Packing safe and healthy lunches for hot days
Is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children’s Center for Digestive Health Care / GI Care for Kids, whose books on nutrition for parents led him to start Nutrition4Kids with his co-founders.
Nothing's more important than keeping your kids safe and healthy. You can make sure their lunches keep them that way.
What you pack in your kids' lunches and how you pack them can keep them safe and healthy even on the those hot, hot, hot days whether they're at camp or an outdoor activity. You just have to be mindful of what they like, what they need and how to keep the food from spoiling in the heat. It's actually pretty easy.
Use an insulated bag. We now know that the paper bags and metal lunch pails can't keep the heat out (or in if you have a hot meal).
Keep cold foods really cold
Use two frozen packs inside (one on the bottom and one on top)
BEST: Freeze two water bottles the night before (you may need to empty a little of the water out so they don't leak). They can drink them with lunch and later to stay hydrated.
Make a smoothie [ ] the night before and keep it refrigerated. Also put an insulated bottle in the fridge. Can act as a cold source in the bag
Frozen juice boxes can be used. But you're giving the kids lots of sugar they probably don't need—remember juice has just as much sugar as a soda. [ ]
Frozen gel packs also work for one or both of the cold sources. [USDA: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/keeping-bag-lunches-safe]
If you pack all or part of their lunch the night before, keep the bag in the fridge with the lid open.
Help hot foods stay warm
Forget the freezer packs for soups and stews.
Fill an insulated container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes. After it's emptied, pour in the piping hot food, though these may be better choices for cold weather.
Choose your foods
Some foods don't require refrigeration. Whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, nuts, breads, peanut or other nut butters, jelly, mustard, and pickles.
Chips and snack crackers don't either, but they're not as healthy as carrots, celery, fruit, nuts and trail mix.
Mayonnaise can spoil if heat gets to it, since it's made with raw eggs, so be extra careful using it or foods where it's mixed in.
Make sure deli and cooked meats are cold when you put them on sandwiches. They can spoil too.
Consider apple slices to dip in nut butter, frozen grapes, smoothies, avocado toast, and cold soups.
Pack only enough for that meal and maybe a snack, since you will have to throw away partially eaten foods if they arrive home at room temperature at the end of the day.
With a safe, healthy lunch and lots of healthy hydration, you can help your kids have an enjoyable summer.
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