Lunch with Enhanced Nutrition is coming to school cafeterias across the country
By Pareja Cavillans, CNN Business
Kraft Heinz has successfully introduced ready-to-eat Lunchables into school lunch programs starting this fall, in a major new initiative. But the company had to reformulate ingredients to ensure products met federal guidelines first.
A Kraft Heinz executive announced last month that the company is preparing to deliver packaged, ready-to-eat Lunchable kids’ meals directly to students by placing them in school cafeterias.
Two new types of Lunchables (separate from Lunchables sold in grocery stores), with “improved nutrition” that meet the requirements of the National School Lunch Program, will be offered at K-12 schools nationwide, said Carlos Abrams Rivera, executive vice president of Kraft Heinz. , starting this fall.
While Abrams-Rivera, who was speaking at the Consumer Analyst Group’s annual conference in New York on Feb. 21, didn’t provide details on specific Lunchable products headed to schools, a company website appeared to showcase the new products.
On its website, Kraft Heinz Away From Home, Kraft Heinz described Lunchable products that it said were “designed for schools” and “now meet NSLP” (National School Lunch Program) guidelines. Founded in 1946, the NSLP provides a daily lunch to nearly 30 million students in public, not-for-profit, and residential childcare institutions.
Information posted on Kraftheinzawayfromhome.com describes two products — “Lunchables Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers” and “Lunchables Extra Cheesy Pizza” — as “new for the 2023-24 school year and designed for the lunchroom” but also ideal for field trips, summer school, and dinner programs One of the main selling points for schools is that school lunches do not need to be frozen, but must be kept in the refrigerator,” he says. [school] labor needs and costs”.
The Lunchable turkey and cheddar cheese option is described as a 3.5-ounce container. The document said it contains 2 ounces equivalent of MMA (meat/meat alternative), 1 ounce equivalent of grains and “meets the criteria enriched in whole grains” of the NSLP.
The Extra Cheese Pizza option comes in a 5.05-ounce container and contains 2 ounces of MMA, 2 ounces of grains, 1/8 cup of red/orange veggies and “meets the NSLP’s Whole Grain Rich Standards.”
The USDA referred CNNBusiness to Kraft Heinz for more details on the cost and nutritional content of its Lunchables for Schools. Kraft Heinz declined to provide additional details about the cost and other nutritional content, including sodium and saturated fat content.
School food nutrition guidelines are getting stricter
The idea of rolling out Lunchables in schools and potentially having schools provide them directly to students comes amid new proposed changes to school food guidelines by the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the federally subsidized school meal program.
The proposed changes aim to reduce added sugars and sodium levels in school lunches. The standards will reduce sodium limits gradually over several school years.
While school meals are paid for by local and federal funding, the standards for what goes on a children’s cafeteria tray are set by the USDA.
The agency’s mission is to ensure that any meal served at the school is nutritious and meets US Dietary Guidelines. Schools are mandated to provide students with five meal components – fruit, vegetables, protein, grains and milk – and students must take at least three (and one of them must be a fruit or vegetable) as part of their lunch.
Lauren O., an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis who studies the effectiveness of school feeding programs, said she wanted to know the sodium, saturated fat and added sugar content of the reformulated Lunchables to determine if they are a beneficial addition to school lunches.
“Research shows that over time, a high sodium intake will increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and other diseases,” Ou said. “Also, the concern is that young children who are exposed to high-sodium packaged foods early in life could develop a lifelong preference for high-sodium foods.”
Chinese Lunchable Turkey & Cheddar Cheese with Crackers (3.2 ounces) sold at Target, for example, contains 740 mg of sodium in one serving-size package. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day — the equivalent of about 1 teaspoon of table salt. For children under the age of 14, the recommended limits are even lower.
Au said the cost of Lunchables for schools interested in purchasing them is something else that could come into play. “From a cost standpoint, I would be concerned that these may be more expensive than the meals currently available and offered in the NSP,” she said.
“Kraft Heinz has been promoting it for a while now in schools and government institutions,” said Megan Maroney, campaign director for federal child nutrition programs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Maroney said she’s also interested in learning about the complete nutritional composition of the two Lunchable products to determine if they fully meet the NSLP’s current and suggested dietary guidelines.
“Also, if products are reformulated to meet NSLP guidelines, they will taste different than store-bought Lunchables due to lower sodium, saturated fat, and other requirements. This can be confusing for kids,” Maroney said.
Serving lunches in school cafeterias may be welcome in some school districts grappling with high food costs and labor shortages, said Diane Pratt Hefner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a trade group with 50,000 members representing school food service providers.
“As school feeding guidelines become more complex, we’ve seen companies leave the primary and secondary education sector,” said Pratt-Hefner. It’s good to see a company interested in selling to this segment. But I see Lunchables as one of two meal options, not that schools shy away from offering a hot meal option every day.”
Kraft Heinz is a Partner of the School Nutrition Association.