Tips for a Fun and Food Safe Lunch Box
By Jorj Morgan
The back to school bell rings and students pour into classrooms armed with new backpacks, spanking clean clothes, and stuffed lunchboxes. Now is a terrific time to add a food lesson to your child's education. Food safety is an important issue - one that is easily overlooked in the bustle of school and work schedules. Here are a few fun and safe tips to make your child's school lunch experience a good one.
A totally cool lunchbox
When scouring the shelves for the absolute perfect lunch box there are many things to consider. Crafty moms can create personalized lunchboxes with the help of a glue gun. Others will opt to buy those that come with the latest teen idol's picture splashed on all sides. Pre-teens may feel that bland is better - many choose not to stand out. Determine which idea works for your child and shop for or create a lunchbox together.
An insulated lunchbox is a great choice. In many classrooms, there are no coolers or places that maintain proper temperature to store packed lunches for several hours. Alas, in some cases, even the most treasured lunchboxes find themselves casually tossed on the bottom of an untidy locker. An insulated lunchbox helps to overcome these dilemma. Likewise, an insulated thermos will help keep soups warm and drinks cool.
Get kids involved in the menu
It is a great idea to make the next day's lunch the evening before. This cuts back on the hectic morning activities and gives your child a chance to help prepare the food. You can easily set the categories for your child and offer choices. I suggest three categories: Sandwich, wrap or salad, fruit or veggie and dessert. Let your child build his own sandwich or favorite salad. Wrap the sandwich in a plastic bag. In order to maintain freshness, purchase small packets of condiments like mustard or mayonnaise rather than slathering the stuff onto the bread. Salads are easily stored in sealed containers. Use packets or a small plastic container to pack the dressing separately from the veggies. Choose a wrap to incorporate both the sandwich and the salad into one great special lunchbox treat.
While whole fruits like bananas or apples are easily placed in a lunchbox, the number of these fruit that find their way home uneaten can be staggering!! I suggest slicing oranges into wedges, filling a bag full of whole grapes or strawberries, or cutting up chunks of melons. Yes, this is a little more work in advance, but it provides a much easier to eat snack. The same is true for carrot sticks, celery, broccoli flowerets and tomato wedges.
Dessert is the fun part. In addition to the obvious cookie, remember to alternate with brownies, snack cakes, and fruit bars. Don't be afraid to pack up a slice of last night's chocolate cake. Just add a plastic fork and an extra napkin.
To be safe, place the lunch in the refrigerator overnight to protect against spoiling. Just before you do, you may want to sneak in a note or fun sticker to let your baby know that you are proud and thankful for her help in preparing a terrific lunch.
Now is a terrific time to school young children on the importance of washing hands before touching their food. Many children come from the playground or crowded classroom directly to the lunchroom. If they do not have an opportunity to visit the washroom before lunch, pack a moist towelette in their lunchbox and encourage them to use it. You might want to suggest that your child only eat from his lunchbox and not trade for (or sample) other friend's food. Remember to clean the lunchbox well in hot soapy water after he returns home from school and make sure that it is dry before you repack it for the next day.
Many schools have milk programs or offer ice cream as a separate item for students to purchase. This can be a great learning experience as well as a terrific reward for a job well done. If yours is a child who loves milk with lunch, I recommend that you purchase the milk, rather than transport it in a thermos. Milk purchased at school is kept refrigerated and has less chance of spoiling. If you do transport your child's milk, make sure that it is stored in a well-insulated thermos.
Use school purchased desserts like ice cream to teach your child math. Challenge him to bring home the correct change and reward him for his efforts.
More safety tips
Here are a few more safety tips for you to keep in mind while preparing your child's favorite lunch:
- Make sure that counters are clean before you begin to build your lunch.
- Wash containers well and make sure that they are dry before you put food inside.
- Use leftovers within two days. Luncheon meat stays fresh for 4 to 5 days.
- Avoid cross contamination by washing utensils - do not spread mayonnaise with the same knife that you cut a brownie.
- Keep lunchboxes in the refrigerator overnight.
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Jorj Morgan is the Lifestyle Director of BlueSuitMom.com and the author of At Home In The Kitchen, a cookbook due in spring 2001.