Packing a bagged lunch is one great way to send your child to school with nutritious foods you know they’ll want to eat. Even if your school has a healthful and delicious lunch menu, there are plenty of scenarios where packing a bagged lunch for your child is necessary or just makes more sense. A study done by the University of Texas shows very clear evidence, however, that sticking an ice pack in your child’s lunchbox is not enough to keep their food safe and free of harmful bacteria. Don’t let the evidence stress you–there are some very simple things you can do to make sure your child’s bagged lunch stays safe.
Choose shelf-stable foods.
Although this isn’t always the best option, foods that don’t require refrigeration are safe choices when it comes to keeping lunchtime safe. Whole grain crackers, whole fruit, vegetables, natural nut butters and Guiding Star-earning granola bars are a few examples of items that don’t need to be chilled to be safe.
Double the ice.
If you are sending food that needs refrigeration, like cold cuts, then double the ice. Include a gel pack that has been frozen overnight and take the additional precaution of freezing their juice box or making the sandwich with frozen bread.
Use an insulated lunch bag.
As cute as the tin and plastic cartoon character lunchboxes are, they aren’t suitable for keeping food cold for any length of time. If you’re already using insulated lunch bags, go one step further: pack part or all of your child’s lunch the night before and store it in the fridge to give the bag time to chill as well.
Don’t reuse lunch leftovers.
If your child comes home with temperature-sensitive leftovers, throw them away. If you can’t consistently predict what your child will eat and don’t want to waste the food, send them with a smaller portion of the food requiring refrigeration and and extra serving of fruits or veggies.
Be mindful of cross-contamination.
When you’re preparing food in a hurry, it’s tempting to let yourself be a bit sloppy with sanitizing cutting implements or boards. Using the turkey or boiled egg knife to slice apples for the same day’s lunch may seem fine, but if the apples stay in the lunch box longer and are reused the next day, there’s a risk they could be cultivating bacteria that you don’t want your family ingesting.
Preheat the hot-food thermos.
If you’re sending hot soup or leftovers from last night’s delicious dinner in a thermos, make sure you heat the thermos first. Fill the thermos with boiling water and let it stand while you heat the food to a minimum of 165 degrees. Empty the warmed thermos and add the heated food while both are still as hot as possible.
Packing a bagged lunch doesn’t need to be a scary or more difficult task than it ever has been. Prepping a temperature-safe lunch just requires a few simple tricks and mindful preparation to ensure that your family can enjoy a wonderful homemade meal in good health.