Sarah Remmer: The Non-Diet Dietitian


6 Food Rules to Keep School Lunches Safe

Make your lunch-packing duties easier (and less nerve wracking!)

6 Food Safety Rules To Follow When Packing School Lunches

Sending your child to school with a nutritious lunch and snacks is important not only for overall health, growth, and development, but also to keep their brains properly fueled during the day so they can focus and concentrate. But parents often feel limited in what they can send to school, not only because they have to avoid potentially allergenic foods, but also because of possible bacterial growth and the risk of food poisoning, so it's important to know how to keep foods safely packed. A school lunch that hasn't been packed properly can lead to spoiled food, missed meals, or - in a worst case scenario - food-poisoning.

Sending safe, nutritious, and tasty lunches is easy if you follow these 6 simple tips:

1. Use a proper lunch bag

I'm always on the look-out for great lunch kits. Unfortunately, the character decorated ones usually aren't great at keeping foods at safe temperatures, unless you find a well-insulated one. An insulated, lunch bag is usually the best option. 

Perishable food should remain at room temperature for no longer than two hours, so it's important that cold foods stay cold and hot foods stay hot. Foods should never reach the temperature "danger zone" of between 4 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius, because bacteria can multiply quickly and lead to food poisoning.

Foods such as dairy products, meats, peeled and cut fruits and vegetables, mayonnaise, hummus, eggs, and leftovers are all possible breeding grounds for bacteria and should be kept in an insulated lunch bag with a frozen ice pack until eaten at lunch time.

  Tip: It's important to wash lunch kits, containers and ice packs with warm soapy water every day after school so they are clean and ready for packing and to avoid bacteria growth.

2. Be choosy with your containers

The safest containers are reusable BPA-free plastic or glass, spill-proof containers that are both dishwasher and microwave-safe. They are easy to clean, decrease the likelihood of messy spills, bacteria growth, and are environmentally friendly. This is why I love Rubbermaid LunchBlox containers. They are leak-proof (we've tested them with some fairly "leaky" foods such as cottage cheese, yogurt and soup!), yet easy for my preschooler to open by himself. They also come in convenient sizes that fit all of his favourite foods and dips and snap together to keep everything organized and neatly packed. I also use these containers for my work lunches and love them! 

3. Keep cold foods cold

It's important to always use a frozen ice pack when packing anything perishable. One of the reasons I love Rubbermaid LunchBlox containers is because they each come with the "Blue Ice" tray, which conveniently snaps right onto (or in between) the containers, keeping them organized and cold until lunch time. The blue ice tray works better than most ice packs because it cools all the of containers (and contents within) equally, instead of some items staying really cold and others not.

  Tip: Since ice packs are designed to keep cold foods cold (not cool room temperature foods down), it's important to pack cold foods the night before (preferably in the container that they will be taken in), and store them in the fridge. In the morning, simply snap the frozen Blue Ice tray on, and foods stay cold until lunchtime. Items such as sandwich ingredients, leftovers, tuna or egg salads etc. should be chilled beforehand (not made the morning of with room temperature ingredients) for the safest result.

4. Keep hot foods hot

For hot foods like chili, casseroles, soup or stew, make sure to use an insulated container such as a thermos. Before storing food, fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty it and then add the hot food (remember to heat it until piping hot beforehand). It's important that the insulated container be kept closed tightly until lunchtime to help minimize the risk of temperatures dropping into the "danger zone" where bacterial contamination or growth can occur.

  Tip: Keep cold foods separate from hot foods in your child's lunch kit. 

5. Don't use frozen juice boxes to keep things cold

Some parents use frozen juice boxes to keep foods cool in lunch kits. I don't recommend sending juice (even unsweetened) every day because of the sugar content and I also think they are wasteful and costly, so instead I like packing a Rubbermaid Shaker Bottle full of water and ice to keep foods cool during the day (along with ice packs) and to keep my son hydrated.

6. Wash, wash, wash

Keeping hands, cutting boards, counter tops and utensils clean (by washing with hot soapy water) during food prep and packing is essential to keeping everything food-safe. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed thoroughly under cool running water, even if they will be peeled or cut. Remind your kids to wash their hands before they eat their lunch and snacks is also important.

  Tip: Never reuse sandwich bags, foil, or plastic wrap. 

Packing nutritious lunches, which include fresh whole foods, can be easy and safe with a bit of forethought. Having the proper lunch bags, containers, and ice packs, and getting your kids involved in the prep and packing will make your lunch duties seem a lot easier (and less nerve wracking) as well as increase the chances of your kids actually eating their lunches and snacks

Packing safe school lunches is a snap thanks to Sarah's 6 tips. Now, be sure you have all the essentials.

Rubbermaid LunchBlox and Shaker Bottles are available at local Loblaws, Zehrs, or Superstores. You’ll now be able to pack your food, stay organized, and eat healthy and well on-the-go.

Visit our "No Sweat Guide to #GetFitIn2015" page for more tips on how to get fit, get organized, and stay healthy this year and beyond!