As the school year settles in to a rhythm, parents everywhere put their minds to the daily task of sending their kids off with healthy lunches. The challenge: packing something that your child will eat (rather than trade away) and that will help him stay focused all day. But as a new study from the Northeast Texas Public Health district shows, even if you've nailed that thorny problem, what you pack can do more harm than good if you're not careful about spoilage. As reported by NBC in steamy Texas, lunchboxes and lunch sacks go unrefrigerated for hours and most reach unsafe temperatures that allow bacteria to grow in nutritious but perishable foods like lunch meats and milk.
Here, Circle of Moms members share five tips for packing healthy, spoilage-free lunches.
1. Insulated Lunch Boxes
Shaista K. swears by her son's insulated lunch box: "My son loves homemade chicken fingers, which I toast in the morning, then put in his insulated container for lunch." Japanese bento boxes, which cost about $10 and can be washed and re-used every day, often have insulation that will help preserve perishable lunch foods and keep kids safe from food-borne illnesses.
2. Include an Ice Pack, Gel Pack, or Frozen Drink
For that extra measure of safety in keeping your child's lunch spoilage free, Circle of Moms members recommend freezer and ice packs popped in from the freezer the night before and then placed in the lunchbox in the morning. "I place a gel pack inside the lunch to keep things fresh," says Nivia M.
Other moms suggest using your child's juice as a freezer pack by freezing it the night before and adding it to their lunch in the morning. As Dana S. explains, "By lunchtime, the juice should be thawed and ready to drink."
3. Freeze Perishable Foods The Night Before
Another trick shared by moms for packing spoilage-prone foods and drinks is freezing the perishable items overnight. The trick is to do this only with foods that will defrost in time. Melissa C. freezes yogurt for her children and says that by lunch time, it's the "perfect" temperature for enjoying. Phyllis H. freezes her kids' lunch milk. To make sure it defrosts in time, she instructs, "pour a couple ounces in a plastic juice box and freeze it overnight. Then in the morning fill the rest of the container with milk. It will stay cold for a long time, without having to worry that the whole thing will be too frozen to drink at lunchtime."
4. Pack Hot Foods in a Thermos
Hot lunches are comforting and are a great use for dinner's leftovers. To keep them warm and from spoiling, pop them into a thermos inside your child' lunch box. Circle of Moms member Kelly bought a soup thermos for her son Jake's lunch box "that will "keep hot foods hot for up to five hours." Sue G. sends her son off to school with stews, soup and even shepherd's pie in a thermos. "These are his favorite foods and he loves taking them to lunch," she says.
5. Choose Non-perishable Foods
Circle of Moms members also point out that there are many foods won't spoil between when they leave your kitchen and lunch time. Lunch items that don't need to be refrigerated include fruits, vegetables, breads, peanut butter, and crackers, says Nikki D. She often packs apple slices with cheese cubes ("my kids love to snack on them together") and puts lemon juice on the apple slices "to keep them from browning."
How do you avoid food-spoilage in your child's lunch box?
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