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The Boston Globe reports this morning on the nutritional qualities of the new convenience foods, even going so far as to question whether or not they are an appropriate expression of a parent’s love.

The food that prompts this questioning by the Globe is the J.M. Smucker Co.’s Uncrustables -- a frozen, prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwich without crusts that you thaw and eat, and that costs about $2.49 for a package of four. More than $30 million worth of Uncrustables have been sold during the past year, according to the company, and it is now bringing out the inevitable line extension -- a grilled cheese Uncrustable that can be toasted or microwaved.

“Convenience has become a top priority for American food shoppers, particularly families with two working parents,” writes the Globe. “With family time scarce, parents are reluctant to waste it on food preparation. Whole aisles of the supermarket are devoted to foods with little or no preparation time, everything from Starkist Lunch to Go ($1.89 for a tray of tuna and crackers) to ''Heat N' Eat'' Tyson drumsticks (three for $1.99) to Oscar Mayer Lunchables (the pepperoni-flavored pizza package is described as ‘fun to eat, no need to heat'’).”

Of course, that’s just one side of the argument. Different people have varying views, depending on the product.

According to the Globe, while David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, refers to Lunchables products as “food porn” for their lack of nutritional benefit, he said that “nutritionally the Uncrustables sandwich, as long as you don't eat a lot of them, is pretty much like any other peanut butter sandwich.”

The broader philosophical question seems to be whether by embracing convenience foods, parents are somehow becoming disconnected from the mundane but critical tasks that help create relationships with their children. As one mother tells the Globe, ''If you can't get up and make your kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that's terrible.”
KC's View:
It’s not as simple as being willing and able to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. With kids, it is never that simple.

The fact is, some kids will eat the Uncrustable and not the homemade version just because it appeals to their sense of fun. (It may also appeal to their innate desire to make their parents nuts.)

And convenience is a moving target, in our mind. We have a rule in our house that we never do fast food for dinner more than once a week, though that rule can be adjusted by parental decree to adapt to time pressures created by Little League games and theatrical productions -- and even, occasionally, parental exhaustion.

The more important rule, it seems to us, is that every night we try to sit down as a family to have dinner…to talk about the day, even if just for a few minutes. That gets harder and harder as the kids get older, but it may be the most important time of the day, even if punctuated by arguments and fights and assorted other distractions.

At dinnertime, it seems to us, what matters is that we’re around the table together, not what we’re eating. The food we consume is a lot more important to us than to the kids, though hopefully they’ll remember the effort we put into meals when they become adults and parents.

We continue to believe that as critical as it is for supermarkets to try and create a sense of community with their shoppers, a central theme that they ought to develop in marketing and merchandising efforts ought to be helping families create a sense of community at home.