UACES Facebook Time to Pack School Lunches | Tips on packing a safe school lunch
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Time to Pack School Lunches

woman wondering how to keep children't school lunches safe
We all know that the major Rule 1 for food safety in lunch boxes is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. The dilemma is how to accomplish this with foods that taste great and are safe and healthy.


Summer is over and it’s time to buy what is needed to get your child ready for school and to get back into the mindset of an everyday routine. It also marks the beginning of packing school lunches.

When packing school lunches follow these simple food safety rules to send children to school with healthy, safe lunches.

Major rule #1 is keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, and don’t leave perishable foods at room temperature for more than two hours.           

Although it is too warm to be thinking about soup, chili or stew now, soon it will be cool enough to enjoy these treats. Keep these foods hot by using an insulated thermos. 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 lunchtime.

Cold foods must stay cold so invest in a freezer gel pack and an insulated lunch box. Freezer gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage.

If you don’t want to invest in a freezer gel pack, freeze single-sized juice packs overnight and place the frozen drink in your child’s lunch. The juice will thaw by lunchtime, but it will still be cold. The frozen drink will also keep the rest of the lunch cold. Pack perishables, including deli meats, poultry or egg sandwiches, between these cold items.

If your child prefers a brown paper sack over an insulated lunch box, double bag the sack to create a double layer. Double-bagging will help keep the cold inside the bag for a longer time and the bag will not become soggy. Discard the bag at the end of each day.

Keep a supply of shelf-stable foods for easy packing. These may include fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, packaged pudding and canned fruits or meats, dried fruits, or beef jerky. Don’t forget to pack any utensils they may need such as plastic forks, spoons, and napkins as these are not always available at school.

Throwing away food at the end of the day is also important. The rule of thumb is to empty the lunchbox at the end of the lunch period. Most schools ask children to throw away all opened food packages.

The last reminder is to always keep it clean.

Make sure your hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean. Be sure your children wash their hands before they eat. If washing their hands in the bathroom is a problem, send along a small bottle of hand sanitizer; although it should not replace hand washing, it’s better than nothing.

Carrying a lunch box to school is important for many children. Allow them to have input into what goes into their lunch box, but make sure the foods they carry will be safe for them to eat.

If you need more information on packing a safe lunch, contact our office for your free copy of Back 2 School with Lunch Box Treats.  It offers food safety tips as well as nutritious ideas for lunch boxes.

You may contact me at the University of Arkansas Division of Ag in Miller County at 870-779-3609, visit me in the Miller County Courthouse, or email me at You can also follow me on facebook for daily tips.

By Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609

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