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Pack safe, healthy lunches this school year

By By Brenda Phipps
Aug. 21, 2012 at 3:21 a.m.


With the start of school right around the corner, it is time to talk about packing healthy and safe lunches for your children.

When possible, try to include a variety of foods from the major food groups - fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein.

Lunch doesn't have to be limited to a sandwich and chips - get creative. Pre-packaged meals can be expensive and high in sodium, so make your own by packing whole-grain crackers, sliced low-fat cheese, lean lunch meat and a fruit cup.

Let children have a say in what goes into their lunch, so that they can learn about food preparation and food safety (and they will also be more likely to eat it.)

A child can carry their lunch in a number of ways, from lunch bags to boxes. One that is often recommended for keeping foods cold is a lunch bag that is soft sided and insulated.

It is important that lunch bags be kept clean, so be sure to clean all plastic, cloth and metal lunch bags/boxes daily.

As for paper bags, and plastic wrap, throw them away after one use.

While nutrition is important, it is not of much value if the lunch we prepare for our children makes them sick.

To prepare lunches safely, always wash hands and food preparation surfaces before starting, and make sure any children helping you wash their hands, too.

At room temperature, one germ can divide into more than 4,000 germs in as little as four hours, which is about the amount of time between breakfast and lunch at school. To avoid this, keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cold foods, like lunch meat, cheese, milk, cut fruit, and cooked pasta, can be kept cold until lunchtime by using ice packs or freezer gels. The challenge here is making sure your child brings the packs and gels back home. Another option is to use a frozen juice box to keep the lunch cold.

Keep foods like soup and chili hot with a wide mouth insulated bottle. Pour boiling water into the bottle to heat the inside, heat the food to 165 degrees, drain the boiling water from the bottle, and replace with the hot food.

If keeping sack lunches at a safe temperature is a problem, pack foods that are safe to keep at room temperature, like peanut butter, unopened containers of pudding, juice boxes, unopened canned meat, dried and canned fruit, chips, crackers and whole fruits.

If perishable foods from a lunch are not eaten, they should be thrown out. When packing lunches, do not use leftovers that have been in the refrigerator longer than one or two days - any longer than that and you may risk foodborne illness.

Packing a lunch together is a fun way to teach children about nutrition, food preparation and basic food safety.

Brenda Phipps is a Victoria County extension assistant.

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