Making Sure Back-to-School Lunches Keep Their Cool

Back-to-school season is here, which means a return to packing lunches in the morning for your kids to take with them. It’s a smart idea: Packing their lunches is good for your budget and you have more control over how nutritious their food is. However, there are some things you should know about keeping the food you pack safe for the hours between the first bell and lunchtime.

Cold food: Perishable food like meat and dairy items should be kept below 40 degrees to make sure they stay safe to eat. The danger zone—between 40 degrees and 140 degrees—is when harmful bacteria can multiply. If you’re packing things like chicken salad, a ham-and-cheese sandwich or yogurt, also toss in two ice packs in the lunch box or bag to keep food cold. Another option is to freeze yogurt and juice, since they can act as an extra ice pack.

Hot food: If you are packing up warm soup or leftovers, you can keep them at a safe temperature by packing them in an insulated container like a thermos. Fill the insulated container with boiling water, let it sit for a few minutes and empty. Then just refill with the hot soup, stew or other leftover dish. The food will stay hot until lunch as long as the container stays sealed.

A note about keeping things clean: If you’re using a reusable lunch box or bag, use a mild cleanser such as dish soap or food-friendly disinfectant to clean them at least once a week (or more often if there are spills). Be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly to ward off unwanted bacteria.

If you make lunches the night before, be sure to keep the food in the refrigerator overnight. Afraid you’ll forget it’s in there in the morning? Put a sticky note on the door as a reminder. And if you need some more back-to-school inspiration, check out these blogs:

Photo credit: Melissa

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