Back to school – Is your child’s school lunch box safe?

healthy school lunches- image by Flickr user @buzzymelibee

Flickr user @buzzymelibee CC: 2.0

How do you keep your child’s packed school lunch delicious, nutritious and safe? We asked Brittany Robertson, TMC pediatric dietitian for some suggestions to liven up your child’s back to school lunches:

1. Keep it cool

Use an insulated lunch box with ice packs to expand food options while still providing a safe lunch.

While those brown paper bags were standard for school lunches in yesteryear, increasingly most children take their packed school lunch in some sort of insulated lunch bag and with good reason. FoodSafety.gov shares this:

“Insulated lunch boxes help maintain food at a safe temperature until lunchtime. Perishable lunch foods, such as cold cut sandwiches and yogurt, can be left out at room temperature for only two hours before they may become unsafe to eat. But, with an insulated lunch box and a chilled freezer gel pack, perishable food can stay cold and safe to eat until lunch.

Why keep food cold? Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” — the temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. Perishable food transported without a cold source won’t stay safe long.

Suggestion: Pick up a few novelty ice packs. What little (or big) kid doesn’t like lunch to look appealing? You can also just freeze your child’s water bottle and use that as an ice pack. By lunchtime and out of the insulated lunch bag, the water should melt in time to drink. Frozen berries or mango can double as both dessert and ice pack.

2. Keep it clean

While preschool might have enforced the “wash your hands before eating” rule, is your child likely to voluntarily take off to the bathroom to wash her hands before eating?

Suggestion: Include some moist towels in her lunch box. Not a perfect solution, but a start. (Safe food handling practices in preparation of the food are also important.)

3. Include foods that don’t need to be refrigerated

FoodSafety.gov provides these examples of foods you can include that don’t need constant refrigeration: whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, breads, crackers, peanut butter* (given the increasing numbers of children with life-threatening reactions to peanuts, this might be best avoided, sunflower seed butter is often a good substitute), jelly, mustard, pickles, nuts* and seeds.

Suggestion: what to include in a healthy school lunch

Tucson News Now
http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/38764676/back-to-school-how-to-pack-a-healthy-lunch-for-your-child

Eat Right is the public site of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a great resource for healthy ideas

Nutrition 411

WebMd’s healthy lunchbox tips

4. Don’t over pack

At the end of the day it is frustrating to have to chuck the perishable food into the compost, or into the trash. Gauge how much food is left over and adjust accordingly.

Suggestion: Like all of us, your child likes some control over his or her life. Involve her in preparing her packed lunch. Include him in making his lunch the night before and discuss what a balanced diet looks like. I often encourage parents to make a drawer in the fridge or a bin in the pantry with pre-portioned lunch elements (bags of baby carrots, jicama and cherry tomatoes, grapes, berries, whole grain crackers, trail mix, yogurts, cheese sticks, hard boiled eggs, etc.). That way the child can grab 1 item from each food group to make their lunch; The kid gets the power to choose and parents can rest assured that all of the options are healthy choices.

Keep in mind – if the choices are between chips and celery most children are likely to always choose the high fat, salt or sugar option.

Are you packing lunch for your child? What healthy foods do you include? How do you make it appealing? What tricks do you have to keep it healthy and safe?

Brittany Robertson, Registered dietitian
TMC Pediatric Dietitian

*Important Note
Before sending nut products in the lunch box, check with your school first about any restrictions on nut products. Also educate your child about the importance of not sharing food, especially with children who have food allergies. A little education goes a long way.

 

Keep the Yummy, Healthy this Holiday Season

healthy holiday recipe modificationsWelcome to the season of festive gatherings and indulgent eating. Nutritionally speaking, this is a tough time of year. We don’t want to give up delicious holiday dishes; however, we would rather not wreck our health through weeks of unhealthy eating. Fortunately, with a few modifications and a little moderation, we don’t have to do either.

There are three magic ingredients most cooks rely on to make their dishes taste better: salt, fat and sugar. Unfortunately, these ingredients can damage our health when used too heavily and consumed too often. Here’s the good news: you can still get that delicious taste by using salt, fat and sugar in moderation. Let’s look at ways we can reduce them.

Cutting the salt

  • Before adding salt to a recipe, think about why – or even if – it is necessary. Maybe you don’t really need it, or perhaps you could use half the amount called for.
  • Instead of salt, try herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of your food. Other seasonings to try: pepper, citrus juice or zest, onion or garlic, vinegar, salt-free seasoning blends, nutritional yeast. Beware of spice mixes that may contain salt.
  • If using canned tomatoes, beans or broth in a recipe, choose a no-salt-added or low-sodium version of the product.
  • When baking, be careful about how much salt you remove from the recipe, as that can change the texture of the final product.

Lightening up with less saturated (bad) fat

  • In cooking, replace butter and coconut oil with olive oil or canola oil. This won’t work in baking, however, because you would get a completely different texture.
  • Pie crusts are full of butter or other highly saturated fat. Try a crust-less version of your dessert instead.
  • Buy lean cuts of meat: chicken and turkey breasts, beef “loin” or “round,” pork tenderloin. Consider serving fish in place of meat.
  • Try replacing some full-fat dairy products with low-fat or fat-free versions. For example, do you need both butter and cream in mashed potatoes, or could you do with butter and low-fat milk?
  • Roast, grill, broil or stew food instead of frying.

Scaling back on sugar

  • Bring out the natural sweetness in food by adding spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, mace, vanilla or almond extract.
  • When baking, try reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe by a quarter, or 25 percent. (For example, use 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup of sugar.) You may be able to reduce it further, but this may affect the browning and texture of your baked goods.

A few more things to remember

  • Choose good quality ingredients, so that their natural flavors make the dish delish!
  • To boost the nutritional value of your meals, add more fruits and vegetables. Try adding dried fruits or extra vegetables to traditional recipes such as stuffing, quick breads and salads. An simple, tasty addition to any meal is to cut up a variety of your favorite veggies into similar-sized pieces (about 1 ½-inch), coat them in olive oil and sprinkle with your favorite herbs. Spread them on a sheet pan and roast at 400 degrees until golden on the outside and slightly tender on the inside.
  • Indulge mindfully. If you have a generally healthy diet most of the time, you can allow yourself room for some holiday indulgences. The key is to enjoy them, with all your senses and without a shred of regret.

We wish you happy, healthy and tasty holidays!

Laurie Ledford is a registered dietitian from Atlanta, Georgia, the land of grits, collard greens and super-sweet iced tea. She now works as a registered dietitian  in the Tucson Medical Center Wellness Department. She enjoys helping people improve their health through sustainable dietary changes while still relishing occasional indulgences. In her off hours, Laurie engages in foodie pursuits such as sampling unusual flavor combinations (olive oil and basil ice cream was a good one) as well as hiking and cycling.

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