Consumer Reports: Lunchables Unsafe for School Lunch

14K sign petition calling for their removal from school lunch program
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2024 4:26 PM CDT
Group Calls Lunchables Unsafe for School Lunch
   (Getty / PingchengZuo)

Lunchables contain lead and unhealthy levels of sodium, according to testing by Consumer Reports, which has launched a petition urging the Department of Agriculture to remove the snack kits from the school meal program it oversees. Two versions of the Kraft Heinz kits were made available last year as part of the National School Lunch Program. The company said the "turkey and cheddar" and "extra cheesy pizza" versions were specially created to offer "more protein and whole grains" and "reduced saturated fat and sodium." But testing showed both had higher levels of sodium (930 milligrams and 700 milligrams, respectively) than the versions sold in stores (740mg and 510mg, respectively), per CNN, or about half the recommended daily limit for most kids.

Consumer Reports, which tested 12 store-bought meal kits from brands including Oscar Mayer, Armour LunchMakers, and Good & Gather, found high levels of sodium in other offerings as well. All meal kits were found to contain lead, cadmium, or both, though not in levels exceeding federal limits. (Both are found in the environment, which could explain their presence, but processing also can introduce them, per CR.) "Lunchables are not a healthy option for kids and shouldn't be allowed on the menu," says Brian Ronholt, director of food policy for the consumer advocacy group. He says the "concerning levels of sodium and harmful chemicals ... can lead to serious health problems over time."

Every kit but the Lunchables pizza was found to contain "at least one type of phthalate or phthalate replacement chemical," per CNN. Phthalates are linked to childhood obesity, cardiovascular issues, and cancer, while cadmium is linked to cancer, kidney and bone disease, and other issues. A Kraft Heinz rep counters that Lunchables "meet strict safety standards," per the Hill. The rep also points to the "great steps" taken "to improve the nutrition profile of Lunchables," including reducing the sodium in crackers by 26%. A rep for the USDA says the agency "doesn't allow or disallow individual food items" but has requirements that "address the overall content of meals—some of them on a daily basis and others on a weekly basis." In other words, a high-sodium meal might be served one day, paired with fruit and vegetables, followed by a low-sodium meal the next, per the Hill. (More school lunches stories.)

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