By Robert Silverman
Despite one’s best intentions to send kids to school with a healthy homemade lunch, a lot can happen between the time you pack it up at home and when your child unpacks it in the cafeteria. No one wants a soggy sandwich or warm milk for lunch. And not only are some lunchtime woes unappetizing, they can pose health risks.
Perishable food transported without a cooling source won’t stay safe for long. Indeed, harmful bacteria multiply rapidly after only two hours in the “danger zone,” the temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F, according to the USDA.
Here are some lunch-packing tips to keep foods safer, fresher and tastier:
Top to Bottom
You may be in a rush in the morning, but take the time to take a packing cue from the bagging experts at your local grocery store. Pack strategically, with heavy items like apples and oranges on the bottom and lighter more fragile items like pretzels and peanut butter and jelly on top.
Encourage kids to do likewise in their book bags, cubbies and lockers. Books should never be piled on top of lunch.
Skip the Brown Bag
Disposable brown bags get soggy, threatening student’s math homework, electronic devices and other book bag contents. More importantly, a thin paper bag does nothing to keep lunch cool and safe to eat.
Do your kids and the earth a favor by sending them to school with a smart reusable cooler designed to travel and keep foods chilled for hours, such as PackIt, a foldable, freezable bag that keeps food and drinks cool up to 10 hours.
“Standard insulated bags don’t cut it because you have to stuff them with gel packs that don’t work and inevitably get lost, or ice baggies that leak everywhere,” said Melissa Kieling, co-founder and CEO of PackIt. “An all-in-one solution with built-in cooling makes bringing lunch from home easier, safer and more appetizing for kids.”
A mother of three, Kieling invented PackIt, which features freezable gel built into the walls of the bag to simplify weekday lunches for families. The Freezable Lunch Bag and Freezable Classic Lunch Box both fold flat, and the entire cooler goes in the freezer overnight. In the morning, the walls will be completely frozen and ready to chill food and drinks from all sides for hours, like a refrigerator.
There are some prep steps to improve the taste and appearance of lunch. For example, using thick slices of toast means a better chance that bread stays intact until the lunch hour. Likewise, condiments and slices of tomato and avocado in the center of a sandwich will keep bread dry until it’s ready to be eaten.
If you are going to pre-slice apples or pears, be sure to store them an airtight baggie to prevent browning.
With a few considerations, you can make lunch time fresher, tastier and, above all, safer for kids.
Robert Silverman is the editor-in-chief at StatePoint.