Packing Your Kid's Lunchbox Could Make Him Sick


school lunchAs if we needed another thing to worry about as we prep our kids for back to school, scientists are scaring the pants off parents today. It turns out 9 out of 10 lunches packed at home by mom are unsafe to eat by the time kids are ready to chow down. Temperature tests on more than 700 lunches showed only 2 percent of the perishable items were cool enough to be considered "safe to eat." So much for: if I make it, I know it's good for them, huh?

I'm going to be honest. I'm a die-hard lunch packing mama, and this little study shook me to the core.

I've never let my daughter buy the school lunch. Don't worry; I'm not looking for a pat on the back here. Buying the occasional school lunch is hardly a crime. But my memories of grilled cheese sandwiches made with mayonnaise (blech) and the taco days when we grabbed as many little cups of cheese as we could (completely ignoring all the veggies) are too fresh for me to put faith in my soon-to-be first grader getting good eats at the cafeteria.

Not to mention: the school lunch menu tends to leave me underwhelmed. How about some starch with that heaping helping of starch? How about purchasing some produce outside of the potato family? Some of these lunch ladies might be trying, but there's a reason the school lunch gets such a bad rap. At so many schools, the eats are just plain inedible.

So making meals at home has always made me feel pretty good about my parenting. She gets something that tastes good and is healthy! Win/win!

In fact, it's such a win, that after a whole year of packing lunch and nary an upset tummy, I'm going to use this study as a guideline ... but I'm not going to stop packing. For one thing, the University of Texas scientists say the temps are unsafe, but there were no real reports of food-borne illness. And I'd prefer my daughter get a well balanced meal from me instead of a hearty helping of carbs and preservatives from the school.

I already pack her lunch in an insulated lunchbag rather than a paper sack. I already include a cold ice pack. And if I'm sending her with a juicebox, I freeze it the night before so it will keep the food cold (by lunchtime it's thawed enough to drink). I also tend to fill her stainless steel (BPA-free!) bottle with water rather than milk (she gets enough dairy at home to fill her calcium requirements, and kids should develop a water habit). I avoid mayonnaise, and anything that comes home after a day in her backpack is thrown out (or composted) rather than being served up again.

What do you do to keep your kids' food safe? Will this study change your back-to-school procedure?


Image via DC Central Kitchen/Flickr

back to school, kid health, kids nutrition


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carro... carrolmomof3boy

Our school uses veggies from the school garden for the kids lunch. They are really pushing the healthy lunch initiative.

nonmember avatar Dani

I am the opposite of you. I HATE packing lunch. Luckily, my daughter goes to a school where the lunch is good(so she says). There is always a salad, protein, starch, vegetable. They can buy dessert separately. But my daughter knows what she can and cant buy. We discuss that. Now for the summer, i do have to pack lunch for camp. I got her a pack-it. It is a lunch bag that you put in the freezer, and it stays cold for 10 hours. The whole thing. She loves it. She can take her sandwiches with mayo, and I don't worry that she will get sick from it. You should try this. She loves the bag.

Wendy Hanson

Sounds like your school is system is still in the dark ages.  My kids schools serve fresh fruit and veggies, as well as healthy main dishes.

nonmember avatar me

lots of schools are still in the dark ages. Yeah, my daughters school serves veggies. but they are disgusting. My daughter, who LIKES veggies, won't eat them because they are cold and mushy. And The rest is canned fruits, chicken nuggets and junk. I'll pack lunch, thanks. Then I know she's getting lots of veggies.

Oh, thermos's are great. I make pasta salad with lots of veggies and grilled chicken, or soups or chilis. And she gets lots of nutrition and they stay hot/cold.

nonmember avatar lunchlady

It sounds like YOU are in the dark ages. I think you should GO to your childs school and share lunch with her. See the choices and taste the food. School Lunch has come a long way since we were children. Potatoes are a mainstay, but there is a cold fruit and a veggie offered EVERY day along with hot veggies according to the meal plan. We no longer use salt and use mostly wheat flour. Please become informed before you write. BTW the lunch ladies do not decide the menu. It is written by a Nutritionist to follow federal guidelines. It is a careful balance to serve what children will eat with what is healthy. I

nmmama09 nmmama09

My kids elementary school and headstart send home menus for the month. Al the meals include veggies and fruit. The schools are on a strict nutrition program that they must follow. Parents aren't even allowed to send anything to school because every meal must be planned according to the guidelines, which include healthy meal choices, so I know my kids aren't eating mystery meat.

momka... momkaribg

My son eats at school. They have salds, veggies, fruits, etc

Melis... Melissa042807

Most schools I've seen are still "in the dark ages" as one commenter put it. Their idea of "fresh" fruit and veggies is canned. Which is NOT fresh and they use the cheap stuff which is full of additives. And the "nutritional guidelines" are a joke. The food is still chock full of sodium and sugar. Because it's cheap. Because school systems are broke these days. It's great if your kid goes to a school that actually - gasp! - serves good food, but the school lunch program overall still needs a vast overhaul.

It's easy to pack a good lunch. Ice pack and food that won't spoil.

PonyC... PonyChaser

From the article: "Unsafe,  as the researchers defined it, was anything that sat for more than two hours between 39 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit."

Um. Excuse me? My FRIDGE hangs out around 40 degrees Farenheit. The USDA Website says that refrigerators should be set at 40 or below.

So this article - with that one sentence - is telling me that EVERYTHING served to kids, that is not served DIRECTLY FROM the refrigerators, is unsafe. How many of our schools can say that? They set food out. A bowl of fruit. A loaf of bread and peanut butter (or cheese) for those who don't like the day's offerings, or who want seconds. Why aren't those foods under scrutiny? (and I'm willing to bed those fruit-in-a-bowls are all skeezy 'cause kids manhandle them)

This is just ridiculous. I want to know WHO published this study and what their motivation was. I smell "push the parents to buy school lunches" all over this.

blue_... blue_glass_mama

we get free lunch and breakfast at school so my kids eat it and they never complain that its gross or anything and all the lunches and breakfast that I have seen look good. Most of it is the same stuff I make at home, hotdishes, soup and sandwiches, taco, pizza, hamburgers, stuff like that, its a complete meal with protein, fruit, veg, starch, milk, it seems pretty balanced.

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