Richard C. Bogren, Reames, Elizabeth S.
News Release Distributed 07/07/10
A take-along lunch can be a healthful, economical choice for students and teachers, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.
A nutritious, satisfying lunch should contain several items, including protein-containing food; bread, cereal, rice or pasta; fruits; vegetables and a beverage, preferably milk for children, Reames says.
“Protein comes in many forms including milk and milk products, meat, fish, cheese, eggs, nuts, beans and peanut butter," she says. “Using leftovers to provide protein may require less preparation than a sandwich. And when milk is not the beverage, cheese or yogurt may provide calcium as well as protein.”
The AgCenter nutritionist also cautions that people preparing and packing take-along lunches follow food safety guidelines to help keep foods safe to eat.
Her first admonition is to start with clean hands and work area. Wash hands, utensils and work surfaces with hot soapy water before preparing food. If hot soapy water is not available, use anti-bacterial wipes or lotions.
Reams also urges parents to package food to prevent food-borne illness. Food should never be allowed to stay at room temperature for more than two hours, she says. Keep hot foods hot at 140 degrees or above and keep cold foods cold at 40 degrees or below.
“Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping perishable food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags can also be used,” Reames says. “If you use paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food. An ice source, such as a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box, should be packed with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box. If there's a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival.”
Prepackaged combos that contain luncheon meats along with crackers, cheese and condiments must also be kept refrigerated, she says. This includes luncheon meats and smoked ham that are cured or contain preservatives.
Most schools provide cold milk for a minimal cost. If you choose to send your own, keep milk cold in a well-insulated thermos that has been rinsed with ice water to keep it chilled.
Put hot foods in a thermos that has been pre-heated with hot water. Let hot water sit for 2-3 minutes before replacing it with hot food. To keep food hot, do not open the thermos until ready to eat.
Convenience foods save time but also may be expensive, Reames says. Using leftovers will save money. Just be sure to store them at safe temperatures.
“If you can’t keep food at a safe temperature, select foods that don’t need to be kept hot or cold,” she says.
For proteins, Reames suggests peanut butter, nuts, jerky and serving-size cans of meat spreads, lunch meat and fish as well as hard cheeses, canned pudding and individual packages of packaged milk.
Grain products such as bread, crackers, rolls and bagels can be kept at room temperature, she says. So can fruits and vegetables that are fresh, dried or in individual cans as well as jams, jellies and individual packets of salad dressing or other condiments.