Children's Health

Ten Tips for School Lunches That Will Keep Kids Happy and Healthy

Between classes and practices, lunchtime is a highlight of most kids’ day. Whether homemade or store bought, favorite school lunches can power your student through the day. So be sure that what you’re sending to school is good for your young scholar.

“Foodborne illnesses strike young and old,” said Mitzi Baum, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness, a national nonprofit dedicated to food safety.


“A recent study showed that 10 percent of parents surveyed said they’ve had a child get sick from spoiled or contaminated food, so you want to be sure that you’re packing a lunch that’s healthy and stays that way.”

To make a healthy lunch, try these tips:

  1. Cleanliness Counts – it’s one of the basic rules of food safety. Wash your hands. Clean hands and a clean food prep area are critically important. And by washing your hands, you’re creating a great example for your child, who should wash his or her hands before eating, too.
  2. Use an Insulated Lunchbox – schools can’t always refrigerate every lunch bag, so an insulated bag is a “must have” item. Food safety experts agree that an insulated bag will keep bacteria at bay. The temperature “danger zone” is anywhere from 41 – 135 F so a lunch bag sitting in a bin at room temperature is a likely bacterial target.
  3. Stay Cool with Ice Packs – gel packs and ice packs are available at grocery stores and online. Be sure they’re on your grocery list and put one in the lunch bag to keep cold foods cold.
  4. Rinse Fruits & Veggiesalways rinse fresh fruits and vegetables before putting them in a plastic bag if needed. Apples don’t need to be bagged, but veggies like carrots do. Buy an insulated lunch bag to keep foods at the right temperature.
  5. The Thermos is for More than Soup – of course soup goes in a thermos. But don’t limit yourself (or your child). Mac ‘n cheese, chili, or stew are great options for a thermos. Pour hot water into the thermos to heat it up, dump out the water and add the hot food for a great winter lunch.
  6. Pack Hot Foods When They’re Hot – put hot foods straight from the stovetop, oven or microwave into the thermos. Waiting for foods to cool to room temperature puts them in the temperature danger zone.
  7. Icky, Sticky Lunchroom Tables – despite school’s best efforts, those tables don’t get really cleaned during the school day. Pack a paper towel in your child’s lunch to use as a mini placemat.
  8. Toss the Turkey – and the chicken, meat, tuna or egg salad sandwiches if they’re not eaten. Uneaten fruit or bagged snack foods can be kept.
  9. The Five-Second Rule Isn’t a Real Thing – food that hits the floor needs to be tossed. Whether it’s five seconds or five minutes, floors are bacterial playgrounds. And rinse out that lunch bag daily. Or use a cleaning wipe.
  10. Cleanliness is Key – rinse out that lunch bag daily. Or use a cleaning wipe.

For more information on food safety and how to stop foodborne illnesses from impacting you, visit


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