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Around the Home: Preparing safe and kid-friendly school lunches

POSTED: August 10, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Can’t you feel the excitement? School is back in session and it’s time to think about filling those lunchboxes.

Packing a child’s lunch for school is not an easy task. Finding the perfect balance between healthy and inexpensive foods for a picky eater can be a challenge, and keeping your child safe from food-borne illness may be even harder.

"The easiest food safety rule to remember is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, or send foods that don’t require refrigeration," according to Judy Harrison, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension foods specialist.

A general rule is to make sure perishable foods are not left at room temperature for more than two hours. Using a thermos or vacuum jar to insulate hot foods or placing ice packs in the lunchbox for cold foods can prevent foods from going bad and becoming unsafe. Frozen juice or water can also be used to keep the food at or below 40 degrees.

Lunch foods that can be quick to make and kept at room temperature include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna lunch kits and whole fruits such as apples, oranges and bananas.

Bacteria grow quickly in moist foods that aren’t very acidic but are high in protein. Items such as deli meats, dairy products, cut fruits and vegetables and cooked foods like soups or stews should be kept at an appropriate temperature.

Do remember to wash your hands before handling foods and make sure your work area, utensils and containers are clean before you start assembly.

It’s also important to make sure your children know that washing their hands before eating is a must.

To make it easy for them to clean their hands, slip a moist towelette into a zip bag. While hand sanitizer gets rid of bacteria, it doesn’t do much in terms of cleaning.

You might also talk with teachers to make sure students have the opportunity to wash their hands before lunch.

Teaching young children the importance of food safety practices will help them know how to safely pack their own lunches as they get older.

Kid-friendly lunchbox ideas

If you’re making your child a lunch every day, it doesn’t mean you’ve got to pack the traditional sandwich and chips meal every day.

Spice up their lunch with homemade snacks and dipping sauces in small, colorful containers. Kids love to play, so food should appeal to their sense of fun. Use these ideas for inspiration:

Dip it:

Kids love to dip things, so pack little containers of hummus or bean dip and pita bread. The Mediterranean-inspired dips are packed with protein and a good source of fiber. Celery sticks with a cottage-cheese salsa dip, baby carrots and yummy salad dressing dip, or apple slices and peanut butter will boost the fruit-and-veggie count.

Skewer it:

Eating the same old sandwich over and over again is boring, so reinvent it. Try putting all the essentials of a sandwich on wood skewers. Thread alternating small chunks of turkey, ham, cheese and bread on skewers for a new dimension. You can also add cherry tomatoes for fun. This trick also works well with fruit.

Toss it:

Most kids go nuts for noodles, so pack pasta salads. It’s a good way to sneak in vegetables and introduce new flavors.

Wrap it:

Add zip with colored tortillas. Smear red and green ones with a ranch dip or cream cheese and layer in cold cuts. They’re tasty, colorful and easy.

Bake it:

If all else fails, you know kids will eat dessert. Make healthy dessert bars that give them a treat packed with good nutrition, such as homemade granola bars packed with fruit, nuts and fiber.

Check for radon

More than 25 percent of homes in Northeast Georgia have dangerous levels of radon seeping in from the soil and rock beneath them. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Reduced cost radon test kits are available at the Hall County Extension Office. The only way to know if hour house has high radon is to test for it.

Ginger Bennett is a Program Specialist II-Radon Educator with the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. Contact: 770-535-8290, www.hallcounty.org/extension.



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