Back to School: Keep those healthy lunches safe!

16 Aug

Last year, my daughter purchased lunch five days a week while my son ate lunch at school on Mondays and Wednesdays then brought from home on Fridays. Brown bagging it typically meant a Lunchable (his preference) or a peanut-butter sandwich with a box of raisins and three (yes, three) baby carrots.

My son informed me that as a Kindergartner, he will TAKE his lunch instead of buy from the cafeteria. Fine by me. Packed lunches might enable me to sneak a few new foods into his limited culinary repertoire. Instead of those three carrots, I might pack grape tomatoes or celery sticks. I’ve stocked up on other types of dried fruit, including mango and cherries.

One thing I don’t want to experiment with is safety. I barely survived a nasty bout with salmonella in Bangkok, winding up at the “VD and Diarrhea” clinic for medicine (which was as nightmarish as it sounds).

Here’s a sampling of lunch packing tips I found from the USDA.  For more, visit www.fsis.usda.gov.

Keeping “Bag” Lunches Safe

Keep Everything Clean
Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before you prepare or eat food.  Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.  A solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water may be used to sanitize surfaces and utensils.  Keep family pets away from kitchen counters.

Don’t Cross-Contaminate
Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and countertops.  Always use a clean cutting board.  When using a cutting board for food that will not be cooked, such as bread, lettuce, and tomatoes, be sure to wash the board after using it to cut raw meat and poultry.  Consider using one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for meat and poultry.

Packing Lunches
It’s fine to prepare the food the night before and store the packed lunch in the refrigerator.  Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold.  However, for best quality, don’t freeze sandwiches containing mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes.  Add these later.

Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags can also be used.  If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food.  An ice source should be packed with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box.

Keeping Cold Lunches Cold
Prepare cooked food, such as turkey, ham, chicken, and vegetable or pasta salads, ahead of time to allow for thorough chilling in the refrigerator.  Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use.  Keep cooked food refrigerated until time to leave home.

To keep lunches cold away from home, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box.

Some food is safe without a cold source.  Items that don’t require refrigeration include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.

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2 Responses to “Back to School: Keep those healthy lunches safe!”

  1. Lori August 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    This year, I’m going to try “bento” lunches! My cousin (a food expert), turned me on to this blog: http://happylittlebento.blogspot.com/ It’s SOOOO cute. And what kid wouldn’t want to eat a sweet potato when it’s shaped like a flower?!! I’ve ordered some supplies from Amazon and will be giving it a whirl this year!

  2. Lisa August 16, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Oooh! Share the pictures of your lovely lunched!

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