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Pack an A+ school lunch

August 20, 2013|Lynn Little

Packing a lunch can save money, but that’s not the only reason to do it. Involving your children in the process can help them learn about food, food safety, nutrition, health and basic kitchen skills. 

Make packing lunch fun. Set aside “let’s do lunch” family or one-on-one time. If time is typically tight in the morning, partially prepare lunch the night before. Plan a sandwich-making session on Sunday evening, wrap in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil, freezer paper or bag and freeze a sandwich for each day of the week. 

Sandwiches made with peanut butter, cream cheese, processed cheese, luncheon meats or salad mixtures such as tuna, chicken or ham prepared with a small amount of mayonnaise freeze well and can be frozen for one to two weeks. 

Freezing will help protect a sandwich, food safety-wise. It is still important to follow the food safety rule of discarding, rather than eating, perishable food left at room temperature for more than two hours (or, in 90 degree or higher heat, more than one hour). 

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Freezing sandwiches that include fresh vegetables, hard-cooked egg whites, fresh bread, jelly or fillings that are mostly mayonnaise is not recommended. To preserve food quality, wait to slice fruits and vegetables until packing a lunch in the morning. Pack lettuce and tomato separately so they can be added to a sandwich when it’s time to eat. 

Cookies and bars can be made ahead, wrapped as a single serving and frozen; shelf-stable or nonperishable foods, such as trail mix or dried fruit, also can be divided into individual servings and packed in advance. 

Check with the school to see if there are guidelines for packed lunches. Many children have food allergies and some schools no longer allow foods that can trigger allergic reactions, such as peanuts and peanut butter. 

Ask what time your child’s class is scheduled for lunch. He or she might have to store a lunch bag or box in a locker for an extended period of time. Consider an insulated lunch bag or box or small cooler, reusable insulated containers, and hot and cold packs to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Investing in reusable snack-size containers rather than using more expensive disposable bags also help save money. 

Ask your child to help make a grocery list, and then help with the shopping. Does he prefer a peanut butter and apple sandwich? Fruit and cheese wrap? Applesauce, apple slices or a whole apple? 

Vary the menu — wheat bread, raisin bread, bagel or pita, seasonal fruit and vegetables, pumpkin bar (in the fall) and sugar or ginger cookie toward the holidays. 

Supplement food from home with foods and beverages (such as milk, which provides needed calcium) purchased at school. 

Stress the basic food safety rules, such as hand washing before and after eating, and not eating food that might have developed an unusual aroma, color, texture or flavor. 

Visit HealthyMeals.nal.usda.gov/resource-library/food-safety/packing-food-safely for tips on packing safe, healthful lunches.  

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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