It’s that time of year once again to send off the kiddos to the school bus each morning with backpack and lunchbox in hand. For some parents, summer went by in a flash, for others, the school bells couldn’t have started ringing soon enough. No matter how you feel about the new school year, it’s here and there are some very important food safety tips that should be examined.
If you make your child’s own lunches each day, you know the challenges that exist: creating variety in each meal, sneaking in something healthy, and remembering to place utensils in with the meal. But there are other significant challenges that arise before Junior ever opens up his special lunch, made with Mom’s tender, loving care. The obstacles to creating the perfect school lunch begin in your very own kitchen.
The first principle to remember is that food surfaces need to be kept clean in your home. Your hands, the counters, utensils, appliances, fresh fruits, and vegetables—essentially everything that comes in contact with the food your child will be eating—needs to be as sanitary as possible. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm running water before prepping your child’s meal. Make sure you scrub last night’s spaghetti sauce off the counter before laying out the bread for the PB & J. Never let the raw meats in your fridge get close to the baby carrots. Wash off the apples and grapes. Cleanliness and care are the keys to preventing food contamination.
Next, keep foods at the temperature at which they should be eaten. For instance, if you are preparing a ham and cheese sandwich for your daughter the night before a school day, keep that sandwich in the refrigerator until she’s on her way out the door. If foods that need to be temperature-controlled (like dairy) are left on the counter at room temperature, bacteria will begin to grow on them.
Finally, proper lunchbox maintenance will keep the food safe. Educate your child on throwing away items that will not be used again or will cause bacterial growth. Plastic wrap, baggies, drink containers, and other accessories used to seal the food should be tossed, along with any perishable leftovers, directly after the meal is consumed. These items will attract bugs and/or cause bacteria to grow inside of the lunchbox if left lying there. In accordance with throwing out these elements, you should wash your child’s lunchbox regularly. If your student uses the same unwashed container all school year, it will certainly become contaminated.
Once these principles are implemented into your lunch-making system, the routine will become, well, routine. Your child’s safety should be the motivating factor for you to put these ideas into practice and once you do, you’ll thank yourself every time you dish out a successful lunch.