The Untold Truth Of Kid Cuisine

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In 1954, Gilbert C. and W. Clarke Swanson revolutionized the possibilities of mealtimes by creating the world's first frozen meals, Swanson's TV Dinners (via How Stuff Works). Though frozen foods had been sold for decades prior, never had the public been able to microwave an entire meal. In its first year, Swanson sold over 10 million frozen dinners, according to Mortal Journey, making food quicker and easier to make than ever before.

About 40 years later, some other food industry employees in decision-making positions decided that frozen meals shouldn't be reserved for adults. Instead, children needed their own version, and one replete with shaped chicken nuggets and sprinkled brownies. And thus Kid Cuisine was born.

Okay, we're not sure that Kid Cuisine's inception went down exactly like that, but since the 1990s, we've had these frozen meals for kids at our disposal, and if you grew up in the '90s, '00s, or '10s, you might have had one a time or two. So if you've ever wondered what else there is to know about this beloved brand, you've come to the right place. This is the untold truth of Kid Cuisine.

Early days

Is Kid Cuisine the first thing you ever remember cooking for yourself? If you're a millennial or a Zoomer, it may well be, at least if you count "sticking something in the microwave" as a form of cooking. Well, microwaving is a pretty major milestone when it comes to learning to feed yourself, and it's a skill that will stick with you for the rest of your life — even when you've long since graduated to more sophisticated fare such as Lean Cuisine.

Kid Cuisine, which debuted in 1990, wasn't the first line of frozen meals targeted toward latchkey kids. Eat This, Not That! makes the claim that Libbyland Dinners were the first line of kid-friendly TV dinners, and they came out all the way back in 1971. Still, those only lasted for a short five years (any Gen-X kids remember eating these?), while Kid Cuisine is entering its 30th year, so they must be doing something right.

Kid Cuisine is – or isn't – more nutritious than you'd think

Nobody's going to mistake Kid Cuisine for health food, and Eat This, Not That! mentions that there are more health-conscious children's frozen food options available such as Yummy Spoonfuls and Kidfresh. Still, you could do a lot worse when it comes to feeding your kids (or yourself, if you're still a sucker for paint-your-own mini pizzas). As Kid Cuisine's website points out, many of their meals feature "full servings of vegetables." Most of which are corn, yeah, and the rest of which appear to be tater tots, but still, that's more variety than you get in a plateful of pizza rolls.

An NBC News article called out one Kid Cuisine meal as the worst kids' packaged lunch in America (though it's unclear as to why they designated it as lunch instead of dinner). The All-American Fried Chicken, they said, came in at 470 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 710 milligrams of sodium. As an alternative, they suggested the Constructor Beef Patty Sandwich with 350 calories, 9 grams fat, and 480 milligrams of sodium. While both of those items appear to be discontinued, it seems like the worst of the current lineup would be the Mini Corn Dogs, with 490 calories, 17 grams of fat, and 780 milligrams of sodium, while the best of the bunch might be the Spaghetti with Mini Meatballs, coming in at 400 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 530 milligrams of sodium.

Yes, it's still in business

For many people, Kid Cuisine is nothing more than a bygone meal of their childhood, so it's understandable if you wonder if it's still in business. To answer your question: Yes, it is.

Kid Cuisine was once a frozen food staple for many families and children in the United States. Either you ate it religiously, or you saw kids eating it in commercials, wondered what it tasted like, and begged your parents to buy it for you. At one time, Kid Cuisine sold loads of products, including Rock'n Roll Taco Roll Ups (via Review the World) and Pizza Painter Cheese Pizza (via GreenChoice) which was advertised as a pizza on which you could paint sauce. This brand capitalized on what it thought kids want to do during their meal times, which happens to be exactly what parents don't want them to do during their meal times: play with their food.

Nowadays Kid Cuisine only serves three separate meals: All Star Nuggets, Popcorn Chicken, and Mini Corn Dogs, all of which come with a side of corn, brownie, and either french fries or macaroni and cheese.

There have been multiple mascots

For those of you who have vivid memories of Kid Cuisine, you'll remember its penguin mascot. And if you have a really good memory, you might even recall that Kid Cuisine has had multiple mascots over its lifetime.

At one time, Kid Cuisine had two mascots: a polar bear named The Chef and a penguin named BJ. The team didn't survive, though, and Kid Cuisine replaced the duo with a singular mascot — an updated version of its penguin. Kid Cuisine switched from a penguin with a backward hat and a skateboard to one that looks a little more computer-animated and foregoes clothing. This penguin goes by KC, which is short for Kid Cuisine.

KC has been the mascot for years now, and he describes himself as "playful" and "curious," which he attributes to wearing many hats. KC is a fun-loving penguin who doesn't "like for the fun to stop — even at mealtime," he tells us on Kid Cuisine's website and adds that it's important for him to keep the fun "going by giving kids their favorite foods in real meals that are still really fun."

Kid Cuisine has been used in studies on marketing

Marketing is important. It's so important that legions of studies have been conducted and books have been written on the practice. Kid Cuisine must know a thing or two about marketing because it's been featured in the book "Marketing to the New Super Consumer: Mom & Kid." This book, published in 2005, was written by Timothy Coffey, David Siegel, and Gregory Livingston, and it aims to inform readers about how marketing affects mothers buying products for their children. One of those products is Kid Cuisine.

Further proof that Kid Cuisine was once a marketing model? It was featured in another marketing book released a year later, "Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?" which explored whether marketing food specifically to children is harming or helping the United States. Other foods mentioned in the book were kid favorites Pop-Tarts and Danimals, both of which have long histories of catering advertisements to their major customer base: children.

