Is your child’s lunch cold or hot enough? Startling facts you need to know!

unhealthy lunch box


Did you ever wonder if the lunches that you pack for your kids for school or daycare are keeping their food cold or hot enough?  Well researchers at the University of Texas did. They analyzed 705 lunches of preschoolers to make sure that they were kept in the safety zone: below 40° F for food and beverages that you want to keep cold or above 140° F degrees for hot items. When food is kept at a temperature between 40° F and 140° F bacteria can grow and your child can potentially develop a food borne illness which can be serious.

What did the study find? It was shocking: only 1.6% of the food items that they measured were in the safety zone and that was 1 ½ before lunch time even occurred. These findings bring to light the importance of not only eating food that is healthy in terms of it’s nutritional value but also in terms of how safe it is too.  Cooking meat thoroughly, reducing the chance of cross contamination and following practices that keep food cold or hot enough are all very important practices to follow. In this study almost 40% of the lunches had no ice packs in them.

You do not need to stop packing your child’s lunches as long as you follow some safe practices for handling and storing food. Below are some tips for packing healthy lunches:

1. Start with a clean working surface at home so that you don’t transfer bacteria on a cutting board or counter to your child’s food. Keep pets off your counters!
2. Begin with cold ingredients as they will keep food in the lunch box cooler for longer; refrigerate juice boxes, milk boxes and fruits and veggies before putting them in your child’s lunch box.
3. For hot items, add boiling water to your child thermos to get it very hot before adding heated soup or heated leftovers.
4. Make sure to include at least one ice pack in your child’s lunch that is thick enough to last the amount of time necessary between leaving the house and eating their lunch.
5. When you include food that is susceptible to bacterial growth, make extra sure that you put that ice pack right up against it or even sandwich the following susceptible items between two ice packs. These foods need to be kept cold (do not leave at room temperature for more than 2 hours):

    • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs
    • Anything with mayonnaise in or on it
    • Peeled or cut fruits and vegetables
    • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
    • Open container of applesauce or pudding

6. Use a top quality thermos, ice pack and lunch container to keep food hot or cold and don’t put hot and cold items in the same lunch box.

7. Pack non-perishable items for later use or if you are not sure how well your child’s lunch box holds up. The following foods do not need refrigeration

    • Prepackaged fruit cups
    • Dried fruit (raisins)
    • Dried cereal or crackers
    • Shelf stable, single serving milk or milk alternatives (soy or rice milk)
    • Nuts and seeds (if no allergies are present), nut butters and sunflower seed butter
    • Fruit in its original packaging: bananas, oranges, grapes, cherries, cherry tomatoes

8. Rinse and dry all fruits and vegetables before packing with water.

I am concerned that many families will take the results of this study and eliminate vegetables for non perishable items in their child’s diet.  This does not need to happen as long as you are careful when packing your child’s lunch and you use a quality lunchbox/bag and ice packs. Follow the safety tips above and pack several ice packs to make sure that you have all the essential elements to a healthy lunch: whole grain and protein, a fruit and a vegetable and a good source of calcium.

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