Chances are that, during the week, someone in your household brings their lunch to school or work.
While it's a common routine, important steps to prevent foodborne illness are oftentimes overlooked. Here are easy tips to keep your lunch and family safe.
Cool at school. Perishable foods like dairy and meats should not be left out of refrigeration for more than two hours, but according to a survey by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, four out of five kids say they don't have access to a refrigerator at school. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, pack your child's lunch in an insulated lunch bag or box along with an ice pack or frozen beverage container.
If refrigeration is unavailable during the day, substitute perishables with foods that do not require refrigeration, such as trail mix, granola bars, bagels, carrot and celery sticks and peanut butter.
Clean it up. Remember to wash vegetables and ready-to-eat fruits like apples and grapes before packing them for the day. Also, remember to rinse peel-and-eat fruits like bananas and oranges to eliminate harmful bacteria that can spread during peeling or cutting.
One easy step to reduce foodborne illness is to clean food containers and lunch boxes daily. Start off each day fresh by making sure the lunch box or bag is washed with warm soapy water after each use. Disinfect counter surfaces to prevent cross-contamination as you prepare meals.
While nearly 60 percent of kids don't wash their hands before eating lunch, more than nine out of 10 kids say they would wash their hands with a moist towelette or hand sanitizer if one was included in their lunch container.
Encourage family members to lather up before digging in, and reinforce these good habits at home by encouraging family members to sing two full choruses of "Happy Birthday" (about 20 seconds) while washing their hands before every meal.
Check out the ideas for some cool lunches that follow.
Turkey Salad Rolls
Combine diced smoked turkey, toasted almonds, halved seedless red grapes, thinly sliced celery and mayonnaise. Transfer to an airtight container; pack with a whole wheat hot dog bun for your talented kid to assemble. Or not.
The Elvis Burrito
Spread peanut butter on a toasted whole-wheat wrap, then sprinkle with crumbled bacon and drizzle with honey. Place a whole banana at the edge of the wrap, then roll, pressing gently to break the banana and form a cylinder shape. Or, slice the banana, scatter, and roll.
Turkey-Cheese Pita Pockets
Spread a creamy cheese, such as Boursin, inside a whole wheat pita, then fill with roast turkey slices, baby spinach leaves and cucumber slices.
Barbecue Chicken Sloppy Joes
Toss chopped tomatoes and shredded rotisserie chicken and carrots with barbecue sauce and heat through. Toss the mixture with chopped cilantro or parsley and transfer to an airtight container. Pack with a whole wheat hamburger bun for assembly at lunch.
Chicken Soft Tacos
Pack a container with avocados mashed with lemon juice; top with a layer of shredded Monterey Jack before sealing. Fill 2 small whole wheat tortillas with shredded rotisserie chicken and sliced romaine lettuce and store in resealable plastic bags. Assemble at lunch.
Waldorf Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Combine shredded rotisserie chicken, chopped apples and celery, walnuts, raisins, and mayonnaise. Spread the cut side of a split whole wheat hamburger bun with mayonnaise and assemble the sandwich using the chicken salad and butter lettuce leaves.
Carol Schimmer is a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager with Providence Medical Center.