Alice Smith

As soon as school starts, it seems that some children are already complaining about school lunch and wanting to carry their lunch. School lunches are planned to be nutritious and economical, served in a healthy manner and timely manner. But try as hard as they can, school lunch will not appeal to every child every day. Every school will vary on what is allowed and how lunches from home should be packaged.

Here are some tips to make a carried lunch healthy and safe.

Carrying your food in an insulated container with a freezer gel pack helps prevent boring bagged lunches. But this also means the child needs to be responsible enough to bring the container home every day,

Bacteria multiply rapidly if food is held in the “danger zone” of 40 F to 140 F for more than two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90 F). At room temperature, just one bacterium could grow to 2,097,152 bacteria in seven hours. This is the reason it is so important to keep food at the proper temperature.

Keeping food at a safe temperature is important when carrying your lunch. Let your “sack lunch” be limited only by your imagination through following these food safety tips. To serve safe food in carried lunches, the food must start out safe. Follow general food safety practices of cooking foods to safe temperatures, working with clean and using clean utensils and a clean work surface, cooling and storing food properly.

Use an insulated container and gel freezer pack to carry perishable foods that must be kept cold. Always wash the lunch container and thermos with hot water and detergent after every use. If you use a paper bag, purchase bags specifically for carrying sack lunches and use a clean one each time.

Pack just the amount of perishable food that can be eaten to avoid possible safety problems with leftover perishable foods. Perishable foods served cold, must be kept cold. These include the following foods and items prepared with these foods: meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, tofu, Dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt), opened canned fruit, cooked fruits and vegetables, cut/peeled fresh fruits and vegetables, pasta, rice and cooked vegetables and fruits.

Use thermos containers to keep liquids or semi-fluid foods cold or hot. Fill shortly before leaving with your lunch. For hot foods, preheat the thermos by filling it with hot water and letting it stand for a few minutes. Pour out water and add steaming hot food. For cold foods, fill your thermos with cold water first and let stand a few minutes before emptying the water and adding cold foods.

You might make extra of a favorite main dish and enjoy it a day or two later as a packed lunch at work or school. If lunches are packed the night before, keep perishable foods refrigerated until you are ready to leave with your lunch. Add cookies, chips or other foods that lose crispness in the morning.

If foods are reheated in the microwave at work, reheat until they are steaming hot throughout.

Packed lunch foods that are safe at room temperature include peanut butter sandwiches, but check with the school to know the policy. They may permit a substitute called Sun Butter. Also consider popcorn, bread, crackers, bagels, fresh fruit in the peel, unopened single-serving containers of fruit, fruit juice and pudding, commercially prepared meats, poultry, seafood and dried beans (such as beans and franks) that can be opened and eaten immediately, dried fruits, nuts, cookies and cereal bars.

Mayonnaise is one of the foods that must be kept cold. If you use a cold pack in the lunch Turkey Rollups is a great entrée that kids like. Lay out two flour tortillas spread with two tsp mayonnaise, layer with slices of thinly sliced deli turkey, half a cup of shredded lettuce and two tbsp shredded cheese. Roll up and wrap.

You might also make your “beary good snack mix.” Simply mix together two cups of bear-shaped graham crackers, two cups of toasted oat cereal, one cup of honey-roasted peanuts, half a cup of raisins, and half a cup of chocolate chips. Mix all the ingredients well in a large bowl or resealable bag. Divide it into 12 individual servings and add it to the lunch bag occasionally.

Enjoy the start of a new school year, and if you pack lunch, make sure the children get a healthy variety of items.