When you were younger, Lunchables were always the food that everyone wanted to trade their food for. As part of a new government initiative, everyone will be able to have ready-to-eat packaged Lunchables for their school lunch programs starting in the fall.
Kraft Heinz announced in February 2023 that the company is preparing to deliver its packaged ready-to-eat Lunchable kids meals directly to students by putting them in school cafeterias. Before doing so, the company had to reformulate the ingredients to ensure the products met federal guidelines for what can be served to children.
Carlos Abrams-Rivera, an executive vice president with Kraft Heinz, said two new varieties of Lunchables — different from Lunchables sold in grocery stores — with “improved nutrition” that comply with the National School Lunch program requirements, will be served in K-12 schools nationwide, starting in Fall 2023.
Kraft Heinz described that these new Lunchable products are “built for schools” and “now meet NSLP” (National School Lunch Program) guidelines. Since the 1940s, NSLP has been providing lunch daily to nearly 30 million students in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions.
“Lunchables Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers” and “Lunchables Extra Cheesy Pizza” are new for the 2023-24 school year and built for the lunchroom “but are also great for field trips, summer school and dinner programs.”
The idea to roll out Lunchables in schools and have schools provide them directly to students comes amidst new proposed changes to school food guidelines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the federally assisted school meal program.
The proposed changes are aimed to reduce added sugars and sodium levels in school-provided lunches. The standards would reduce sodium limits gradually over several school years and while school meals are paid for by local and federal funding, the standards for what kids can eat are set by the USDA.
“Research shows that high intakes of sodium will over time increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and other diseases,” said Lauren Au, assistant professor at UC Davis’ Department of Nutrition. “The concern also is that young kids who are exposed to high sodium in packaged foods early in life could develop a preference for high sodium foods throughout their lives.”
While there are certainly concerns, offering Lunchables in school cafeterias is also being seen as a welcome in some school districts that are struggling with higher food costs and labor shortages.
“As school nutrition guidelines get increasingly complex, we’ve seen companies leaving the K-12 segment, Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association, said. “It’s good to see a company interested in selling to this segment. But I would see Lunchables as one of a couple of meal options, and not that schools are getting away from offering a daily hot meal option.”