Packing a school lunch…safely!

September 8, 2010 | By andrea | Filed in: Fun Food Facts, Handy Hints, Kid-friendly, Morsels & Musings.

I read an article in The Oregonian last week on how to safely pack school lunches. Our kiddos have enough hurdles to face these days at school without the added bonus of their lunch making them sick. The article includes a few simple rules to ensure that a packed lunch stays safe to eat.

And while we’re on the subject of brown bagging it, I recently bought these nifty Ziplock Divided Containers. They are reusable, dishwasher safe, and come in a 2-pack. They are similar to the hip bento box containers that are popular right now but less expensive. Plus, I won’t need to freak out if one gets lost or accidentally thrown away.

Follow the ABC’s of food safety when packing a school lunch
Special to The Oregonian

Back to school means back to the daily grind of packing lunches — an activity that’s definitely low on parents’ lists of favorite things to do.

It’s hard enough to come up with nutritious choices that your kids will actually eat, and even harder to predict which of their favorite foods they won’t be “tired of” that day.

But no matter what meal you send your child off with each day, make sure you follow basic food safety rules to keep the food from spoiling.

Rule No. 1: Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. While a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can linger at room temperature, anything made with meat or dairy products needs to be kept out of the danger zone (40 to 140 degrees).

Insulated lunchboxes/bags (rather than paper bags or metal lunchboxes) go a long way toward keeping things at the right temperature, but you still need to tuck an ice pack in there to keep things cool. A frozen water bottle or juice box can double as an ice pack and be ready to drink by lunchtime. Or buy several lunchbox-size ice packs so you always have one ready. These days, ice packs come in fun, kid-friendly shapes; thin, flexible “mats” ; or styles that have colorful cloth covers to soak up condensation.

When the weather cools, hot lunches are especially welcome and a good way to change things up. Invest in a couple of insulated containers for sending hot items like soup or warmed-up leftovers. Be sure to preheat them first by filling them with piping hot water and letting them sit for a few minutes while you get things ready. Then pour out, dry and fill.

Rule No. 2: Keep things clean. Once that lunchbox returns home, throw away anything partially eaten or perishable and wash out the box with hot soapy water. Leaving food in there only invites mold and mildew to grow. So wash it out as soon as you can and let it air dry until completely dry before storing. Once a week, it’s a good idea to sanitize the lunchbox with a mild bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach per 4 cups of water).

Many schools ask parents to send children off with a water bottle each day. This a great way for kids to sta hydrated without having constant stream of children running off to the water fountain during class. But don’t think you can just leave that water bottle there all week without washing it. It’s easy for germs and bacteria to get into the bottles with every swig, and as the bottles sit at room temperature, those nasties multiply like crazy.

So wash the water bottle every day with hot, soapy water and let it dry completely before putting it away (again, mold is a risk if you don’t). And sanitize the water bottle when you sanitize the lunchbox.

Rule No. 3: These rules aren’t just for kids’ lunches. When you’re brown-bagging it, follow these food safety tips to keep yourself from getting sick, too. Protect your youngsters from food-borne illness with these guidelines on keeping packed lunches at safe temperatures, and containers and bottles clean.

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2 comments on “Packing a school lunch…safely!

  1. These are great lunch tips! The ziplocs are nice because you can throw them in the dishwasher and you know they’re clean.

  2. lori ares says:

    Love this Andrea and timely too. Now that Riley is going to a “Green” school they have already asked that “these” kind of containers be brought.

    I think you need to share your own personal testimony of rule number 2 above. 🙂