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If You’re Packing Lunch, Make Sure It’s Safe!

It’s that time of year – time to plan for back-to-school, which includes healthy and safe lunches.  If you are planning on packing your child’s school lunch, here are some food safety tips to follow:

-Use good sanitation and good personal hygiene when preparing food.

-Use special care with high protein, moist, and low-acid foods.

  •  Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and fresh milk products.

-Keep foods either hot or cold. Do not leave food at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour on very hot days).

  • Boil foods such as soups, stews and chili, then immediately pour into a hot, sterile vacuum bottle. Sterilize vacuum bottle with boiling water.
  • Use a freezer gel-pack or make one from a plastic container (such as a margarine tub) filled with water then frozen. Place these containers in the lunch bag or box. Insulted lunch bags keep foods colder than paper bags.  Some insulated lunch bags even have built-in freezer gel packs.
  • To keep beverages cold and safe, place an empty sterilized vacuum bottle in the freezer compartment every evening.
  • Freeze individual cartons of yogurt or plastic bottles of water or other non-carbonated drinks (these will serve the same purpose as freezer-gel devices or homemade ice containers).
  • Take sandwich fillings such as egg or tuna salad and slices of luncheon meats in a cold-keeping container to be spread on bread at lunch time.
  • Don’t let lunch sit in a warm place such as the car or in the sun.

-Foods safe for lunch without keeping hot or cold:

  • Dried meats such as beef jerky.
  • Crisp-cooked bacon.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Clean, well-scrubbed, whole (not cut) fruits and vegetables.
  • Breads, crackers, cereals.
  • Baked products such as cookies and cake.

-Use your imagination to create safe, nutritious and tasty lunches.

Mix peanut butter and:

  • Applesauce with a dash of cinnamon; wheat germ and raisins can also be added.
  • Nonfat dry milk powder and honey or mashed banana.
  • Dried fruits like raisins, apricots, dates, or prunes.
  • Sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds.
  • Honey and crumbled bacon.

-Mix a grated or chopped mild cheese with a favorite salad dressing such as French or Italian, then stir in:

  • Sweet or dill pickles.
  • Chopped nuts.
  • Chopped onion, green pepper, cucumbers, celery, or bean sprouts.
  • Crushed, drained pineapple.
  • Chopped fruit such as apples or bananas.

-Use different types of breads.

  • Try whole wheat, rye, raisin, French, or Italian bread.
  • Fill pocket or pita bread with any of the above spreads.
  • Use hot dog, hamburger, or Kaiser rolls.
  • Bagels, croissants, and English muffins make a nice change.
  • Spread quick breads such as banana or zucchini bread with peanut butter.

For more information about packing food safely, please visit https://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/resource-library/food-safety/packing-food-safely.

Prepared by: Sue Snider, PhD, Professor/Food Safety and Nutrition Specialist

Edited on 08/04/2016:  Nancy Mears, MS, CHES, SNS, Extension Agent – Family & Consumer Sciences

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