approved lunchables could also be a godsend for districts across the country mass meals due to retailers’ growing disinterest in stocking products they can’t also sell in grocery stores.
So companies that choose to partner with K-12 schools are doing a “vital service,” she told Insider.
“As much as anyone would love to be able to cook all by themselves in school canteens, this is far from being a reality for most schools across the country,” Pratt-Heavner said. “There just isn’t the equipment, the manpower, the facilities to accommodate that level of home cooking.”
And while brand awareness is an issue for some, Pratt-Heavner said the School Nutrition Association often hears from parents saying so want to see that the same brands they buy at the grocery store are included in school lunch programs for consistency.
Studies have shown that, thanks to federal regulations, American children get their healthiest meals at school. Any company willing to adapt their product and play with the USDA is contributing, she said.
The Lunchables blessing comes amid new proposed changes to federal school feeding guidelines that would make the requirements even stricter, targeting added sugar and sodium levels.