Q: I send a lunch to school with my son every day. Can you give me some tips on how to pack a safe school lunch?
A: Here are several tips that you should remember when you're packing lunches:
Always keep it clean. Make sure your hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean. Use hot, soapy water to effectively get rid of bacteria. Teach your children to wash their hands before they eat. Also wash fruits and vegetables before packing them in your child's lunch.
Be sure to keep foods such as soup, chili or stew hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with piping hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunchtime.
Cold foods should stay cold, so invest in a freezer gel pack (available in supermarkets and kitchen supply stores) and an insulated lunch box. Freezer gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage. Any perishable food not eaten at lunch should be discarded.
Lunch boxes and containers used for packing food should be washed each day in hot soapy water.
If paper bags are used, a new one should be used each day. Do not use the same paper bag two days in a row.
If your child chooses a brown paper bag to carry lunch, it's especially important to include a cold source. A freezer gel pack or a frozen sandwich works well. Because brown paper bags tend to become soggy or leak as cold foods thaw, be sure to use an extra paper bag to create a double layer. Double-bagging also will help insulate the food better.
Tell your child to use the refrigerator at school, if one is available. If not, make sure they keep their lunch out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, baseboards and other heat sources found in the classroom.
Every parent should have a supply of shelf-stable foods for easy packing.
Freeze single-sized juice packs overnight and place the frozen drink in your child's lunch. The juice will thaw by lunchtime, but it still will be cold. The frozen drink also will keep the rest of the lunch cold.
If you make sandwiches the night before, keep them in the refrigerator until packing up to go in the morning.
Q: What foods need refrigeration?
A: Perishable foods are those that can support the growth of microorganisms that cause human illness if left between the temperatures of 40 to 140 degrees for more than 2 hours. Here is a list of perishable foods that you may choose to put in a sack lunch that need refrigeration:
cooked beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish and eggs
tofu and other soy protein foods
milk, cream, half and half, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese
cooked vegetables such as potatoes, green beans, all legumes, corn, peas and spinach
cooked rice, pasta and beans
sprouts and raw seeds
pudding, soup, casseroles, cream pies, cakes with homemade cream fillings, and vegetable juices
The following foods do not need refrigeration if packing them in a sack lunch:
yeast and quick breads, bagels, baklava, brioches, crumpets, English muffins, popovers, biscuits, muffins, tortillas, pitas, crackers and scones
jam and jelly
candy, fruit leather and tomato leather
pickles, mustard and catsup
fruit pies, cakes and cookies
commercial mayonnaise and most commercial salad dressings
dry breakfast foods, crackers, granola bars and uncooked oatmeal
unopened canned and bottled foods
unopened commercial containers of pudding
hard cheeses such as cheddar, monterey jack swiss
Q: What should I pack?
A: A good lunch includes four parts. A protein, a grain serving, fruit and/or vegetable and a calcium source such as milk or yogurt. Dessert can be optional and can be fruit.
What to Pack:
Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group: bread (whole wheat, rye, raisin), pita, bagel, tortilla, English muffin, rolls, dry cereal and trail mixes.
Vegetables: celery, baby carrots, cucumber or zucchini slices, green beans, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.
Fruits: melon cubes, orange wedges, kiwi slices, pineapple cubes, grapes, bananas, applesauce, single serving size canned fruit, single serving fruit juice, dried fruit, raisins and apricots.
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dried beans and nuts: lean meat, hard-cooked eggs, chicken drumstick, beef jerky, peanut butter, nuts, soup and leftover casserole.
Milk, yogurt and cheese: cheese cubes, string cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and single serving pudding
Dessert or snack (optional): pretzels, cookies, frosted cereal and granola bars.