Tips for healthy and safe bagged lunches

Aug 8, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. ET

As we get ready to send our kids back to school, remember these tips for packing healthy and safe bagged lunches. We don't want any upset stomachs.

Lunch bag

Back to school, back to bagged lunches

As we get ready to send our kids back to school, remember these tips for packing healthy and safe bagged lunches. We don't want any upset stomachs.

Where did the summer go? It's hard to believe, but soon we'll be packing those bagged lunches again. We all want our kids to have healthy lunches, but we also need to remember some safety tips since these brown bags will likely be stuffed in lockers or desks all day, instead of in a cold refrigerator. Check out these tips and ideas for bagged lunches that will be healthy, delicious and safe to eat.

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Keep it cold

The biggest concern with bagged lunches is keeping the food cold so as not to promote the growth of bacteria. If there is no refrigeration option at school, keep these tips in mind to ensure that your student is eating a safe lunch:

  • Use an insulated lunch bag. As cute as metal lunch boxes adorned with cartoon characters are, they don't retain the coldness that an insulated cooler bag will. And these days there are just as many options for kid-themed insulated bags in every color and pattern. Let your little one have his pick, and he'll love opening it up every day.
  • Pack lunches with gel ice packs. These are inexpensive and can be used over and over again. Refreeze them every night for use again in the morning. For an all-in-one insulated bag with gel packs built into the lining, try a PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag — just stick the whole bag in the freezer, and you'll have a cold meal come lunchtime.
  • Freeze beverages to use as a disposable ice pack. If you pack juice boxes or plastic bottles, freeze them the night before packing lunch. The beverages will thaw throughout the day, but will keep the food cold in the meantime.

Bagged lunch don'ts

Follow these simple "don'ts" when packing bagged lunches:

  • Don't use ingredients that are more prone to spoilage. Some proteins like turkey can go bad easily, along with spreads like mayonnaise.
  • Don't pack more food than will be eaten in one sitting. If there are leftovers, they will sit all day before coming home for a chance to be refrigerated.
  • Don't reuse materials like foil, baggies, plastic wrap or paper bags. As much as we all like to reuse and recycle, once these items have been used for food, it's best to throw them away rather than risk food contamination or foodborne illness.

What to pack

Since food safety and being healthy is the goal, think about packing items in school lunches which do not require refrigeration, such as whole fruits and vegetables, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers, fruit leather and mixed nuts, to name a few.

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