How to Pack a Safe School Lunch

Aug 14, 2022


It’s back-to-school time, which means you’re back to packing school lunches for your kiddos. You want these lunches to be tasty, you want them to be nutritious, and you also want them to be safe from any germs that could cause food-borne illness.

These five tips should help.

1. Keep everything clean.

This goes for everything from your hands to your produce and surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands — before, during and after handling food. Wash and dry any fresh produce you’re packing. Clean the counter on which you’ll be preparing the lunches so that surface germs can’t make contact with the food. And be sure you’re putting the lunch in a clean box or insulated bag.

Encourage your children to clean their hands before eating lunch. One way you might do that is to include moist wipes with their food.

2. Separate raw from ready-to-eat.

At home, keep fruits, vegetables and lunch meats separate from raw meats. If you’re preparing tomorrow’s lunch and tonight’s dinner at the same time, use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw meats, lunch meats, bread and fresh produce.

3. Refrigerate or insulate.

Perishable foods can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime when packed in a paper bag, so invest in an insulated lunch box for each child. Even if your children have access to a refrigerator at school, an insulated lunch box can help keep cold foods cold.

Be sure your kids know they should put their lunch in the fridge as soon as they get to school. (And if you’re making lunch the night before, don’t you forget to put it in the refrigerator overnight!) If your little student doesn’t have access to a fridge at school, adding a frozen icepack to the bag will ensure eggs, yogurt or sandwiches stay cold.

Pro tip: Try freezing a juice box the night before and using it in place of an icepack. By the time lunch rolls around the next day, it will have thawed to a drinkable state and kept any perishables cold.

You may need an insulated container if you’re sending your child to school with something hot, like soup or a stew. Here’s what to do: First, fill an insulated container with boiling water. Let it stand for a few minutes, empty it and pour in the hot food. Instruct your child to keep the insulated container tightly sealed until lunchtime so the food stays hot.

4. Keep a stash of handy shelf snacks.

Canned fruits (in their own juices). Bananas. Oranges. Packaged pudding. Crackers. These items make lunch preparation easy, and your kids will love finding these grab-and-go foods in their school lunch box.

5. Toss all perishable leftovers.

It’s great if your children eat everything you packed for them. But if there are any perishable leftovers, they shouldn’t be kept for an afternoon snack. Play it safe and tell your children to throw them out.

Now that you’ve brushed up on your lunch-making skills, consider reminding your kids about the proper way to treat others. Talk to your kids about bullying before the school year starts.