I’m Sorry, But Jamba Juice Isn’t A Healthy Snack For Kids

A friend once described her family-oriented neighborhood in San Francisco, mocking the mothers who, pushing a stroller in one hand and toting a 20-ounce Jamba Juice cup in the other, would utter frustrations with not being able to drop the last few pounds of baby weight. Zing! True, my friend was in her 20s and looking for any way to poke fun at mommy culture, but her analogy also speaks to a problem that many of us have had: That “health food” chains like Jamba Juice don’t really dole out health food. Which is why I find it disturbing that Jamba is going start selling their smoothies to schoolchildren.

Our friends at Well+Good NYC report that Jamba Juice is planning to sell their smoothies in elementary, middle, and high schools through a new chain of “JambaGo” express shops. Supposedly, the plan is a retaliation against Starbucks’ plan to move into the health and wellness category with new juice shops, according to Nation’s Restaurant News:

Jamba’s growth plans were discussed just ahead of Thursday’s news that Starbucks Coffee Co. will open a new juice bar concept as well as sell Evolution Fresh juices in its coffeehouse locations and build a consumer-packaged goods line of juice products. The move – spurred by Starbucks’ $30 million acquisition of Evolution Fresh – pits the coffee giant more directly against Jamba Juice, which has been working to build its presence in the health-and-wellness category.

James White, Jamba Inc.’s chair, president and chief executive, said in a statement Thursday that Starbucks’ move “validates the health and wellness strategy and mission that Jamba Juice has been executing against for the past 20-plus years.”

Third-quarter results indicate that Jamba Juice is “strong and strengthening,” said White.

“We are growing globally and we remain a top-of-mind health-and-wellness brand among consumers,” he said.

Um, I’m sorry, but Jamba Juice should not be the first thing you think of when you’re looking for something healthy to eat! It’s true, the smoothies contain some fresh fruit. But they are also pumped up with sugars from pasteurized fruit juice, sorbet, sherbet and frozen yogurt, all of which should be considered more “dessert” than “healthy snack” for kids or adults (no matter how many powdered supplements you load them with).

Of course, given that congress is may count pizza as a vegetable in school lunches, Jamba Juice might not be the worst thing that kids eat in the course of their day. But as someone who’s taught kids (of elementary, middle, and high school ages) before, I have to say: Big, sugary drinks make for a very difficult learning environment. Even apple juice boxes are enough to spike kids’ blood sugar when eaten as a snack without some kind of healthy protein or fiber, and the result is a classroom full of kids who’d be better off learning double dutch than anything they can do sitting down.

Parents—or people who just want a healthy snack on the go—I implore you: Don’t blindly buy these Big Gulp-sized sugar bombs just because they contain fruit.

Photo: Serious Eats

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    • michelle

      A lot of the smoothies on their menu are not made from fresh fruit, but instead include fruit juice blends and sorbets, which are essentially high in sugar. Healthy-ish, yes, but still provides a huge sugar boost.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Yep, exactly Michelle! Even the ones that do include fresh fruit have other added sugars that make them a scary treat for kids, especially in the sizes that they offer.

    • Noah Waterman

      The author might want to do more research before printing lines like this,
      “It’s true, the smoothies contain some fresh fruit. But they are also pumped up with sugars from pasteurized fruit juice, sorbet, sherbet and frozen yogurt”
      It is simply not true that all their smoothies contain sorbet, sherbert and frozen yogurt” In fact, the two smoothies the author chose to feature on this website are Jamba’s fruit and veggie options, the apples and greens and berry upbeet smoothies. Neither contain sorbert, frozen yogurt or sherbert. The sixteen ounce serving contains less than 220 calories as well as a full serving of veg and two full servings of fruit. Please do your research before printing this stuff. Jamba IS a healthier fast food option.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Hi Noah. I didn’t say that all of their smoothies contain sorbet, sherbet and frozen yogurt, although there are relatively few options on their menu that don’t contain at least one of those things. And you’re glossing over fruit juice —something that adds a lot of sugar to smoothies, and is included in all of the fruit and veggie options you mentioned.

        My general point is that their smoothies contain a lot of sugar, both natural and added/processed. The 16-ounce apples and greens smoothie that you referred to contains 40 grams of sugar (http://www.jambajuice.com/component/nutfacts/type/33). According to the American Heart Association, the daily recommended sugar intake is 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per day for adult women; for children, it’s 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day. (http://www.rodale.com/recommended-sugar-intake)

        And the premise of this post isn’t a comparison of various fast food options; I’m discussing whether they should be selling to kids at school. Sure, it might be the lesser of two evils if you’re comparing it to McDonald’s for the average American adult. But that’s missing my point, which is that these aren’t really healthy snacks for kids. They’re way too sugary.

    • Joe

      WATCH OUT Starbucks! Pepsico, Coca-Cola or even McDonald’s might make a play for Jamba Juice. The price is right and the potential is enormous. Jamba’s current market cap equates to a current valuation of only 1/2 times sales. Even at a conservative valuation of 2-time sales, Jamba can be taken for $6.50 a share.

      • Steve

        I totally agree! This acquisition would benefit any one of these big names. That’s why I would be a buyer of Jamba stock at these bargain prices.

