Lunchables Could Be Heading to a School Cafeteria Near You—Here’s What Nutritionists Have to Say

Kraft Heinz

Lunchables, the ready-to-eat meal kit beloved by generations, will soon be part of school lunch programs across the country, CNN reports. But the offerings won’t be your pepperoni pizza or nachos cheese variety. Kraft Heinz, the makers of the pre-packaged meals, have made some changes to the ingredients in order to meet federal nutrition guidelines.

Starting this fall, the new-and-improved Lunchables will be available nationwide for school administrators to offer to students either for purchase in the lunchroom (the company has not disclosed what the cost will be) or for free through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

Executive vice president Carlos Abrams-Rivera told CNN that Lunchables will have “improved nutrition” that meets NSLP’s standards to be served to all grades K-12 for the the 2023-2024 school year.

While the company has not released any more information about the meals, the company’s website Kraft Heinz Away From Home appears to show two new products that are “built for schools” and “now meet NSLP” guidelines: the turkey and cheddar cheese cracker kit and the extra cheesy pizza meal. 

But what do nutritionists think about the new Lunchables rollout?

Dr. Amy Lee, a medical nutrition specialist and head of nutrition at Nucific, tells us that the new Lunchables are an improvement from other varieties on the market: “What I'm seeing is that the package size has changed (being bigger) and they are now focusing on [incorporating] more grain (to meet requirement) into their products with reduced saturated fat and sodium.”

Grocery store Lunchables are packed with sodium and saturated fats, and do not have any significant proteins, according to Lee. But just because the school variety has an improved nutritional profile doesn’t mean the nutritionist necessarily approves of the new initiative.

“It’s great that this national brand is more aware of the fact that these convenient foods lack nutrients in the first place,’’ she says. “They are now working to provide a ‘better’ option.  But personally, the spend comes down to the prepackaged convenience of having a grab and go. One can argue that it can be even more cost effective if you bought a specific cracker with more fiber and put in your own fresh vegetables and lean protein.”

Rachel Rothman, a pediatric dietitian who specializes in picky eaters, told Business Insider that she doesn’t want to demonize a particular food or shame parents for what they choose to feed their kids, but that she is not convinced that Lunchables in schools is good for children's health. One concern she has is that while the school versions may be healthier than their grocery store predecessors, Lunchables’ colorful, fun packaging could spark brand recognition among kids, “hooking” them in as young consumers and thereby making them more likely to want the less healthy versions at the grocery store.

Rothman does point out one benefit of the new Lunchables in schools, however—the DIY approach that allows kids to stack crackers and build their own pizzas could help picky eaters. “As a pediatric dietitian that works with kids on the more selective side, that idea of autonomy, of making it yourself is an amazing idea,” she told the publication.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...