Lunchbox Wars: The Cracker Lunches

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Are your kids drawn to those brightly packaged boxed lunches inconveniently displayed right at kid’s eye level in the refrigerator section of the supermarket? Mine are. They know the answer is going to be no, but they sometimes ask anyways: “Can we get one of those mom?”

Imagine my girls’ surprise yesterday when I stopped our cart right in front of the display and told them to go ahead and choose one! (Really?! No, I haven’t lost my mind… you’ll see).

What did they choose?
Surprisingly, of all the varieties available, they both chose similar lunches (on left).  They both have deli meat, processed cheese and crackers.  One has an artificial fruit juice flavored water and sour candy; the other sugar free gelatin, bottled water and two dry chocolate chip cookies. Neither have fruits or vegetables!

Why did I buy my kids a processed lunch?
I didn’t really buy them for my girls, I bought them for me – so I could remake them with better ingredients and show you how! See, I haven’t lost my mind!

Round 1 – Contents

My versions: one packed in reusable EasyLunchboxes, the other in a Lock & Lock divided bento box. Both contain smoked ham from the deli, yellow & white sharp cheddar cheese, and whole wheat crackers. I’ve also added baby carrots to my stacker remake, and replaced the candy with Annie’s Homegrown Organic Fruit Snacks - still a treat, but one with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, that’s made with fruit juice.

My version of the combo replaces the cookies & gelatin with apple slices. I used cookie cutters to cut some of the cheese in heart and star shapes, and arranged the food more pleasingly. In my cracker deli box remake I rolled the ham and skewered it on toothpicks, like party food.

Round 2 – Nutrition

The nutritional content of both packaged lunches is nearly identical, and the same is true for my remakes. My versions have twice as much fiber thanks to the addition of the carrots and apple.
All four lunches have about the same amount of protein. But the processed lunches have 25% more calories, 30% more fat and are 25% higher in sodium. They are also 30% higher in carbohydrates, probably since they have twice as much sugar as my homemade versions!

Round 3 – Taste

No contest – the homemade versions win! My 10 year old boy and 9 year old girl got the “MOMables” for lunch, and the little girls got the packaged lunches they chose. While they were excited at first, the novelty wore off once they tasted the ham (water added, flavor added) and American “cheese product”.
They tried to trade for the better versions their siblings had, but nobody was willing. My 9 year old did say she’d take the ham they didn’t want – but after taking one bite she gave it back.

The winners are the homemade “MOMables”!

Which would you rather give your kids? And which would they rather find in their lunch bag?

This test reminded me to not sacrifice taste for convenience.  You too can make your own fresh & healthy “MOMables” like these, and more, with the help of MOMables menu plans! And if you want to make them cute, that’s easy too, all you need is a cookie cutter and a little imagination.

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  1. says

    I thought I heard that any lunchmeat was bad for you though….I try to get always get Boar’s Head “All Natural” meats (made without sodium nitrite) but it’s not always available. Anyway, I hope that they meant that only the ones w/sodium nitrite are bad.

  2. Christine says

    So funny! I hate those lunchables too…but we call them “crap on a cracker!” I rarely get them; I am going to try this!

    • says

      A homemade version of any packaged lunch is going to be more nutritious, fresher and your kids won’t be hungry shortly after! Seriously, some packaged lunches are super small!

  3. Vanessa says

    I love all of these things but it doesn’t matter WHAT you give them if they WON’T EAT IT! My almost 5 year old would gladly eat the Lunchable but when I cut cheese and meat from the deli into pretty shapes, she won’t touch it. I’m about ready to trade her in for a new one. :)

    • says

      Vanessa, I used to buy store bought lunches, throw away the contents and use their container to insert my own. I bought a ‘circle’ cutter for the ham, asked the deli dept to slice it a bit thicker, and cut my own cheese in chunks (from real cheese). I then sealed the entire thing with glad’s press and seal… put it in the box and sent it to school.
      I KNOW, RIDICULOUS… RIGHT? After a while I told my daughter that i was buying the ‘insides’ in bulk and that was that.
      keep trying!!

      • says

        Hey, not ridiculous if it worked! I’ve done something similar with cereal, buying the generic value size bag and refill the name brand box.

        Don’t give up Vanessa. It can take up to 20 tries before a child will accept a food. I shudder at the amount of food I’ve thrown out because I continued to put it on their plate even though all they did was push it around and make a mess of it. But some of those things they eventually tried and now like, so i guess it was worth it!

    • says

      Maybe take her to the deli counter with you and let her pick which meats and cheeses to try? My daughter is more likely to eat something she chose – even if it’s the EXACT SAME THING I’d been buying anyway. Just a thought.
      My daughter also likes her meat frozen sometimes. Weird, I know. But since deli meat is only good for, like, 5 days after purchase, I store a few days’ worth in sandwich baggies, then put those into a freezer bag and keep it in the freezer. That way I only have a little out at a time and it lasts longer, so I can buy more when the all-natural stuff is on sale. One time I didn’t have any out, since we only had one more lunch until the weekend, so I figured I could do PBJ and not have meat aging in the fridge all weekend. Well, she wanted her ham, but it was still frozen. She loved it! She ate the whole bag. So now I package a few in single-serving sizes for when she has a hankering for frozen ham!

    • Elise says

      One of mine was the same way. I Finally mixed whole milk mozzarella with the fake (both are a bit slimy and mild) and weaned off the fake. I never could find 100 % real “American ” cheese. Is there such a thing? Good luck thinly slicing the mozzarella;)

  4. says

    Ha!! My boys were just asking for these yesterday because” all the other kids have them.” So, I (unknowingly) made them Momables today in my Easy Lunchboxes. Not as pretty as yours, but still hoping they are kid approved. Gonna try the apple slices next time. Did you dip them in anything to keep them from browning?

    • says

      I usually clean all my fruit with Eat Cleaner fruit wash. It’s all natural and made from citrus extracts and it keeps the food from browning. Many moms spray the fruit with lemon juice :) Congrats on making your own! they don’t need to be pretty, just healthy.

    • says

      Instead of lemon juice, you can slosh them around in apple juice. It;s the Vitamin C that helps, so any juice with C will work, but the apple juice doesn’t make them taste funny like the lemon juice can. I just put them in a small Tupperware-style container, splash in some apple juice, put the lid on and shake for a minute, then drain out the juice. Mine keep for a few days that way.

  5. Anne says

    I cannot stand Lunchables….fake cheese, processed meat, high sodium and sugar. I always try to “recreate” the Lunchable idea in my kids lunches with the healthier alternative. Thank you for your ideas and for being an advocate for healthy lunches. This is such a huge issue in our country. I feel like families have become so busy that buying 5 Lunchables per week per child is easier and quicker then packing them healthy lunches. Teaching our children’s taste buds to like the heathy stuff is one of the best gifts we can give them. I have a 5 year old who still thinks yogurt is ice cream and raisins are gummies :) Thanks again…love your site.

    • says

      I agree with Laura. The EasyLunchboxes are more versatile. I can use muffin cups in the EasyLunchboxes to make sections like the Lock & Lock if I want to. There is no room for both a sandwich and a side in the Lock & Lock, it’s more useful for small portions of small things.

  6. says

    My kids used to beg for these too! I tried to make my own version of the pizza lunchable the other day, but I over baked my pizza dough and both kids had trouble biting into it! They really liked the concept though and suggested that we use sandwich thins next time. Oh well… live and learn, right?

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