Saturday, 10 October 2009

Plastic food for your child's lunchbox

The UK has a problem of declining take up of school meals, in Scotland the proportion of pupils eating schools meals was down to 39 per cent earlier this year. One reason is the drive for healthier meals and snacks at school, the changing menus with the unfamiliar food means lots of pupils just go off and buy burgers and chips etc. In addition to competition from takeaway outlets which often sell greasy and overprocessed food, school meals have to contend with competition from heavily marketed products with the targeting parents for putting in their children’s school lunch boxes.

I bought this product for a child’s lunch box 4 years ago in October 2005. It is from the Dairylea Lunchables range. The packaging is all about the chance to win an adventure weekend and activity toys, and has a cartoon character, a dancing cow that looks like its got BSE. Inside the actual ‘food’, encased in multiple layers of plastic, is less colourful. There is some ‘meat’ and some sort of pitta type bread, inside which lurks some processed cheese encased in its own layer of plastic, the type of cheese that doubles up as a toy as it can be torn into strips. It came with a concession to real food, a small carton of 100% orange juice, and some strawberry flavoured yoghurt. The rules on labelling mean that the use of the term ‘strawberry flavoured’, as opposed to ‘strawberry flavour’, means that it should contain at least a little bit of real strawberry and not entirely artificial flavourings.

I am keeping the product to see what will eventually happen to it. Three years later it looked much the same, I took this photo in 2008, now in October 2009 there is little discernible difference. I wonder if it will start leaking noxious gas if the plastic biodegrades before the food-like substance contents. I might open it after keeping it for 10 years, but suspect it will look much the same in 2015.

The Lunchables products have had their marketing claims challenged. In 2002, the ‘Harvest Ham’ product in the Dairylea Lunchables range won the dubious honour of the Food Commission’s Parents’ Jury Not In My Lunchbox award for the worst food product marketed for children’s lunch boxes, listing the product’s ingredients much more prominently than the small print on the packaging. One mother’s comment summed up the product as ‘Absolutely vile, overprocessed rubbish’. The manufacturer, Kraft Foods, was hauled up by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for the Lunchables range in 2007, upholding complaints that the advert breached clauses on ‘truthfulness’ and ‘substantiation’ in its claims that the product was ‘packed with good stuff’ and banned the advertisement from being used in future campaigns.

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