New Reports Reveal Concerning Amounts Of Lead In Kids' Lunchables

Concerns are being raised over the quality of Lunchables after Consumer Reports tests revealed that the meals contain lead and other heavy metals. The packaged foods, which are marketed as easy-to-grab for school-aged children's lunches, are sold in grocery stores nationwide with various meals, including DIY mini pizzas, nachos, and cracker "sandwiches" — like a mini charcuterie board with crackers, cheese, and cured meats.

Processed meats may contain lead if animals eat contaminated plants. The FDA does set restrictions on how much lead is allowed in certain foods, but some states, like California, have stricter guidelines. Lead consumption has been linked to a variety of health problems, including reproductive issues and an increased risk of cancer.

The meal with the most lead was the 3.2-ounce Turkey and Cheddar Stackers, containing 74% of California's limitation of .5 micrograms per day. All of the tested products varied in lead content, with the lowest — the two-ounce P3 Turkey Colby Jack Almonds — still containing 7% of California's lead limit. Similar meal offerings from Oscar Mayer and Good & Gather were included in the testing and contained slightly lower amounts.

The findings come after a March 2023 announcement from parent company Kraft-Heinz that Lunchables would be reformulated to increase protein and whole grains in its products sold in school lunchrooms. However, Consumer Reports said the changes "do little to improve their nutritional makeup."

Other nutritional concerns were found in the meal kits

In addition to the lead findings, the Lunchables Consumer Reports also revealed high levels of sodium. Children aged four to eight years old should ingest at or under 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. The worst offender was the Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers Lunchables meal, which contains around 49% of the maximum. 

The report also shared findings of phthalates (chemicals found in plastic) in all tested products aside from the Extra Cheesy Pizza meal, which can cause hormonal issues. All three of the Lunchables tested (Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers, Pizza with Pepperoni, and Extra Cheesy Pizza) also contained over 50% of the maximum daily value of cadmium, which can lead to developmental problems, hypertension, kidney damage, and more.

Kraft-Heinz told Consumer Reports: "All our foods meet strict safety standards," and cited environmental factors for the "low levels" of lead and cadmium found in the foods.

The good news is, these meals can be replicated in your own kitchen if you want to cut out any contamination risk entirely. To dupe the Cracker Stackers meals, all you'll need is sliced cheese, whole grain crackers, and lunch meat — just think twice before you microwave it. Slice up the cheese and meat to match the size of the crackers, then eat as a makeshift mini sandwich. Or, use end bread slices to make homemade pizza topped with marinara sauce and shredded mozzarella.