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Consumer Reports Urges USDA to Remove Lunchables From School Lunches

Elevated levels of lead, sodium and phthalates found in the beloved snacks has prompted a call for the product’s removal from the National Lunch Program. See what experts had to say here.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published April 10, 2024
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Image: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post | Getty Images

The battle for healthy, nutritious and affordable lunches has been ongoing since the United States established the National School Lunch Program in 1946. The program, which serves nearly 30 million children a year, has guidelines to ensure nutritious meals, but the execution can sometimes be difficult.

In an effort to ensure kids are getting the best food possible, watchdog organization Consumer Reports (CR) has recently reviewed one of the more popular items on the National School Lunch Program’s menu: Lunchables.

To get a better idea of the nutritional value of the popular item, CR recently compared the nutritional profiles of two Lunchable kits served in schools—Turkey & Cheddar Cracker Stackers and Extra Cheesy Pizza—and found both to have high levels of sodium, higher than the kits consumers can buy in the store. The school version of the Turkey and Cheddar Lunchable contained 930 mg of sodium, while the Lunchable Pizza Kit had 700 mg of sodium. With a recommended daily limit of 1,000-1,2000 mg of sodium, each Lunchable represents almost 70-90 percent of the recommended daily value.

The organization also tested 12 store-bought versions of Lunchables and similar kits and found several contained relatively high levels of lead and cadmium. While none of the kits exceeded any federal limit, 5 of the 12 tested products would expose someone to 50 percent or more of California’s maximum allowable level for lead or cadmium. All but one, the Extra Cheesy Pizza, 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, in 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.”

In response to the petition, the USDA told People that while they take their responsibility to ensure school meals are of the highest nutritional quality very seriously and align their programs with the latest nutrition science, the organization doesn’t have the power to allow or disallow individual food items.

“Our requirements address the overall content of meals – some of them on a daily basis and others on a weekly basis. So, the Lunchables described in the article would need to be paired with fruit, vegetables and milk. In addition, a school who wanted to serve a higher sodium product one day has to balance that with lower sodium items on others,” the USDA told the outlet.

With any food, it’s important to remember that moderation and balance are key. Ensuring your child is eating nutrient-rich meals often begins with getting a mix of different fruits, veggies and proteins on the plate. If you are struggling with picky eaters consider these nutrionist recommended tips for helping them branch out.

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