By Gina Noe
UK Cooperative Extension service
People of all ages carry bag lunches to school or work. But since it is back-to-school time, it is also a good time for a refresher course on packing a safe, healthy and appetizing lunch.
The first rule of packing lunches is to keep it clean. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before handling food. Use hot water and soap to make sure food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean. Always use clean packaging and bags.
Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “danger zone,” the temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. You can prepare sandwiches or other perishable items the night before. Store lunch items in the refrigerator until time to leave home.
Insulated, soft sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled. Include a cold source, such as a small frozen gel pack, frozen juice box or a bag of fresh frozen fruit. Frozen gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime but are not recommended for all day storage.
Keep hot foods hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with piping hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunch time.
To add variety to your lunch menus use different breads for your sandwiches. Consider rolls, muffins, biscuits, bagels, pita bread or tortillas for a change of pace.
Buy a package of bagels. Split each one, spread with a thin layer of low-fat cream cheese, add a slice of ham, wrap in individual sandwich bags and freeze. Six sandwiches are now ready for six lunches.
Fill a tortilla with some grated cheese, some salsa, and some cooked chicken. Roll up and freeze. Take two for lunch and heat in the microwave for a hot treat.
Pack halves of two different kinds of sandwiches for variety.
Instead of chips or pretzels, make a big bowl of popcorn. Season with paprika or parmesan cheese. Put into individual sandwich bags and keep on hand for future lunches.
Keep desserts simple. Try some fruit, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, dried cranberries, pudding or a plain cookie.
Packing lunches for your family is also a great way to save on your food budget. Fast food lunches cost an average of $6 to $7. Packing your own lunch, especially from leftovers, could save you well over $1,000 each year. Food prepared at home usually has less salt, fat and sugar as well.
When you are finished with your lunch, discard all used food packaging and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.
Be creative. Ask your family for ideas. If they have input they are more likely to eat and enjoy what is packed.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.