New (CNN) Kraft Heinz was able to get its ready-to-eat packaged Lunchables into school cafeteria programs starting this fall, thanks to a major new initiative. But the company had to reformulate ingredients to ensure the products met federal guidelines first.
A KraftHeinz (KHC extension) The executive announced last month that the company is preparing to deliver its Lunchable children’s ready-to-eat packaged meals directly to students by placing them in school cafeterias.
Carlos Abrams-Rivera, executive vice president of Kraft Heinz, said two new varieties of Lunchables (separate from Lunchables sold in grocery stores), with “improved nutrition” that meet National School Lunch Program requirements, will be served in K- 12 schools nationwide, starting this fall.
While Abrams-Rivera, speaking at the Consumer Analyst Group’s annual conference in New York on Feb. 21, did not provide details on specific Lunchable products aimed at schools, a company website popped up to showcase the new products.
Kraft Heinz featured on its website, Kraft Heinz Away From Home, Lunchable products that it said were “built for schools” and “now meet National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines.” The NSLP, founded in 1946, provides lunch every day to nearly 30 million students in public and non-profit private schools and residential children’s 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 built for the cafeteria” but are also great for camp trips, summer school and dinner programs.A major selling point for schools is that School Lunchables do not need to be frozen, but kept refrigerated,” minimizing [school] labor needs and costs.
The packaging for the Turkey and Cheddar Lunch Option is described as a 3.5 oz container. The paper says it contains the equivalent of 2 ounces of MMA (meat/meat alternative), the equivalent of an ounce of wheat, and “meets the NSLP’s whole grain rich criteria.”
The extra cheesy pizza option comes in a 5.05 oz container and contains 2 oz MMA equivalent, 2 oz wheat equivalent, 1/8 cup red/orange vegetable and “meets the high whole grain criteria ” of the NSLP.
The USDA referred CNNBusiness to Kraft Heinz for more details on the cost and nutritional content of its School Lunchables. Kraft Heinz declined to provide further details on cost and other nutritional content, including sodium and saturated fat content.
School food nutrition guidelines become stricter
The idea of launching lunchables in schools and potentially having schools provide them directly to students comes amid proposed new changes to school food guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the school meals program federally assisted.
The proposed changes aim to reduce added sugar and sodium levels in school cafeterias. The standards would gradually reduce sodium limits over several school years.
While school meals are paid for with local and federal funding, the standards for what goes on a children’s lunch tray are set by the USDA.
The agency’s job is to make sure that every meal served at the school is nutritious and aligns with US dietary guidelines. Schools are required to offer students five meal components — fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains and milk — and students must have at least three (and one must be a fruit or vegetable) as part of their lunch.
Lauren Au, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition who studies the effectiveness of school nutrition programs, said she would like to know the sodium, saturated fat and added sugar content in reformulated lunchables to determine if they are a beneficial addition to the diet. school lunches.
“Research shows that a high sodium intake will increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and other diseases over time,” said Au. “The concern is also that children who are exposed to high sodium in packaged foods early in life may develop a lifelong preference for high-sodium foods.”
The Lunchable Turkey & Cheddar Cheese with Crackers tray (3.2 oz) sold at Target, for example, contains 740 mg of sodium in one one-pack serving. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day, which is about 1 teaspoon of table salt. For children under 14, the recommended limits are even lower.
Au said the cost of lunchables to schools interested in sourcing them is another thing that would come into play. “From a cost perspective, I would be concerned that these might be more expensive than the meals currently available and offered in the NSLP,” she said.
Meghan Maroney, campaign manager for federal child nutrition programs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said “Kraft Heinz has been promoting it to state schools and organizations for a while,” she said.
Maroney said she is also interested in knowing the full nutritional makeup of the two Lunchable products to determine if they fully meet current and proposed NSLP nutritional guidelines.
“Also, if products are reformulated to meet NSLP guidelines, they will taste different from store-sold Lunchables due to lower sodium, saturated fat and other requirements. This can be confusing for children,” Maroney said. .
But offering Lunchables in school cafeterias may be welcome in some school districts that are struggling with higher food costs and labor shortages, said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a 50,000-member trade group that represents suppliers. of school catering services.
“As school nutrition guidelines become more complex, we’ve seen companies leave the K-12 segment, Pratt-Heavner said. “It’s nice to see a company interested in selling to this segment. But I would see Lunchables as one of two mealtime options, and not that schools are moving away from offering a daily hot meal.”
Kraft Heinz is a partner of the School Nutrition Association.
— CNN’s Jen Christensen contributed to this story
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