Quick Food, Good Food, Profitable Food

24sugar1-articleLarge-v3Four days a week, the boys bring lunches to school. On Fridays, they order pizza for lunch. We got into that habit years ago, because Ian's school doesn't have a proper cafeteria. The PTA moms order fast food for the kids instead. Jonah's old school had a terrible lunch program with lunch entrees that consisted entirely of carbs and cheese — mozzarella sticks or chips and cheese. 

So four nights a week, Steve makes sandwiches for himself and the boys. And he's pretty damn good at it. On Sundays, we shop for the ingredients: sliced turkey or roast beef or Virgina ham from the deli counter, a local bakery's loaf of panella with only four ingredients, lettuce, and other goodies. Later, he toasts the bread and piles the sandwiches high with lettuce, meat, cheese, peppers and whatever is in the fridge. 

Steve's sandwiches are so good that Jonah's classmates "call dibs on the lefties." Or sometimes they will steal it entirely, if he walks away for a moment. 

Over dinner, we will sometimes fantasize about operating a sandwich truck outside the local schools. We'll make a million selling Steve's Awesome Sandwiches! No. Not really. But it is fun to plan things out. 

The New York Times Magazine article on addictive junk food is a MUST read. Loved it. Loved reading about how quants revolutionized the junk food industry. And loved learning about those damn Lunchables. 

Yes, we do make homemade, nutritious meals for our kids, but we're not Nazis about it. We do let them have some junk, too. I always drag the kids to the supermarket with me and as one of their rewards for good behavior, they're allowed to pick out something special. What do they always go for? Those damn Lunchables. 

Lunchables are little chunks of highly processed bologna (not even the good stuff), cheese "food" (not real cheese), sugary drinks, and candy arranged in sweet packaging. It's pretty wretched stuff, but I do admit the packaging is awesome. I would have loved it, I know it. 

The article talks about how this idea for pre-packaged lunches came out of focus groups with working moms, who were strapped for time. Later, they tapped into the kids' desire to have control over their meals. By swallowing up other companies and working with products that were too chemical ridden to spoil, they created a billion dollar product. 

I think that kids would eat something that had much less fat, salt, and chemicals. A healthy version of a ham and cheese sandwich. It doesn't have to be kale and beans. Steve does it every night. But I don't think it would have a long shelf life. Steve's natural bread only lasts for four days before penicillin starts to form on the outside. 

Perhaps local supermarkets could package up lunch kits for parents. Instead of hunting through the whole store for bread, fruit, juice boxes and cookies, it could be all in one place. Rather than waiting for 30 minutes on the deli line, the good cold cuts could be all ready in the same area. Not the packaged Oscar Mayer crap, but good fresh stuff that was sliced that day. They could sell lunch boxes and ice packs in the same area. Maybe carrot sticks, too. Maybe grapes and apples could be washed and in baggies. 

I still think that there's a way to make nutritious foods more profitable and faster. The quants need to get on it. 

13 thoughts on “Quick Food, Good Food, Profitable Food

  1. Rather than waiting for 30 minutes on the deli line, the good cold cuts could be all ready in the same area. Not the packaged Oscar Mayer crap, but good fresh stuff that was sliced that day.
    I’d rather not do that. I wouldn’t trust that it was indeed sliced that day unless I see them slice it.

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  2. You can do a lot of this in your home. Wash and bag up grapes/carrots/sliced red peppers on the weekend so they are ready to go every day. Put them in one spot in the fridge along with the yogurt and cheese sticks. Unpackage and cut apart the individual cups of pudding/applesauce as soon as you bring them home. Put them in a box in the pantry, and put the plastic spoons in the box. Bag up a whole bunch of dried fruit, nuts, raisins, pretzels, Pringles. Yeah, you’re pretty much stuck with making sandwiches every day, but then the rest of lunch is ready to go.
    Have you seen the Bento movement/blogs/photos? On the one hand, they are visually appealing and nutritious. On the other hand, sometimes I think it’s just one more craft thing to impose on non-crafty moms.

