A recent study of preschools found that what most food parents packed for their children at home was at unsafe temperatures for more than an hour before lunch time, according to an article by HealthDay News. This can allow food-borne pathogens to multiply in your child’s lunches and make them sick.
While vegetables and dairy are a nutritious lunch, most expire quickly if not well-refrigerated.
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The study followed nine Texas daycares for children between the ages of 3 and 5. From these participants, researches took the temperatures of 705 individual lunches and found that 90 percent of perishable items in the children’s lunchboxes were above the acceptable temperature an hour and a half before lunch time.
This high number of lunches at warm temperatures probably stems from parents improperly packing their children’s lunches. Out of the 705 lunches examined, 39 percent of the lunches had no ice packs, and 45 percent of the lunches had only one. By the time the children were allowed to eat, 88 percent of the lunches were at room temperature. However, researchers found that, even when multiple ice packs were used, food was sometimes still above the advised temperature.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that refrigerated foods should be kept at 40 degrees or lower. Nevertheless, it may not be healthy to completely avoid perishable food like dairy and vegetables. One way to help keep perishable lunches cooler is to buy an insulated lunchbox. The insulation helps keep the cold air from the ice packs from escaping the lunchbox, which will keep the food cooler longer. It also saves you money when you don’t need to buy disposable paper bags.
If brown-bagging is the only option, here are some easy lunch ideas (for you or your children) that don’t require refrigeration:
• Pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of the regular meat and cheese.
• Fill up on fruits such as apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, peaches and pears.
• A nutrient-packed, pre-packaged snack bar (such as Kellog’s FiberPlus bars) is a great way to fill up at lunch.
• Frozen juice boxes can work as an extra ice pack for your lunch and should be thawed and ready to drink by the afternoon.
• Canned tuna on and hard cheese on crackers is a convenient way to get your protein and dairy fix.
• Pickles are acidic enough that they don't need to be refrigerated and are a tangy, delicious addition to any lunch.
• Homemade trail mix with a variety of nuts, pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries, and a handful of chocolate chips both satisfy your hunger and your sweet tooth.
• If you have access to a microwave (or don’t mind eating them cold), canned soups are quick to pack and easy to eat.