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Packing a Safe & Healthy School Lunch

We’ve all seen the signs – isles of schools supplies, cars parked at the various school campuses, school staff scurrying around making preparations, Back-to-School store promotions. The first day of school is just a few hours away, leaving parents with mixed emotions. For some, their little ones will be attending school for the first time. For others, their children are no longer kids and will be spending their final year in the school setting. Still others are moving their nearly-adult children off to college campuses to start a whole new experience of learning.

As a parent who has experienced sending kids to school on all levels (three times!), I know the roller coaster of emotions that tend to make us a little crazy for a while. However, things do settle down and life returns to normal.

I want to focus on school lunches to help parents plan accordingly. Meals prepared at school must meet nutrient requirements and limit the amount of fat. So why pack a lunch for school? Actually there are some occasions when a lunch from home might be the answer: to satisfy picky eaters, to save time at school (no waiting in line for lunch, giving the child more time to eat), and to provide a “hands-on” way to learn meal planning.

When packing a school lunch, try to include the food groups: grains – bread, tortilla, crackers, pita; fruits (fresh, dried, canned, 100% juice); vegetables (veggie sticks with dressing); meat & beans; and milk. Get creative! Make your own lunch kits:

– Whole grain crackers

– Sliced or cubed cheese

– Lean lunchmeat

– Pudding cups

– Fruit or veggie sticks

Involving kids in making their own lunch teaches them food preparation skills, provides a chance to learn food safety habits, and allows children to take “ownership” of their lunch. Be sure to wash hands with soap and warm water before handling any food and be sure food preparation areas are clean. Keep perishable foods at a safe temperature until lunchtime. Bacteria can double in number every 20 minutes in the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 degrees). At room temperature, just 1 bacterium (germ) could grow to as many as 4,096 bacteria in 4 hours!

Many foods are safe at room temperature. These include nuts and nut butters, unopened containers of pudding, unopened juice boxes, dried and canned fruit, unopened canned meat, bread, cereal, crackers & cookies, chips, and whole fruit (banana, apple, orange, etc.)

Foods that must be kept cold include lunch meats, eggs, cooked beans or sandwiches/salads made with these foods; cheese; salad dressing/mayo; milk; cut fruit; cut vegetables; cooked pasta; and cooked rice. Several options to keep foods colds are available – freeze a juice box, freezer pack, or gel pack. Wrap in plastic or foil to keep condensation from getting other foods wet.

Keep hot foods hot. Soup, chili or stew should be kept in a wide-mouth insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and allow it to stand for a few minutes to heat the bottle. Pour out the water and fill with hot soup, chili, or stew (165°). Insulated soft-sided lunch bags are best at keeping foods cold or hot.

After lunch, throw away all food packages and use paper bags only once. Clean plastic, cloth, and metal lunch boxes/bags daily. Do not re-use lunch leftovers. Throw them out.

Remember, a lunch is a fun way to teach food preparation and nutrition to a child. Make sure the lunch you pack doesn’t make your child sick: wash hand and food preparation areas, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold; discard lunch box leftovers, and keep lunch containers clean. Start the 2014/2015 school year off with a bang – not bacteria!

Volunteers Welcome!

If you are looking for a place to volunteer, I have the answer! My Family & Consumer Sciences Committee, Master Wellness Volunteers, and Fall Festival committee will meet on Wednesday, August 20, at noon, at the Extension Office – lunch provided. We’ll be discussing upcoming events with which I’ll need assistance, including the Fall Festival Creative Arts Contest, Holiday Joys Program, Dinner Tonight Cooking Demonstrations, and 4-H Foods project workshops. Please call if you would like to come so I can make adequate lunch preparations – 903-885-3443.


Closing Thought

To come together as a team to accomplish goals, we need to move from potential to action – John Maxwell

Johanna Hicks
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Family & Consumer Sciences
1200-B W. Houston
P.O.Box 518
Sulphur springs, TX 75483
903-885-3443 – phone
903-439-4909 – Fax

[email protected]

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