    • Dylan

      Oh please! Speaking as a student who had a pizza hut in my school lunch cafeteria from Junior-High onward and who also struggled with my weight I would have to say that Jamba is a WAY better option than Pizza Hut or almost ANYTHING on school lunch menus. I agree with the argument that school children should eat healthier but give me a break! Why single out Jamba when there are so many vastly unhealthier companies trying to weasel their way into the schoolkids diets.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Hi Dylan, Jamba Juice just announced that they’d be selling at schools, which is why I chose to write specifically about them. But you’re right, there are, unfortunately, a lot of vastly unhealthier companies trying to get their share of the market in lunchrooms. (And to be fair, I did mention that, in a climate where pizza is considered a vegetable, Jamba Juice probably looks pretty healthy by comparison.)

        But I don’t really base my standards on whether there are worse options out there; eating a plate of french fries might seem healthy by comparison to a plate of chili cheese fries, but does that mean that it’s good for me? Nope.

    • Jim

      “…My general point is that their smoothies contain a lot of sugar, both natural and added/processed…” I think instead of better research, the author should just find something more pertinent to write about. This is a non-issue. Jamba Juice offers a variety of low-sugar options, both high and low in sugar. So should we also stop eating fruit? They are part of the fast food service sector, and by comparison their menu is FAR healthier than their competitors. And if its the kids’ intake of sugars we are concerned about, then how’s about we leave some of that responsibility up to their parents?! THEY can decide how much sugar their kids intake during a Jamba sitting. Bottom line, we are BETTER with them than without them. And I actually agree with Joe’s suggestion that McDonalds should make a play for them, since they are, after all, trying to offer a healthier menu.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Hi Jim, I think the issue of whether fast food businesses should be allowed to sell at kids’ schools is pretty pertinent, and judging by the debate here, it seems like I’m not the only one who thinks it’s worth discussing.

        As Rhiannon points out, above, it’s a joke to think that parents can control everything their kids eat at school, especially when fast food companies are allowed to market and sell on campus. Did you only eat what your parents selected for you when you were a kid? I didn’t. And I didn’t even have fast food options at school; I just had vending machines and junk food from my friends. Thankfully, I came out on the other side without diabetes or high blood pressure, but there’s an epidemic of health problems in kids right now (that’s why Michelle Obama has devoted a lot of her time in the White House to childhood obesity). I don’t think Jamba Juice is going to solve that problem.

    • Rhiannon

      I totally agree with the author. Those who are touting the fact that not all their smoothies contain sherbet, sorbet or frozen yogurt are making the assumption that those (very few) specific smoothies would be the ones that kids will get from these JambaGo shops in their school. Most likely, the kids would be eating a lot of the other options as well.

      Also-somebody commented that we should leave kids’ sugar intake up to their parents. Personally, I think it’s naive to believe that parents can have much (if any) oversight or control over their kids’ food choices while they’re at school. Unless the parents are right there with their kids at school, they really have very limited or no control over what their child will eat at school. The best parents can do is to instill a familiarity with eating healthy and a healthy relationship with good food in their kids, and try to encourage them to make healthy choices most of the time at school. The rest is up to the child’s choice–and many kids will choose whatever’s available and looks like it will taste great without their parents ever having a say in it. So, in school settings, no, we can’t really just leave it up to the parents to decide. (Also, feel a little bad saying it, but many parents themselves have distorted/inaccurate views of what foods are truly healthy!) Some schools are beginning to implement programs that allow parents to view their kids’ purchasing activity at school online–this may help a little–but I think the most important thing will not be punishing kids after realizing and being disappointed with their purchasing/eating habits at school, but rather teaching them how to appreciate and WANT to eat healthier, so they can make the right choices for themselves, independent of their parents’ guidance.

    • Lena Rakijian

      I feel this issue all comes down to moderation – or lack thereof. If middle school and high school students are starting off their mornings at home with a high sugar breakfast cereal or bar lets say, getting to school and taking back a 16 ounce Jamba Juice (most of which contain about 50-80g of sugar) and then after that come home and don’t have access to healthy home cooked meals – this becomes a health concern. Throughout the day, these growing and maturing kids are pumping their bodies with sugar and processed foods that are high calorie nutrient absent foods.

      If they are having Jamba Juice once in a while, then that’s fine. But chances are Jamba Juice will turn into an afternoon staple at school. Poor food choices at school, unhealthy food choices outside of school, plus low physical activity levels can lead to health problems. So while Jamba Juice may seem like a great addition to schools, it would be better to offer more nutritious school lunches or whole fruit for that matter.

    • Hanna Brooks Olsen

      I don’t think that arguing that Jamba Juice is “better” that Pizza Hut or McDonald’s is enough to say that it’s “good” for you. There are way better alternatives (like actual fresh juice without added sugar and crap) than this particular chain.

    • Olivia

      Getting kids to eat their veggies and fruit in schools (or anywhere for that matter!) is a challenge Getting my son the daily nutritional values he needs is my first priority, by helping him make good choices in a sea of bad options. It’s about balance and consumption. Like poster Noah, I take issue with the author’s lack of reasearch. You point out that the smoothies are a “scary treat” in the sizes offered. My son attends a school that just brought in Jamba smoothies. They are serving only all fruit smoothie (no sorbet, or dairy) in sizes that are much smaller than in the store we go to. How do I know? I did my homework and asked the school.
      The effect? My son is more open to trying different fruits.