Kids hate it when we parents prohibit the popular-with-their-friends, brand-name products they love.
So what to do about Lunchables? Their kit-like packaging is irresistible, at least to a 9-year-old. They're undeniably convenient for parents, a grab-and-go no-brainer for the daily lunch-packing problem. But with as many as 490 calories, 17 grams of fat, 940 milligrams of sodium, a sugary drink and candy (!) -- and that's for the standard meal, not the even-heftier Mega Packs -- Lunchables are not exactly a textbook lesson in child nutrition.
Kraft's Fun Fuel kits, a Lunchables variety introduced in March, are a shade better. Each features chicken or ham roll-ups or bagels, 100 percent fruit juices and squeezable yogurts, and none gets more than 30 percent of its calories from fat. But even the folks at Kraft say Lunchables are meant to be offered as "occasional treats."
Okay, so maybe we compromise on one Lunchable a week. What about the other days?
Margo Wootan, a nutritionist at the District-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, notes that what kids like best about Lunchables may not be the food itself but the fun of unpacking and stacking the individual items. With a little forethought, Mom or Dad can craft something almost as entertaining -- but also more nutritious and economical -- just before the bus arrives.
Wootan recommends cutting low-fat turkey slices into little squares; adding a few whole-wheat crackers, some cut-up fruit (or a few slices of cucumber to stack), and a carton of 1 percent or skim milk, kept cool with a freezer pack. (Skip the cheese: Wootan says kids get too much of it.) Pack the meal in one of those reusable storage containers that are divided into compartments, much like a Lunchables tray.
To mimic the bestselling Lunchables product (the one with the little make-your-own pizza), how about a small pita, a dollop of pizza sauce and a sprinkle of low-fat mozzarella? I put a single Hershey's Hugs candy in each of my kids' lunches every day -- a relatively harmless sweet that serves as a surrogate hug from Mom.
Okay, so there are tricks to meet kids' desires halfway. But the bigger question is, who's calling the shots? Your ad-driven kid? His friends' parents, who have already caved? Or you? Why are you even considering buying stuff you find objectionable?
Food for thought.
So, readers, let's hear about the battles you pick -- over food, sleep, exercise, toys, games -- and how you win them. Or at least find a compromise. The best way to reach us is via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For U.S. Mail, see the bottom of this page.
-- Jennifer Huget
The columns KidLife and MidLife, devoted to healthy handling of children and adulthood, will appear in alternating weeks in this space. Send comments, suggestions and questions to email@example.com. For U.S. Mail, see address below. No calls, please.