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Consumer Reports urges USDA to remove Lunchables From National School Lunch Program

CR tests find Lunchables and similar lunch kits contain relatively high levels of lead, cadmium and sodium; all but one contain harmful phthalates 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports called on the Department of Agriculture today to remove Lunchables food kits from the National School Lunch Program. CR recently compared the nutritional profiles of two Lunchable kits served in schools and found they have even higher levels of sodium than the kits consumers can buy in the store. CR also tested 12 store-bought versions of Lunchables and similar kits and found several contained relatively high levels of lead and cadmium. All but one also tested positive for phthalates, chemicals found in plastic that have been linked to reproductive problems, diabetes, and certain cancers.

“Lunchables are not a healthy option for kids and shouldn’t be allowed on the menu as part of the National School Lunch Program,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, which launched a petition to the USDA. “The Lunchables and similar lunch kits we tested contain concerning levels of sodium and harmful chemicals that can lead to serious health problems over time. The USDA should remove Lunchables from the National School Lunch Program and ensure that kids in schools have healthier options.”

The USDA currently allows two Lunchables kits — Turkey & Cheddar Cracker Stackers and Extra Cheesy Pizza — to be served to nearly 30 million children through the National School Lunch Program. To meet the program’s requirements, Kraft Heinz added more whole grains to the crackers and more protein to the Lunchable kits designed for schools compared to store-bought versions.

CR tested store-bought Lunchables and similar kits from Armour LunchMakers, Good & Gather, Greenfield Natural Meat Co., and Oscar Mayer and found lead, cadmium, or both in all. Lead and cadmium can cause developmental problems in children over time, even in small amounts. While none of the kits exceeded any federal limit, five of the 12 tested products would expose someone to 50 percent or more of California’s maximum allowable level for lead or cadmium – currently the most protective standard.

CR also detected at least one type of phthalate in every kit it tested, except for Lunchables Extra Cheesy Pizza. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, compounds that may mimic or interfere with hormones in the body, which can contribute to an increased risk of reproductive problems, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. As with heavy metals, the goal should be to keep exposure as low as possible.

The sodium levels in the store-bought lunch and snack kits CR tested ranged from 460 to 740 milligrams per serving, that’s nearly a quarter to half of a child’s daily recommended limit for sodium. CR found that the sodium levels of the Lunchables made for schools, which had a larger portion of meat, are higher than in the store-bought versions. The school version of the Turkey and Cheddar Lunchable for schools contained 930 mg of sodium compared to 740 mg in the store-bought version. Similarly, the Lunchable pizza kit for schools had 700 mg of sodium compared to 510 mg in the store version.

Eating foods with too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and lead to hypertension, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage. Kids with high sodium intakes are about 40 percent more likely to develop hypertension than those who have low sodium diets.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org