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  3. Yes, I have seen the Bento box blogs. Some of them are stunning!
    Sure, it is possible to streamline lunches by pre-packaging the snack and the fruit ahead of time, but I think that’s too much work for some people. That’s why Lunchables exists. There has to be some middle ground between the DYI lunches and Lunchables.

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  4. We dissected fetal pigs in biology my sophomore year of high school. Since then, I’ve never been able to eat the kind of ham that comes from Oscar Mayer (with the squished together bits of different little pieces. I can still eat the regular deli ham.

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  5. I do not understand lunchables, even though we are not good eaters around here (we eat out a lot, eat junk food, and don’t cook much). But even I don’t understand lunchables.
    I do think here’s something attractive about the way they are packaged. My younger one is attracted to them, even though he won’t actually eat what’s inside. Need to think about how that could be used. We’ve done the bento thing, and I find those boxes attractive. The folks who make the disposable/washable plastic boxes (Glad?) should be making bentos, perhaps with dividers, and then we could package our own lunchables. I wonder if we did that, if the kiddo would pick them out of the fridge?

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  6. I am very intrigued by the article on the “Mediterranean diet” in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/health/mediterranean-diet-can-cut-heart-disease-study-finds.html?hpw. The original paper can be downloaded from the NEJM.
    Key points I’m excited by about the paper are 1) the diet was actually followed by the subjects — unlike the low fat diet, the control, which the subjects found very difficult to keep up. 2) the end point of stroke/heart attack/death was used, rather than the transition measure of cholesterol, weight, blood sugar (these are often used, because they are faster to track and easier to measure, but we’ve seen numerous instances where lowering cholesterol/blood sugar/etc. doesn’t have the effect we hoped on the end points).
    Also, going back to point 1, I feel like I might actually be able to do the diet (fish, olive oil, tree nuts, peanuts, legumes, sofrito, white meat instead of red, fruits, vegetables and cutting down on commercial bakery, red meat, spread fats, and soda)

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  7. I loved that article too. Best thing I read last week. Unfortunately it made me want chips.
    I have a bento-style lunchbox for my second-grade child and do sometimes cut things like Lunchables. Deconstructing the food is helpful at his age, although the other trick is things like savoury muffins. My biggest problem is that my kid brings his lunch home a lot, not because he didn’t like it (he’ll eat it on the way to daycare) but because he’s too busy socializing or it looked weird.
    It helps, as do a lot of other tricks, but the cachet of the Lunchable is to have the Lunchable. Our deal is he gets a Lunchable the last day of each term.
    I think, Laura, the reason your plan wouldn’t work as well is that you can buy 5 Lunchables at the start of the week and just dole them out. Anything fresh is automatically behind the curve, not to mention the price point ($3, here in Toronto – since good deli meat is around $2.50/100 gr, it’s going to cost more for the deli-packed lunch by a considerable amount). Also, with something fresh-sliced or made like that there will be waste, and Lunchables have a long shelf life with plenty of time to sell them off. It’s a tough one.

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  8. I’m about to get a meatball sub, which I’m assuming counts as following the Mediterranean diet.”
    I think, only if the “meatball” is fish or chicken & you eat it without bread :-).
    Laura’s illustration of the dorito made me want them.

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  9. Our high-end grocery store had packaged lunches for ~$2.00 – PB&J, apple and cookie. They ran out very early in the morning when the employees would buy them up.
    I only send lunches in the summer and make my own lunchable type items as my kids are more likely to eat finger foods.

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  10. “I think, only if the “meatball” is fish or chicken & you eat it without bread :-).”
    The “ball” portion of the meatball is also a problem.

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  11. Totally agree about the bento box crafty comment. I have a friend who spends hours at night getting her kids lunch ready for their bento presentation – she then posts pictures. Not even the time after the kids go to bed is sacred anymore – Mommy just wants to have a glass of wine, not slave over a school lunch. When I see these things, I often remind myself that we ate like total CRAP growing up (processed to all get out, always twinkies,hohos or suzy-qs around, etc., etc.), and now, I eat like a reasonably well rounded human being. Mainly good with only a little crap thrown in here and there. So maybe all this obsessing about what our kids eat doesn’t really matter all that much.

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