Friday, September 21, 2012

Packing a Healthy Lunch Means Keeping Food Safety in Mind Too

With school back in session, many children will bring a packed lunch from home to school. That makes it important to know how to make lunches nutritious and safe according to Christeena Haynes, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“Healthy lunches provide energy and nutrients that your children need in order to learn and play at school. It also helps prevent them from eating junk food that isn’t so good for them,” said Haynes.

Making a healthy and safe lunch requires starting with a clean lunch box. Haynes says to wash it with warm soapy water every time it is used.

“Before you begin making the lunch, wash your hands and make sure the food is prepared on a clean surface, using clean utensils,” said Haynes.

If you pack perishable foods, take steps to keep it cold. These types of foods should not be held at room temperature for more than two hours.

“It is best to pack a lunch with an ice pack in an insulated lunch bag or box. An alternative is to pack your child a shelf stable lunch that does not require refrigeration,” said Haynes.

Examples of non-perishable foods are granola bars, whole fruit, peanut butter, and canned foods.

Variety is also the spice of lunches. Try to pack a lunch that includes most of the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.

A whole wheat tortilla filled with ham and cheese, carrot sticks with dip, and an apple is a well-balanced lunch that contains all of these foods groups.

Dips and sauces are often a good way to get children to eat their vegetables. Try using healthy dips such as hummus, yogurt, or guacamole.

Another way to make lunches more interesting and introduce your child to new foods is to change simple things like the type of bread for sandwiches (bagels or pitas) or the form of cheese (cubes, slices, strings).

“If you are limited on time in the mornings, you may want to consider packing their lunch the night before and keeping it refrigerated until the next day. Then, just add a cold pack and they are ready to go,” said Haynes.

For more information on nutrition issues, go online to or contact one of the nutrition and health education specialists working in the Ozarks: Christeena Haynes, in Dallas County, (417) 345-7551; Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; or Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Springfield, (417) 886-2059.


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