School lunch safety: more than just apples, oranges
Try to make healthy and delicious packed lunches for kids or any family members. Just remember food safety is number one for all packed lunches. Hot food hot and cold food cold are the rules of thumb. This means that if something is hot it must be at 140 degrees F or higher and if something is cold it must stay at 41 degrees F or lower until it is eaten. This takes planning of your food choices and packing methods.
Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but you can also use metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags. If using paper bags, create layers by double bagging to insulate the food.
CROSS CONTAMINATION— Beware of cross-contamination in your lunch. This can happen by reusing paper or plastic bags, food wraps and aluminum foil. Always discard used food packaging and bags after lunch. Throw away perishable leftovers unless they can be safely chilled immediately after lunch and when they are brought home. When using soft-sided or metal boxes or bags, make sure you clean and sanitize the containers each day.
KEEPING IT COLD—Use an ice pack, gel pack or freeze a juice box, bottled water or sandwich to keep food cold. For best quality, do not freeze sandwiches with mayonnaise, lettuce or tomatoes; add them right before eating. Frozen juice boxes, water and sandwiches will thaw by lunch.
The following should be kept cold:
Meat, fish, poultry, bologna, luncheon meat and hot dogs, milk, soft and hard cheeses, yogurt, cooked vegetables and beans, rice, dressing and gravy, lunch combinations that include luncheon meats with crackers, condiments, and raw fruits and vegetables.
WARM THEM UP— Hot foods must be kept cold until microwaved for preheating. You can also put hot foods in a thermos as long as you have tested the container and know it will hold the correct temperature for the needed length of time.
LUNCH BOX ADDITIONS—Vegetables and fruits are nutritious lunch box additions. Pack whole fruits like an apple or a bunch of grapes or select individual containers of applesauce, pears, peaches and pineapples also make a tasty treat.
Spice up fruit by packing dip for them. Low-fat yogurt or pudding is great with strawberries and melons. Try different fruits with different textures. Sliced zucchini and cucumbers, red and green pepper strips, broccoli, carrots, celery and cauliflower are raw vegetables that are easy to pack. Try adding a low-fat salad dressing or hummus as a dip.
WHOLE GRAINS—Use whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta and brown rice. Whole-grain cereal is also a fun alternative to potato chips for a snack. If children still want chips, pick ones that are whole grain, baked or possibly both. Food labels are your friend. When buying canned or individual containers of fruit, make sure it has no added sugar and is packed in its own juice or water.
Read labels to make sure products are made with whole grains. Just because bread is brown doesn’t mean it is whole grain. Check the ingredients list to make sure the first ingredient is brown rice, bulgur, whole-grain corn, whole wheat, oatmeal, whole oats, whole rye or wild rice. Also check the Nutrition Facts label for the percent Daily Value (%D.V.) of fiber because foods with more fiber are more likely to be whole grain.
CHOOSE 100% JUICE—Buy juices with little added sugar or sweeteners. Avoid juices that have sugars or caloric sweeteners listed as their first ingredient. Many juices are only 10 or 20 percent juice and contain a lot of unnecessary sugars. Check juice box labels and try to buy products that are 100 percent juice.
LOW- FAT— Make your lunches healthier by adding low-fat dairy or calcium-rich foods. About 85-90 percent of adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys. The best ways to get calcium are dairy products such as milk, yogurt, sliced cheese, cottage cheese and string cheese as well as calcium-fortified foods such as some juices and cereals.
Don’t forget your fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products and calcium-rich foods when packing your lunches. Also, remember to pack the lunches so they stay at the correct temperatures until eaten.