WiseApple lunch

Once upon a time, this thing called Lunchables was marketed to busy parents as a less time-consuming way of sending their kids to school with a packed lunch. But even in the 1990s, the convenience factor didn’t keep Oscar Mayer/Kraft from coming under fire for the high saturated fat and sodium in its “meals.”

Processed bologna and cheese may set the bar pretty low in terms of how to improve the lunch kit, but we’ve come a remarkably long way when it comes to convenient-yet-healthy lunchbox options for busy parents. There are not only more options, most of them arrive via delivery, either to your doorstep or your child’s school.

Chicago-based Wise Apple is one such company making this possible, through its subscription service that delivers pre-packaged lunch kits to your door.

The process is similar to most subscription-based meal services: head to the company’s site to set a delivery schedule and the number of meals wanted with each drop-off. You can select meals from the ten menu options available, which change from week to week. There’s also the option to “build your own.”

All the kits offer a main course— vegetarian-friendly or with meat—along with some fruit or vegetable and a smallish desert. And while there is a ham and cheese option, it looks a lot more appetizing than what we had in the ’90s, and there are plenty of other choices to opt for instead: the Veggie Potstickers pack, BYO Taco, and Let’s Kick It Chicken Salad are all menu items this week.

The company claims its kits have a number of benefits: dietitian-approved meals, real ingredients, and the company’s ability to accommodate different types of diets as well as allergies. Price-wise, it’s steeper than the average cost of lunch provided by a public school ($6.50–$6.99 vs. around $2.00 for an elementary school lunch), but still cheaper than that salad you took back to the office at your own lunch break.

Price aside, Wise Apple is definitely growing. In August 2017, the company announced a $3.6 million seed round led by Pritzker Group Venture Capital and Levy Family Partners. Part of that money goes towards expanding the company’s reach throughout the Midwest. Provided growth continues, Wise Apple will probably expand to other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, in Boston, parents get a similar service with Red Apple. Choose your lunches for each week, including fruit, veggies, and a treat. You can add a drink and snack for a little extra. From there, you simply set a delivery schedule and wait for the kits to show up at your home. Red Apple will also deliver to certain schools in the Boston area.

One cool thing about this service is that you can choose the portion size of a meal in addition to setting dietary preferences and restrictions. Price is determined by portion, with $6.00 per meal for the Mini size up to $9.00 for a Large meal. Certain menu items, like the turkey & cheddar sandwich or bowl of pasta, are available year round. Other items change seasonally.

Red Apple donates a snack pack to a child in need for every lunch ordered.

And from red apples to red rabbits: NYC’s Harlem-based Red Rabbit dishes up over 20,000 meals per day to schools in throughout the city. And instead of parents being the customers, the company partners directly with locals schools, daycares, and summer camps in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and The Bronx.

Food is made from scratch, usually sourced locally, and delivered straight to the schools. Those students who qualify for the National School Lunch Program eat for free or for little cost, depending on how they qualify. Schools can also purchase breakfast and snacks.

Red Rabbit initially tried selling meals to private schools but pivoted in 2011 to sell low-cost, nutritious food to public programs. That keeps the cost of a meal low (under $3), and are CACFP compliant.

Smart Lunches also partners with schools, daycares, and summer camps, though parents are the ones to choose the meals.

Order meals online by setting a schedule and choosing menu items. Each morning, meals are prepared in close proximity to the child’s school then delivered. There’s no minimum requirement, meaning parents can order meals for the entire week or only certain days.

Meals cater to dietary restrictions and allergies, and, like other programs, offers healthy meals like wraps and salads. Meals cost between $6–$7 for each child, with 1–2 percent of each meal going back to the school.

Smart Lunches raised $6.3 million in November 2017, bringing its total funding to $13.3 million. Currently, the company serves Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Princeton, NJ, the DC Metro area, Atlanta, New York, and southern Connecticut.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of other services specific to school lunches that serve all manner of demographics. The meal kit industry as a whole may be in a bit of an awkward adolescent stage right now, but this is one area of it that doesn’t seem broken, which is good news for those parents looking to put the days of the dreaded Lunchables behind us.

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