Its parent company is familiar with making frozen food

We all know by now that a select few parent companies own nearly every brand in circulation, including food (via Good). Kellogg's owns Keebler and Kashi. Coca-Cola owns Dasani and Minute Maid. ConAgra owns Kid Cuisine.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. ConAgra knows what it's doing regarding frozen food, which is positive considering Kid Cuisine is a frozen food brand. ConAgra is also responsible for Healthy Choice, Marie Callender's, and Birds Eye, all of which are known for their frozen foods, whether pot pies or bags of vegetables. Some of ConAgra's other brands that don't sell frozen foods include Vlasic, boom Chicka pop, Orville Redenbacher's, and Pam, among others.

The CEO of ConAgra, Sean Connolly, has a long history of working for food brands, according to his website biography. But, judging by the success of ConAgra's multiple subsidiaries, the man must know what he's doing.

People have strong opinions about its packaging

We all have strong opinions about something; for some of us, it's Kid Cuisine's packaging. For years the famous frozen food brand packaged its meals in bright blue plastic. However, if you are to buy Kid Cuisine today, you might open it to find black plastic instead.

Remembering the blue packaging doesn't make you a victim of the Mandela effect — the packaging was blue, and there's photographic evidence to prove your nostalgia correct. Some customers are not pleased with the change, though, and one such individual has taken to Change.com to plead their case, looking for 500 others to sign a petition to bring back the blue packaging.

While some Change.org petitions have worked in the past (via Business News Daily), there's not much evidence to support widespread changes made due to the website, and it's unlikely that ConAgra is worried about 200 people who are upset with the color of its packaging.

It's marketed as a balanced meal for kids

Once again, marketing is everything, and ConAgra knows that. As a successful conglomerate that peddles loads of foods to grocery buyers across the nation, it knows how to get the public to purchase its products, including Kid Cuisine.

Though at a reduced scale, Kiid Cuisine is still in business, and it has to be partially thanks to marketing, like its 2005 effort to brand this product as "part of a child's balanced diet." This ploy came with unveiling two brand new Kid Cuisine meals — the Pop Star Popcorn Chicken and Dip & Dunk Cheese Pizza strips.

The company issued a 2005 press release sharing some of the nutrients in the food such as calcium and vitamin C. "Each Kid Cuisine meal offers a variety of nutritional benefits, and with its great taste and built-in fun, children naturally love to eat it," a former Kid Cuisine employee said.

Though it's marketed as nutritious, its actual nutritional value is up for debate. Per its nutrition label (via Stop & Shop), its chicken nuggets contain high amounts of fat, sodium, and sugar.

It doesn't have great reviews

It's tough for brands to stay relevant, and it's even more challenging when consumers leave poor product reviews, which has happened in droves to Kid Cuisine. For instance, Influenster gives Kid Cuisine's discontinued All American Fried Chicken 2.5 out of five stars. Though some liked it, the meal is mostly dumped on by reviewers.

"Kid Cuisine is gross, and really not healthy. It is super cheap though. Alright for every once in a while, but kiddos need quality nutritious foods!!" one reviewer noted. Like most brands, though, the public is torn on Kid Cuisine. However, one of the brand's meals has decent reviews on Amazon, earning 4.2 out of five stars.

"I LOVE this product. I have been eating this since I was a kid, and I still enjoy it to this day. Highly recommend," said one reviewer. The problem with this positive review? It's for a discontinued product. These reviews are for the Friends Forever Macaroni & Cheese, which, according to the official Kid Cuisine website, is no longer available. If Kid Cuisine wants its reviews to improve, perhaps it should bring back some of its favored products.

Kid Cuisine has partnered with SpongeBob

Brands in the '90s and '00s loved to collaborate with cartoons, especially when advertising products on Nickelodeon, which Kid Cuisine did. Kid Cuisine teamed up with the most popular children's television show of all time, per Guinness World Records, "SpongeBob SquarePants." If you're unfamiliar with the show, you might be living under a rock (perhaps Patrick's rock).

"SpongeBob" is a cartoon about a lovable little sponge living in the ocean town of Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob works as a fry cook, so he knows his food, and when he endorsed Kid Cuisine and let chicken nuggets be made in his and his friend Patrick's likeness, children were undoubtedly intrigued.

The commercial (via YouTube) featured Kid Cuisine mascot KC swimming, yes swimming, in someone's kitchen after shimmying out of a kitchen sink, telling kids, "Kid Cuisine and best friends go together like a penguin and water." The campaign was a wise idea. According to ABC News, Yale University found that kids prefer food marketed with cartoons. If you're struggling to get your children to eat, buy them something with SpongeBob on the box.

A real Scooby-Doo was featured in Kid Cuisine commercial

Kid Cuisine knew what it was doing when it partnered with yet another famous animated character in the early aughts: the one and only Scooby-Doo. At the time, Kid Cuisine shaped its chicken nuggets like the legendary crime-solving Great Dane who had a penchant for snacks and served yogurt that could be dyed to a mystery color — because apparently nothing is more appetizing than a mystery. For its commercial (via YouTube), Kid Cuisine scored a bona fide Scooby-Doo voice actor, Scott Innes. Innes has also voiced other "Scooby-Doo" characters such as sidekick Shaggy Rogers and scrappy little puppy, Scrappy-Doo.

Kid Cuisine also once featured Spider-Man as the face of its Earth's Mightiest Popcorn Chicken, according to EWG.org. The brand also later served specially shaped nuggets for its collaboration with "Star Wars" (via Disney). No wonder Kid Cuisine has been featured in marketing studies!