Safe and healthy lunches for children

Follow simple food safety steps to ensure that your child is healthy and ready to learn at school.

As parents, we do our very best to make sure our children eat healthy foods to help them grow and thrive. This includes the daily chore of packing lunches to take to school. But in the hustle and bustle of getting your children to school on time, some simple food safety steps may be missed which could cause the lunch to become unsafe by the time they eat it. Recent research published in the Journal of Pediatrics indicates that 90% of the food in preschooler lunches wasn’t kept at safe temperatures which could make the food unsafe to eat by the children.

The US Department of Agriculture reminds parents of several important practices for keeping packed lunches safe for both our children and ourselves. It is very important to keep food temperatures out of the danger zone, which is between 40° F and 140° F. Harmful bacteria rapidly multiply within these temperatures which can cause food borne illness. An important first step to regulate the food temperature is to start with an insulated lunch box. A brown paper sack provides little insulation and allows the temperature of the lunch to rise quickly. In addition to the insulated lunch box, include an ice pack to keep foods that need refrigeration like meats, poultry, and dairy products, cut fruits and vegetables colder longer.

Another simple step is to start with clean hands. Prior to preparing lunches, wash your hands using soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Also, make sure the food preparation surfaces are clean and sanitized as well. Remind your children to wash their hands prior to eating their delicious lunch!

To keep hot foods hot, use an insulated thermos to store soups and stews. To keep the food hot longer, place boiling water in the thermos for a few minutes. Empty and then pour in your hot food.

Some food doesn’t require refrigeration to be kept safe. Lunch items that don’t need an ice pack include whole fruits and vegetables, crackers, breads, dried fruit, nut butters, seeds, and unopened juice boxes. Including these items in your child’s lunch minimizes the food safety risk. Be sure to wash all whole fruits and vegetables prior to packing them in your child’s lunch.

After school, throw out all perishable food items that are remaining in the lunch box. These foods are no longer safe to eat as they have been unrefrigerated too long and may contain foodborne illness causing bacteria.

Following these simple food safety steps will not only help your child be ready to learn each day at school, but they will also be healthy! To learn more about food safety, visit tips from the USDA.

Did you find this article useful?