Think food safety and nutrition when packing lunches

LANSING — School is back in session and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development reminds parents to follow basic food safety guidelines and make healthy choices when packing lunches for their children.

School lunch food safety tips:

• When it’s time to handle food for your child’s lunch, remember to always keep it clean. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Use hot water and soap to make sure food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean;

• Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Blot dry with a paper towel before packing them in your child’s lunch;

• Perishable items, such as sandwiches, fresh fruit and shelf-stable items, like crackers and packaged pudding, need to be kept chilled to reduce risk of foodborne illness;

• Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled. A cold source, such as a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box, should be packed with perishable foods;

• Use a thermos to keep milk or juice cold until lunchtime. You can also use an insulated thermos to keep hot foods hot. 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;

• Remind your child to keep his or her lunch in the coolest place possible. If the school has a refrigerator, put the lunch in there. If not, keep the lunch out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, baseboards and other heat sources found in the classroom; and

• Make sure your child knows to throw out all used food packaging and perishable leftovers. Do not reuse plastic bags.

Making sure your child eats a variety of healthy, nutrient-dense foods will not only help your child maintain a healthy weight and feel better, but can help him or her stay alert and focused on school work during the day.

Here are a few tips to make it easier to incorporate healthy foods into school lunches:

• Choose the goodness of whole grains. Whole-grain bread, bagels or crackers taste great and add fiber to your child’s diet, which is necessary to maintain a healthy digestive system, and makes you feel full longer, limiting the urge to snack;

• Include milk, cheese or yogurt to add much-needed calcium, protein and vitamin D to the lunch. The intake of dairy products is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built;

• Include vegetables and fruits every day, and choose a variety of colors. Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins and nutrients. By “eating a rainbow” of fruits and vegetables, you can help your child get a wide variety of the nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development;

• Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt. Use these foods as occasional treats, not everyday foods. If you do include a treat in your child’s lunch, keep the portions small and make sure they understand they need to eat their “growing foods” first and save the treat for last. This way, if they get full before they finish their lunch, they will still have eaten a well-balanced meal;

• Substitute water instead of sugary drinks in your child’s lunch; and

• Have your kids help pack their lunches and talk to them about making healthy choices.

For more nutrition tips and information for children, visit www.ChooseMyPlate.com. For additional food safety information, visit www.michigan.gov or www.foodsafety.gov.

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