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Oscar Mayer’s Portable Protein Packs: Lunchables for Lamebrains

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | July 1, 2014

jon_lovitz-devil-snl-46Any parent with an inkling of nutrition knows that Lunchables are the spawn of Satan. For those of you who haven’t been in a supermarket in the last twenty years (lucky you), Kraft Lunchables are highly-processed kid’s meals put into highly-processed plastic packaging that divides each “food” item into its own little section, like a mini TV dinner.

Lunchables are everywhere. And they’re “cool”. And other kids bring them to school. And they’re filled with crap. And amongst the processed deli meat, white flour crackers, and BGH-rich, also-processed cheese, they usually contain even crappier crap like Capri Sun or Oreos, which figure prominently on the packaging.

So, basically, Lunchables are crack for kids, including my daughter. They also guarantee I’ll need to issue several rounds of “no” every time we hit Vons. (Normally, I’d avoid the processed meat aisle entirely, but the Lunchables are cunningly situated across from the yogurt.)

ProductPackOrangeKraft is owned by Philip Morris, who are frequently under scrutiny for marketing cigarettes to kids. So there’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that Kraft recently rejiggered their little  bento boxes from hell to appeal to grown-ups. Introducing P3 Portable Protein Packs. Or, as I call them, Lunchables for Paleos. From the P3 website:

“Before there were powders, bars, and goos, there was meat, cheese, and nuts. Introducing the P3 Portable Protein Pack. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even Chemistry 101. It’s just 13 grams of protein from food, proven effective by thousands of years of human existence.”

Just a minor point: if you research the plastic that P3 containers are made of, you’ll see it’s pretty much entirely “rocket science”, but I’m splitting hairs. Beyond that, the “thousands of years claim” is silly. Technically, yes, processed meat has been around for thousands of years given Roman statesman Cato the Elder wrote about ham way back in 160 BC. But certainly not the reconfigured animal matter that Kraft passes off as food. And Cato probably didn’t have the Internet, so he wasn’t able to check out the World Cancer Research Fund’s website, which plainly states, “When meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) can be formed. These substances can damage cells in the body, leading to the development of cancer.”

Regarding the cheese and nuts, I could quibble about timelines for the invention of pasteurization and dry roasting (both which kill nutrients) but more importantly, those are terrible protein sources. That is to say, sure, they have protein in them, but they’re mostly fat! Here’s the label for the chicken breast P3.

NutrProd3

So that 14g (48 calories) of protein is swell, but the 11g (90 calories) of fat means these things would have been better called L3s for “Lipid Lunch Lockers.” I have no problem with fat, but give me avocados, raw nuts, or olive oil any day.

When P3s came out in March, Fast Company summed up the situation nicely:

Lunchables’ raison d’etre is to give Oscar Mayer a way to offload more pre-processed cheese and meat ends. This was the very reason the Lunchables brand was created back in 1985. And the problem with meat and cheese is that it’s not very healthy. In fact, in 1997, a single ham and swiss Lunchables was found to contain 1,780 milligrams of salt, half an adult’s recommended intake of sodium.

How do you package what is, in essence, Grade D cheese and meat ends to a health-conscience audience, then? You deftly sidestep the health issue entirely by marketing them not as snack boxes but as energy packs. And why not? If adults will drink something as sickening as Five Hour Energy Drink under the promise that it will make them more energetic, why not gobble down ham, peanuts, and cheese instead?

If you’re looking for a protein snack and you don’t mind some fat, here’s a healthier and cheaper option: two hardboiled eggs. This snack matches the macronutrient profile of a P3 (roughly), only without the sodium, excessive processing, and plastic packaging. Or just take a handful of raw nuts with you. Or better still, eat an apple. You’re probably eating too much protein anyway. Furthermore, there’s no law requiring you eat animal protein with every snack and meal. In fact, there’s plenty of research out there suggesting you shouldn’t.

I know, I know. Little Timmy’s parents let him eat P3s. They also let him stay up until, like, 10pm on school nights. But Little Timmy also has an increased chance of getting cancer and heart disease, so just pipe down and finish your homework.

At least that’s what I tell my daughter. I’m assuming it’ll work for you too.

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