Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kid Cuisine

Note: Sadly, I could not find a good picture of the old school packaging featuring 90s mascots BJ and The Chef. You will have to settle for this more recent--and of course, vastly inferior--rendition. I apologize for the visual inconvenience.

As they say, there's just no accounting for taste. Particularly in children, as they usually either a) have none or b) are not voting party members in the menu-planning decision process. In either case, kids are wont to eat a variety of overprocessed food that most adults find revoltingly unappetizing at best. I don't see many people around my office brown bagging Lunchable stackables or fruit Gushers, but you can bet their children would be psyched to gain some cafeteria cred from packing them.

For kids, novelty is a major factor in the appeal of any type of food. Taste and presentation are relegated to afterthoughts when effective marketing and cutesy cartoon mascotry are in play. To a child, a flavor vaguely reminiscent of sawdust and onionskins is a small price to pay; if the cartoon penguin tells you to do it, you do it. It's that simple.

Kid Cuisine debuted in 1990 as a niche product claiming to offer quick and easy kid-friendly meals. These prepackaged frozen dinners a la Lean Cuisine featured standard children's meal fare such as macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets. In typical frozen meal fashion, Kid Cuisine consumers usually sacrificed flavor and taste for convenience. KC dinners were far from culinary masterpieces, but they were the lazy parent's and unskilled babysitter's saving grace at mealtime.

In their early days, however, ease was the primary redeeming quality of these questionable dinners. The compartmentalization of the microwave-safe trays was always sketchy if best, leading to less than savory results after heating. It was not uncommon to open the microwave door to a mysterious mishmash of food items overflowing from one pocket to the next. Even kids knew you weren't supposed to eat creamed corn on your brownie or mash green beans into your pizza. It simply isn't done.

Truthfully, the compartment crossover was not always such an issue; it's all part of the magic of each meal component tasting exactly the same. No matter what the dinner claimed to be on the outside packaging, the food always retained a taste markedly similar to the packaging it was nuked in. At the end of the day, pudding in your mac and cheese isn't so bad if it all has the same general flavor: mass-produced institutional. Yum.

To their credit, Kid Cuisines did come with a "Fun Pack," a small Cracker Jack prize-esque activity book filled with mini games or stickers. While the title "Fun Pack" may be slightly presumptuous, it did prove a popular addition to the frozen prepackaged food market. The only problem? These things come frozen. Those activity booklets were pretty chilly.

The meal's frozen nature also provided another dilemma: not all types of foods can and should be microwaved at the same level for the same amount of time. Kid Cuisine's one-size-fits-all approach meant that every item in the tray had to undergo the same degree of nukage. That meant a frozen corndog and a frozen Oreo got the same general heating treatment. Results? Major sogginess.

From a nutritional standpoint, these meals were far from well-balanced. To be fair, in the 90s the TV commercial version of a well-balanced breakfast included 2 eggs, toast, orange juice, bacon, potatoes, cereal, and milk, so maybe our portion perceptions were partially skewed. What passed Kid Cuisine quality inspector muster as side dishes would have made staunch starch enthusiasts blanch at the pure volume of complex carbohydrates per package. Even the most lenient and nutritionally ignorant of parents probably knew deep down that pasta, pudding, an Oreo, and some corn niblets does not a sound meal make.

Luckily, with the help of some lovable commercial mascots, kids will eat pretty much anything. Anthropomorphic penguin BJ and bear "The Chef" were more than eager to shove these calorie-laden celebrations of starch down our juvenile throats. I'd never considered myself endeared to BJ and The Chef until I learned they were more recently replaced with some ripoff penguin character, KC. Is nothing sacred? Who makes the food if there's no chef? Who, I ask you? It just doesn't add up.

Logic withstanding, someone (possibly replacement second-string penguin mascot KC) keeps churning out these meals. In case you were wondering, they are disgusting as ever. To save you from having to find out for yourself, here's an ad featuring KC and one of the most nutritionally questionable Kid Cuisine options yet: macaroni with squeezable cheese sauce topped off with a Fruit by the Foot knockoff. This is by no means current, but the product's downward spiral into deeper caloric jeopardy is amusing nonetheless. Enjoy.


Melanie's Randomness said...

It always looked soo good on the commercials & the lil brownie thingie it came with! I always wanted one but it had wayyy too much junk in it so my mom never bought it. hehe. Looking back I'm happy I ate real food.

coulrophobic agnostic said...

I had a couple of these...I wanted to love them for all the reasons you mentioned, but they just tasted SO terrible. And, well, some of the foodstuffs were not meant to be served boiling hot.

Kristie said...

Those looked so good on the commercial but in reality they really were terrible tasting. Great memories though. I always love stopping by your blog. :)

Ali said...

Oh my goodness, this brings me waaaaay back. If only I had known then how incredibly awful those things were for you!

Abhi said...

Definitely brings back memories of begging my parents for buying these overpriced meals from the frozen aisle. As you mentioned I remember the food spilling over in different compartments and the soggy meals.

Heather Taylor said...

I used to eat the Banquet TV dinners...if it comes with French fries, I'm on board!

Janna said...

I loved these so much... and honestly probably the fact that my mom rarely let me have them only made me want them more.

Anonymous said...

On occasion we used to buy one for my son. However then we started noticing that even HE thinks they are disgusting..he would only eat the fruit snacks or the pudding out of them. The corndogs are soggy, the tiny cheeseburgers look really disgusting and don't taste like any burger i've ever had, the pizza is like cardboard with some nasty spices in it and all the meals we've seen the last few years only come with pudding or fruit snacks, no brownies. I don't think they were EVER good for you but I think that the ones from the 90s were slightly better quality. No toys or stickers or any fun packs in the ones these days either.

Penelope Red said...

The one time I had one of these I got really sick from it. It was a corn dog one. Ew.

glammmit said...

"No matter what the dinner claimed to be on the outside packaging, the food always retained a taste markedly similar to the packaging it was nuked in." YES. And it is amazing how reading this comment allowed me to so vividly recall that precise flavor. Wow.
I had great parents. I must have eaten a few of these a week! At least they were kind enough to cut out the dessert portion before microwaving the rest, meaning no creamed corn brownie for me.

Mmmmdelicious said...
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