Packing a Safe Nutritious Lunch

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sandwich, fruit and granola in a lunch containerWith the start of school, many households are faced with planning lunches for the school day. Our young ones are at a higher risk of food borne illnesses and besides making sure the lunch is well rounded, nutritious wise, we need to keep some food safety tips in mind. The USDA has these following tips to make sure our lunches are tasty and safe. Be prepared this year.

Consider the following:

  • Start off with clean and sanitized surfaces and utensils: Before you start, make sure to wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with soap and after preparing each food item and before proceeding to the next item. A homemade bleach-based solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach to one gallon of water can be used to sanitize surfaces and utensils in the kitchen.
  • Separate using different colored cutting boards: Keep meat and poultry from ready-to-eat foods (such as fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc.) and avoid cross-contamination during your food preparation by using different colored cutting boards for different items prepared.
  • Use food thermometers when preparing food: If you are cooking a frozen item for your child’s lunch, use a food thermometer to check whether a meal has reached a safe temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. Beware: some frozen foods are not fully cooked or not ready-to-eat, but have browned breading, grill marks or other signs that suggest that they are cooked. Make sure they are cooked to a safe internal temperature: meat (whole beef, pork and lamb) 145 F with a 3-minute rest; ground meats 160 F; poultry (ground and whole) 165 F; eggs 160 F; fish and shellfish 145 F; and leftovers and casseroles 165 F.
  • Use insulated lunch boxes and gel packs to keep cold foods cold: Perishable food can be unsafe to eat by lunch time if packed in a paper bag. Keep your meal cool by storing it in an insulated bag. Place a frozen gel pack, combined with a frozen juice box or bottle of water to keep food cold and to avoid the “Danger Zone” (temperatures between 40 F and 140 F where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause illness).
  • Use insulated containers to keep hot food hot: If hot liquids such as soup, chili or stew are on the menu, use an insulated container to keep items hot at 140 F and above. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty, and then pour in the hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime.
  • Handwashing aides: Hand wipes and 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizers are ideal for children to clean their hands before they eat when water and soap are not available.

For some other nutritious tips for school lunches and snacks, watch our Homegrown Video on Back-to-School Snacks and Lunch Packing Hacks.