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The Five Worst Packaged Lunchbox Meals: Results

A Report from PCRM's Cancer Project
Spring 2009

Findings | Key Factors | Rating System/Detailed Results | References

Rating System

Items with the most points were ranked as the least healthful. Points were given if the menu item had the following:

  • Processed meats: 1 point

  • High-fat dairy products: 1 point

  • Fat grams: 10 to 19 (1 point), 20 to 29 (2 points), 30 or more (3 points)

  • Saturated-fat grams: 2.5 to 4.9 (1 point), 5 to 7.4 (2 points), 7.5 to 9.9 (3 points), 10 or more (4 points)

  • Cholesterol milligrams: 15 to 29 (1 point), 30 to 44 (2 points), 45 to 59 (3 points), 60 or more (4 points)

  • Fiber grams: less than 3 (1 point)

  • Calories: 300 to 399 (1 point), 400 to 499 (2 points), 500 to 599 (3 points), 600 or more (4 points)

  • Sodium milligrams: 400 to 799 (1 point), 800 to 1,199 (2 points), 1,200 to 1,599 (3 points), 1,600 or more (4 points)   

  • Sugar grams: 10 to 19 (1 point), 20 to 29 (2 points), 30 to 39 (3 points), 40 or more (4 points)

  • Trans-fat grams: 0.5 or more per serving (1 point)

Using these scores, Cancer Project dietitians then chose the five worst prepackaged lunchbox meals. To break a tie between LunchBoxers: Pizza and LunchMakers Fun Kits: Bologna Cracker Crunchers, these items were further compared by ranking nutritional criteria—total fat, saturated fat, calories, and sodium—from highest to lowest. Based on these factors, LunchBoxers: Pizza was named the third-worst packaged lunchbox item, with LunchMakers Fun Kits: Bologna Cracker Crunchers taking fourth place.

Detailed Results

All nutrient information is for a single lunchbox meal.

Lunchables Maxed Out Cracker Stackers: Cracker Combo Ham and Cheddar (5.4 ounces) – Oscar Mayer11
Rank: Worst packaged lunchbox item
Overall score: 24
660 calories, 22 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,600 milligrams of sodium, 57 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of trans fat
Cancer Project dietitians named the Lunchables Maxed Out Cracker Stackers: Cracker Combo Ham and Cheddar the worst prepackaged lunchbox meal because of its high levels of calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. This ham-and-cheddar cracker combo has 9 grams of saturated fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 1 gram of trans fat, and 660 calories. It also contains ham, a processed meat linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer. This one meal also packs 1,600 milligrams of sodium—more than children 4 to 8 should consume in an entire day, according to the Institute of Medicine. The high levels of sodium commonly found in lunchbox meals can contribute to high blood pressure and calcium loss from bones. 

Lunchables Maxed Out Cracker Stackers: Cracker Combo Turkey and Cheddar (5.4 ounces) – Oscar Mayer12
Rank: Second-worst packaged lunchbox item
Overall score: 23
680 calories, 22 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,440 milligrams of sodium, 61 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of trans fat
The Maxed Out Cracker Combo Turkey and Cheddar contains 680 calories and 61 grams of sugar—more calories and sugar than any other packaged lunchbox meal examined in this report. This product also has 9 grams of saturated fat, a gram of trans fat, and 1,440 milligrams of sodium, which all contribute to cardiovascular disease risk. It also contains processed meat, which can increase the risk of colorectal cancer later in life.

LunchBoxers: Pizza (6.6 ounces) – Norwegian Jake’s13
Rank: Third-worst packaged lunchbox item
Overall score: 18
431 calories, 26 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 61 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,288 milligrams of sodium, 7 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, 0 grams of trans fat
Norwegian Jake’s Web site says food items in LunchBoxers are “chosen to ensure nutritional benefits.” But this product includes 26 grams of fat and 61 milligrams of cholesterol. LunchBoxers: Pizza also contains high-fat dairy (mozzarella cheese) and processed meat (pepperoni). The lunchbox meal also features a candy bar, which helps bring the total saturated fat of this meal to 14 grams—63 percent of daily maximum value.

To break a tie between this item and the LunchMakers Fun Kits: Bologna Cracker Crunchers, dietitians further compared these two items by ranking nutritional criteria—total fat, saturated fat, calories, and sodium—from highest to lowest. Based on these factors, LunchBoxers: Pizza was named the third-worst packaged lunchbox item, with LunchMakers Fun Kits: Bologna Cracker Crunchers taking fourth place.

LunchMakers Fun Kits: Bologna Cracker Crunchers – Armour-Eckrich14
Rank: Fourth-worst packaged lunchbox item
Overall score: 18
408 calories, 20 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 830 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, 0 grams of trans fat
The foundation of this meal is bologna, a processed meat linked to increased cancer risk. There are also 9 grams of saturated fat and 45 milligrams of cholesterol. The LunchMakers Fun Kits: Bologna Cracker Crunchers provides no fruits, vegetables, grains, or legumes. Whole foods like these are rich in phytochemicals and fiber, which help reduce the risk of disease. Instead, this LunchMaker Fun Kit includes Hawaiian Punch and a Nestlé Crunch bar. 

Lunchables Nachos Cheese Dip and Salsa (4.8 ounces) – Oscar Mayer15
Rank: Fifth-worst packaged lunchbox item
Overall score: 17
590 calories, 26 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 920 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of trans fat
This meal delivers 26 grams of fat and 15 milligrams of cholesterol from the high-fat dairy in the nacho-cheese dip and the milk chocolate candy bar provided as dessert. Thanks in part to the “cherry flavored juice drink,” this meal also includes 41 grams of sugar. The Lunchables Nachos Cheese Dip and Salsa also contains 920 milligrams of sodium—more than three-quarters of the recommended daily intake for children aged 4 to 8.

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