I see you:  You're busy.  Perhaps you have a family, kids, and overlapping schedules.  Maybe you're trying to avoid the fast-food merry go round yourself, so you ritualistically pack a lunch every day before you go to work.  Or maybe - gulp! - you're trying to "eat healthier".

These are some of the responses I received when I took an informal poll among my friends and co-workers when I asked "who buys Lunchables?".  You now - Lunchables, those ubiquitous sack lunch products that have been with us in pop culture since the end of the 1980's.

Before we get to the question posed in the headline to this article, first some history. It was the Oscar Mayer company that first invented the Lunchables concept in 1985; think what you want about the origins of the yellow-colored mini food trays, but they were designed to sell more of a lunch meat that had started to fall out of fashion:  bologna.

As a company that had become so synonymous with the composite lunch meat ("my bologna has a first name", anyone?), they couldn't let sales slide. So they commissioned  focus groups to help improve the companies bottom line.  Their research centered on "American mothers" , who - surprise, surprise - listed "time" as their primary concern. Oscar Meyer executives determined that pre-cut, pre-packaged lunch meats and cheese would help their situation.

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So Lunchables solved the problem that your average mom (or parent) would have when it came time to pack the daily lunch.  But they created additional problems along the way.

A quick glance at the ingredients and nutrient label of any of the varieties of Lunchables available on the store shelf will bear witness to the fact that they aren't all that healthy for you.  High fat.  High sodium.  High sugar levels.  Preservatives.  Just taking one of the Lunchables product as an example:  "a single serving of Ham and Swiss Lunchables contained 1,780 milligrams of sodium, which is 46 percent of the recommended daily allowance for an adult".

So much for "trying to eat healthier".

And then there's cost.  Your average Lunchables product sells for $1.50 to $2.50 depending on which variety you buy.  Some of the newer "Uploaded"-styles even clock in over $4.00 a piece; for a plastic tray filled with a few pieces of lunch meat, cheese, and crackers.

Steve Tanko
Steve Tanko

So let's break that down, using one of the $1.50-average Lunchables - again, the Ham and Swiss.  The package comes with six crackers, six rounds of ham lunch meat, six slices of cheese, and a cookie.  That same $1.50 would buy you an entire box of crackers;  $1.50 would get you approximately a half-pound of ham at the deli counter;  Likewise, $1.50 is about the cost of a half-pound of cheese;   And $1.50 would buy you a tray of commercially-made cookies. Depending on how you prepared it yourself, I would argue that you would do a whole lot better sourcing these food ingredients yourself and making an entire weeks worth of lunches.

These days, you'll even find a wide variety of companies that make portable serving trays - just like the kind you get in a Lunchables.  Bento boxes are the latest trend - and everyone seems to have them.

So why do people waste money on buying Lunchables? Building your own - from scratch - is (almost) just as quick, can be infinitely more nutritious (you get to pick the ingredients), and is extremely more affordable.

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I get convenience.  But really.  You only get one lunch per day.  Why not make it the best?

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