Food safety tips for back-to-school lunches

Learn how to keep the nourishing lunch you send with your child to school safe with a few easy steps.

Back to school is a very busy time in the households of families with preschool or school-age children. The morning hustle to get out the door to school can be a stressful time. One fact we can’t ignore is that children who eat well do better in school. So not only is the morning breakfast critical for our kids heading off to school, but so is the lunch box. Now that school is back in session, chances are that you probably pack a sack lunch, at least some of the time. Keeping those nutritious foods safe from bacterial growth from the time the lunch leaves your home early morning until your child’s lunch time at school is critical. Below are a few tips to help keep those packed lunches safe:

  • Always start your lunch packing and food prep with clean hands and clean surfaces to reduce the risk of contamination. Get your child involved in packing their lunch as well and have them wash hands before helping.
  • Foods that can easily spoil — such as leftovers, casseroles, soups, meats, meat sandwiches, eggs, dairy products and vegetables — must be kept cold.
  • Add an icepack to your child’s lunch. If you don’t have an icepack, you can also keep foods cold for three to five hours by freezing part of the lunch such as water bottle, yogurt, pudding, applesauce or a 100 percent juice box, and packing it next to the perishable food right before your child leaves for school.
  • Use an insulated lunch bag.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables and dry them before adding them to the lunch box.
  • Remind children not to eat any foods leftover from lunch afterschool on the bus or at home if they have not been kept cold since lunch time.
  • Pack lunches the night before and store them in the refrigerator to keep them safe, making things easier during the morning rush.

Also remember that if packing safe lunches isn’t convenient in your household, school lunches (lunches provided by the school) are a healthful and low-cost option. If you would like to know if your child is eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals, contact the school food service director or your school principal.

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