Are any premade lunches worth buying?

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Sept. 14 2006 7:45 AM

Out to Lunch

Are any of these premade meals worth buying?

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Our nutrition panel, however, saw some serious problems with this meal. While the peanut butter contained no corn syrup, the bread and jelly did. And both panelists were concerned with the amount of preservatives. (A recent New York Times Magazine story about school lunches hair raisingly notes that chef Ann Cooper, who is currently overhauling the Berkeley public school-lunch program, keeps an Uncrustable on her desk, where "it looked exactly the same months later.")

Kraft To Go!

Kraft To Go! Contents: Triscuit crackers, colby-jack cheese Look/Convenience GPA: 2.80 Taste GPA: 2.41 Nutrition GPA: 2.40 Weighted GPA: 2.48
Grade: C+
The simplest lunch proved by far the most popular with the nutrition panel. The whole-wheat Triscuits, with no hydrogenated oils or added sugar, were singled out for praise (though Joyce noted that it wouldn't kill Kraft to use reduced-salt crackers). And though it was high in fat, the meal contained real cheese, not a processed cheese product.

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The kids declared the smallish serving of cheese and crackers "not enough" for lunch—"Maybe if you add a hot dog?" Simon said hopefully. But for the parents, this meal's size—and its lack of sugary drink and dessert—made this one of the few they would consider purchasing, noting that Kraft To Go! would serve as a nice component to lunch. Add some fresh fruit and veggies, maybe some low-fat yogurt, and Kraft To Go! is part of a healthy meal.

THE VERDICT

Given the poor scores all of these lunches received, are any suitable in a pinch? Yes, said our experts, if you use the healthiest of them as one piece of a nutritious lunch. Abby also noted that it's valuable to remember that these products represent one meal in a lifetime of eating. It's much more productive to build long-term healthy eating habits in kids than it is to obsess about one meal.

As for me, my daughter isn't school-age yet, but when she is, I plan to pack perfectly organic, locally grown, nutritionally balanced lunches for her every day. Don't be surprised, though, if I keep a box of Uncrustables buried deep in the freezer—for emergency use only, of course.