By Tanya Steel, Epicurious.com
As Hurricane Irene was baring down on us this past Sunday, I spent the better part of that day cleaning my refrigerator and freezers in anticipation of losing power. I threw out leftovers, overripe fruit (which I usually move to the freezer for smoothies and the like), and jars that hadn't been touched in months. I then moved tuna and chicken salads into the freezer as well as yogurts, cheese, and milk. I regularly freeze those items, especially when I am putting them into my sons' lunchboxes for school, something few parents know to do.
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Each year, several thousand people die as a result of food poisoning, and more than 100,000 are hospitalized; sometimes this occurs as the result of bacterial growth in warm lunchboxes. As science reporter Jane E. Brody detailed yesterday in The New York Times, "the safety of that packed lunch easily can be overlooked." Here are some tips to ensure your child's lunch remains as healthy and safe as you intended:
Pack it Right: Only buy insulated lunchboxes, which retain cold temperatures. The best ones have linings you can remove to wash thoroughly. Inside tape mini ice packs (with your child's name on them) to the lining. You can also use frozen mini milks or waters as ice packs. Use plastic containers for sandwiches, salads, and the like. To keep hot foods hot for several hours, pour boiling hot water into a small Thermos, heat the food, and then pour out the water and replace with the hot soup, pasta, or whatever you are serving.
Related: 5 Mistakes Parents Make When Feeding their Kids
Choose Foods that Won't Spoil: If you want to give your child a salad with mayo, like tuna or chicken, freeze it the night before in a plastic container, and pack bread, crackers, or flatbread separately. Likewise yogurts. These can thaw during the morning and be the right temperature when lunchtime rolls around. Pack items like noodle salads, trail mix, shelf-stable foods such as jams and various nut butters, and avoid lunch meats and fish generally. Keep the lunchbox refrigerated overnight to retain the cold.
Keep it Clean: Choose foods with peels, such as bananas, apples, pears, or oranges, but make sure you have cleaned them completely with hot soapy water before placing them in the lunchbox. (Kemp Minifie wrote about washing her produce in a solution of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons Clorox bleach to 1 gallon water in a recent issue of Gourmet Live.) Of course, always thoroughly wash your hands and lunchbox before packing it up. Finally, include hand-sanitizing towelettes or a mini sanitizer bottle in the lunchbox that your child can use before and after eating.
For more tips, check out Epicurious guide to food safety as well as the Center for Disease Control's helpful guidelines.
More from Epicurious:
- Packing and Planning Lunch 101
- Kids' Lunch Ideas
Healthy Snack Taste Test
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