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Packing a safe lunch 101

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With another school year in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to write about food-safe school lunches. Many parents or kids make school lunches to take to school. Each day their lunches are packed with nutritious foods (I hope!) that are safely wrapped or packaged. Even so, the contents can leak or spill. You may be packing a nutritional lunch, but is it safe? Here are a few tips to keep your little one’s lunchbox clean and healthy.

Washing

  • Before handling any food that will be consumed, wash your hands.
  • Wash any surfaces and utensils you will be using to cut or prepare the food, including counters, cutting boards, plates, knives, etc.
  • Rinse fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables, even ones that have tough rinds or skins that won’t be consumed. Dry before packing.
  • While it is preferable to wash soft fruits such as strawberries or blueberries just prior to consumption to avoid wilting, chances are your child will not have a chance to do so at school. To preserve as much of the fruit’s integrity and still provide safe foods for them to eat, wash these and then blot them dry immediately. Put in them in a dry, airtight container.
  • If your child’s lunch bag can be washed, do so on a weekly basis, or more frequently if you notice any stains or spills. If the bag cannot be washed, wipe it with a moist, clean disposable wipe or a disinfectant wipe. Then let it dry.

Follow the first rule of thumb for food safety: keep cold foods cold and hot food hot.

Keeping cold foods cold

  • Store a water bottle in the freezer (do not fill it all the way) and in the morning, take it out and use it as a means to keep the lunch cold until lunch time. If not filled all the way, chances are the water will have melted a bit and your child can enjoy some chilled water for refreshment.
  • Buy reusable ice packs that are readily available at stores. Please wash them after every use. Remember these are to be used for short periods of time; they will not keep a lunch cool all day long.
  • Use insulated lunch bags. Some have softer sides than others and these tend to keep perishable foods chilled longer than hard-sided, plastic lunch bags.
  • If you make their school lunch the day before, keep it in the refrigerator. Better yet, put the lunch bag in the refrigerator too.

Keeping hot foods hot

Many parents will pack dinner leftovers for lunch. To pack hot foods and ensure that these stay hot, follow these suggestions:

  • Use an insulated bottle (thermos) for hot foods. Before putting the food in the thermos, add boiling water to it and close it, letting it sit for a few minutes. Empty the water and put the hot food in it. Close it tightly and pack it away from any cold packs in the lunch.
  • Ask your child if there is a microwave in their school cafeteria. If so, you can pack the food cold, and your child can heat the food in the microwave at lunch. For smaller kids, make sure you include instructions on how much time they should heat the food.

Send us your suggestions for keeping school lunches safe!

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