Are there prepared lunches comparable to Oscar Mayer “Lunchables”

Are there prepared lunches comparable to Oscar Mayer “Lunchables” that are healthier and more environmentally friendly?

—Carla Bahun, Marietta, GA

Oscar Mayer’s Lunchables are a hit with youngsters because of their bright packaging and fun-to-eat snacks. However, like much of the junk food marketed to children today, behind those colorful boxes and tasty treats lies a spectrum of potential health disasters. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) offers 10 tips in creating a nutritional lunch, and one of them is “Don’t send Lunchables,” because the snacks derive “two-thirds of their calories from fat and sugar.”

CSPI also includes Lunchables among their list of the “Top 10 Foods to Avoid” because, “It would be hard to invent a worse food than these combos of heavily processed meat, artery-clogging cheese and mostly-white-flour crackers. The regular (non-lowfat) line averages 5 1/2 teaspoons of fat (that’s 60 percent of calories) and 1,734 milligrams of sodium.”

Moreover, Lunchables” form of attractive packaging is environmentally unfriendly. It consists of a plastic tray cut into various compartments, which is then sealed with a transparent and flexible film. This tray is then placed in an outer cardboard box. All this makes it very difficult to recycle, so much so that the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) gave Lunchables a “Lifetime Waste Maker Achievement Award” in 1999

Currently, as there are not many known alternatives to such prepared foods, CSPI suggests packing one’s own lunch and snacks, which would be more environmentally friendly and far healthier for your children. If your kids insist on Lunchable-style meals, a simple alternative would be to whip up your own collection of healthy, low-fat snack replacements. In addition, CSPI offers tips on preparing a healthy lunch, such as leaving out the cheese altogether (or using low fat of fat-free cheese), adding vegetables to sandwiches, using low-fat crackers, using whole-grain bread instead of white bread, including fruit or juice (100% juice only), and using one percent or fat-free milk.

CONTACT: Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), (202) 332-9110, www.cspinet.org; Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), 617-292-4800, www.masspirg.org.