The Lockdown on Lunchables

The Lockdown on Lunchables

“Mommy? What’s for lunch?”
”Nitrites, Nitrates, sodium, and something that looks and sort of tastes like cheese but isn’t cheese”

Why I Chose to Write this Post

For the past 4 years I have been working with kids and families in a variety of settings. Seeing what children had in their lunches from home was eye opening at the least I wanted to bring some awareness to the way children’s meals are marketed as healthy but may not contain whole foods. No I do not have any children of my own so you are right I haven’t personally had to deal with the stress of parenting.

What do kids actually need?

Let’s look at the DRI for children that is mandated by the USDA and Years of research.

DRI for Age
(% of total intake)

1-3 years

4-8 years

9-13 years *









Added Sugar

No more than 25% of total energy true for all ages. Highly recommended to be less than 25g/day for children









*There is more information on age ranges from 14-18 however, this age group normally develops their own nutritional choices
** Of the percent fat that is recommended for children in a day it is advised that the majority of that percent be poly- or monounsaturated fat rather than saturated or trans fat.

They need Energy that actually lasts

Grains, Dairy (not overly processed), protein, complex carbs and fiber!!! The wheaties saying “keep them full keep them focused” is not a joke. So many times after lunches that are too quickly metabolized kids will crash, they get cranky, tired and emotional. By ensuring that their diet is full of nutritious foods that contain adequate protein, carbs, fat and fiber we are giving them their best chance for success during the school day.

Look at the Facts…

The label speaks for itself :

Let’s look at Nutrition facts #1. This is the label on the build your own pizza lunchables.
Positives (+):

  • +  High in Protein
  • +  The first ingredient is cooked ham.

    Negatives (-):

– More than 1000mg of Sodium: for many ages this is half of the amount of total sodium recommended per day.

– Contains trans fat and is high in Saturated fat.

– 6g of sugar combined with 1g of fiber is not going to keep them full.

Ingredient list:

How many of these ingredients can you purchase at the store by themselves?

Why does the ham need to be chopped

and formed with added sugars, cornstarch, sodium and nitrates? Why can’t they just eat the original cuts of ham?

← This is the ingredient list in a block of sharp cheddar cheese

When we look back at the ingredient list for the “cheese” in the Lunchable. It seems as if the cheese is just chemicals and by products that make it look like cheese.

Here are more examples of Lunchable labels. See for yourself, what is actually in these lunch kits?

No Judgement:

Dietitians and Health experts everywhere say it all the time “everything in moderation.” When I was a kid my sister’s and I used to only get lunchables on field trip days because, they were able to be discarded when we were done and then we did not have to carry around our lunch box all day. For some parents maybe this is the only thing that they have time to do when it comes to packing their child’s lunch. Maybe we feel that this is better than what they are serving in the cafeteria. In some cases you could be right. We still need to raise awareness of what they are putting in foods that are marketed towards children.

How can we do this differently? You can do a lot of these very simply or put your own spin on a basic recipe!

DIY Recipes:

Ham or Turkey and Cheese on Crackers.

– Nitrate free lunch meat cut into small strips
– Block of Sharp Cheddar Cheese or other preferred. – Whole wheat crackers (I like flip-side ones that are half pretzel.)
← Example of a dish that fed 30 preschoolers for snack time.

Flatbread Pizza:

  • –  Whole grain flat bread (you can turn them into mini pizza crusts with a cookie cutter).
  • –  Pizza sauce
  • –  Pepperoni, or ham or chicken.
  • –  Shredded Mozzarella.


  • –  Tortilla or flatbread (they make rectangular flatbread :))
  • –  Hummus
  • –  Lettuce
  • –  Tomato
  • –  Lunchmeat
  • –  Cheese slices
    Layer them on the tortilla, roll, cut and enjoy!

    Presentation matters at any age

    My little sister for the longest time would only eat mac and cheese if it had the character shaped noodles. Not saying that mac and cheese was the healthiest food we ate but it was stressful for my mother. She had 3 kids to feed and usually 1 box of macaroni and cheese with some grilled chicken would do just the trick. The character shaped pasta came with less in the box and was more costly than the original which meant that there was not enough macaroni for the 3 of us.

  1. Make it Look like a lunchable: Invest in a Bento box or 3. Presentation is a large part of how we all eat our foods. If the organization and separation of the foods in the lunchables is what they like the most about it, then a bento box might be your new best lunch buddy.
  2. Lunchtime Learning: The presentation of food can even be turned into a learning activity When this was served to the kids we practiced our shapes and tried to identify as many shapes as we could before we all got to build our own mini sandwich.
  3. Themes: Say your child only picked that specific lunchable because it had Paw Patrol on the box. How are we supposed to compete with that? Some easy ideas may be to get fun napkins or stickers to put in their lunches. Lunch time is very social, they like things that they can show to their friends or that feel like a surprise.

Written by: Jena Bartholomy, Dietetic Intern