Prepackaged lunches make the grade with kids

Tuesday, August 25, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Grab five kids, sit them down and ask them to taste prepackaged lunches -- those nifty meals of pizza, tiny sandwiches, crackers, cheese and sometimes candy, usually found in the grocery refrigerator case -- and what do you get?

Chris Vogel, 11, of Westchester, tries a prepackaged lunch at the Lakota Family YMCA.
(Ryan Miller photo)

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Five happy kids.

We know, because our Kids Taste Team loved the prepackaged lunches.

With the help of Lakota Family YMCA in Liberty Township, we selected five children, ages 8 to 11, and asked them to grade nine types of lunches.

Averaging the grades, the taste panel gave an A+ to two lunches, an A to one lunch, a B to four lunches and a C to two lunches.

Gee, if teachers only graded this easy.

Liz Mohr, an 11-year-old resident of West Chester, gave the only F in the bunch to Tastefuls Cheese Pizza.

"I hate the sauce, cheese and the bread," Liz wrote on her grade card.

The rest of the panel was much less harsh.

Eleven-year-old Chris Vogel of West Chester called the same pizza lunch "excellent."

"Delicious! " raved Brent Robertson, 10, of West Chester, sampling Lunchables Pepperoni Pizza.

Nine-year-old Keisha Bane of Middletown called Lunchables Low-Fat Ham and Cheddar snacks "very, very excellent."

And 8-year-old Robyn Geiger of Liberty Township loved the Lunchables Cheese & Salsa Nachos, describing them as "really good."

Parents might like prepackaged lunches because they are a convenient alternative to brown-bag school lunches. They come with condiments and require no heating.

But these lunches get low grades from registered dietitians. "We give them a D," says Lauren Niemes, executive director of Cincinnati's Nutrition Council.

Ms. Niemes says prepackaged lunches are generally high in fat, saturated fat and sodium, and low in fiber.

"Parents should realize that they can easily make lunches that are more nutritious and less expensive (the prepackaged samples we tested ranged from $1.50-$2.19) using low-fat turkey and ham," she says.

If parents send their children to school with prepackaged lunches, Ms. Niemes suggests bumping up the nutrition by adding fresh fruit and carrot or celery sticks.

"Parents should also remember that, because these lunches can be high in fat and sodium," Ms. Niemes says, "they should reduce the fat and sodium in at-home meals and snacks."

Testing was organized by Lakota Family YMCA executive director John Schaller, camp director Jim Nichols and camp counselor Jen LoPiccolo.

Taste test

We asked five children, ages 8-11, to taste and grade nine unmarked prepackaged lunches on the following scale:

A: Excellent ("Mom, please buy this one!")
B: Good ("I would eat this once a week.")
C: OK ("I'd eat this if I couldn't trade for another.")
D: Nasty ("Mom, this is awful.")
F: Yuk! ("No way, would I eat this!")

For this taste test, children tasted and judged only main items (pizza, sandwiches, crackers, chips and dip). Price information is based on total weight of prepackaged lunches. Nutrition information based on one serving (one package).

Note: For children ages kindergarten through sixth grade, nutritionists recommend the following per meal: 664 calories, 22 grams or less fat, 7 grams or less saturated fat, 800 or less milligrams sodium and at least 5 grams dietary fiber.

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Cheese & Salsa Nachos
- Grade: A+.
- Contents: Tortilla chips, nacho cheese dip, salsa.
- Nutrition: 380 calories; 21 g fat; 4.5 g saturated fat; 1060 mg sodium; 3 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 38 cents per ounce.
- Comments: So good. Great! Sweeeet.

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Pepperoni Pizza
- Grade: A+.
- Contents: Three pizza crusts, pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni-flavored sausage, chocolate bar, orange juice drink.
- Nutrition: 440 calories; 16 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 830 mg sodium; 2 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 46 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Excellent. Yum, Yum. Delicious.

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Low-Fat Ham and Cheddar (snacks)
- Grade: A.
- Contents: Crackers, ham, fat-free chocolate pudding, juice drink.
- Nutrition: 380 calories; 10 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 1350 mg sodium; 1 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 38 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Crackers are crunchy and delicious. Excellent.

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Beef Tacos
- Grade: B.
- Contents: Three soft flour tacos, seasoned ground beef, cheese product, taco sauce, chocolate bar, fruit juice drink.
- Nutrition: 470 calories; 13 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 980 mg sodium; 4 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 38 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Everything is good but the meat. Meat is awful.

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Ham, Turkey and Cheese (sandwich)
- Grade: B.
- Contents: Sub roll, ham, turkey, cheddar cheese, light mayonnaise, chocolate chip cookies.
- Nutrition: 470 calories; 22 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 1510 mg sodium; 1 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 34 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Not enough cheese! Ham is best part. Not a lot of cheese.

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Pizza Dunks
- Grade: B.
- Contents: Four bread sticks, pizza sauce, cheese, chocolate bar, cherry juice drink.
- Nutrition: 500 calories; 15 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 920 mg sodium; 3 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 32 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Bread is too small. Bread is too hard. Don't like the cheese very much.

Jimmy Dean Tastefuls! Chicken and Cheese Sandwiches
- Grade: B.
- Contents: Two (premade) sandwiches, mozzarella-flavored cheese, M & M candies, tortilla chips.
- Nutrition: 520 calories; 20 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 1240 mg sodium; 4 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 25 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Bread is soft. Bread is thick. Chicken and cheese are really good.

Jimmy Dean Tastefuls! Cheese Pizza
- Grade: C.
- Contents: Cheese pizza, potato chips, peanut butter cup candy.
- Nutrition: 540 calories; 26 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 970 mg sodium; 5 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 27 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Not enough sauce. Hate the sauce, cheese and bread.

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Reduced Fat Turkey and Cheddar (snacks)
- Grade: C.
- Contents: Wheat crackers, cheddar-flavored cheese product, roast turkey, honey-Dijon sauce.
- Nutrition: 250 calories; 9 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 1540 mg sodium; 1 g dietary fiber.
- Price: 39 cents per ounce.
- Comments: Honey-Dijon sauce is the best. Love the Dijon. Crackers are the best.

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