September is National Food Safety Education Month and STOP Foodborne Illness (stopfoodborneillness.org), the leading national advocate for safe food, is shining the spotlight on ways to keep school lunches safe. Keep your kids healthy with these tips.
- Keep in mind the bacteria danger zone. Bacteria grow rapidly in the temperature “danger zone” of 40-140° F.
- Wash your hands. When preparing lunches, wash your hands thoroughly and keeping all surfaces you’re working on clean. Use this as an opportunity to explain the importance of hand-washing in preventing foodborne illness.
- Use an insulated lunch box. Whether hard-sided or soft, this helps keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot until it’s time to eat them. Food safety experts agree: This is a “must have” item. Using an insulated box will help keep your child’s food out of the bacteria “danger zone.”
- Use ice packs. Another “must have”, these inexpensive items are vital for keeping cold foods cold. You can pick them up for about $1 each.
- Use an insulated thermos. This keeps hot foods hot, like soups, chili, or mac and cheese.
- Freeze drinks before packing. Frozen milk, juice boxes, and water bottles will help keep the drinks cold, along with other cold foods you’ve packed. Frozen items will melt during morning classes and be ready for drinking at lunch.
- Pack hot foods while hot. Don’t wait for hot foods to cool down before packing. Instead, pour piping hot foods like soups immediately into an insulated thermos. You can also preheat your thermos by filling it with boiling water, letting it sit for a few minutes, pouring out the water, and then adding your hot food.
- Wash and separate fresh fruits/veggies. Wash produce thoroughly before packing in plastic containers to keep them away from other foods. After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.
- Use individual snack packs. Portions packed from larger bags of items like pretzels, chips, and cookies means potential exposure to bacteria from many hands that have been in and out of the bag. To help prevent the spread of germs, use individual-sized servings.
- Add room-temperature-safe foods. Use nonperishable items or foods that do not need refrigeration like peanut butter, jelly, cookies, crackers, chips, dried fruit, and certain whole fruits.
- Encourage your child to wash their hands. Before and after eating their lunch, stress how important it is to wash their hands. Hand-washing with soap and water is best, but wet wipes or hand sanitizer will work in a pinch.
- Avoid putting food on tables. Once kids are in the cafeteria, they shouldn’t put their food on the table. Pack a paper towel or some wax paper they can use instead.
- Explain the 5-second myth. Be sure your child knows that the “5-second rule” is a myth. Any food that touches the floor needs to be thrown away.
- Toss perishable food. To avoid foodborne illness, let your child know it is okay to throw away perishables like meat, poultry or egg sandwiches, if not eaten at lunchtime. Unopened, room-temperature-safe foods and uneaten fruit can be kept.
- Make sure lunch boxes are regularly cleaned and sanitized. We recommend you clean your child’s box each evening before packing the next day’s lunch.
5 Things You Need in Your Emotional Backpack as You Head to School
- Courage: The Cowardly Lion always had it. We have it too. We just need to summon it. Tuck that figurative medal in the backpack, behind the iPad and iPhone chargers…some sort of talisman that calls up the strength needed to remind us that we have had the bravery needed all along to deal with whatever comes our way. Takeaway: Pack a transitional object to remind you that you, too, have ruby slippers.
- Unplug and Unclique. The new hot thing? Service to others. Whether you are entering third grade or your last year in college, lift your head from your cellphone texts, and notice what’s around you. Is there a new club you can join? With school and community outreach programs, you’ll meet new people, fulfill your community service requirements, and make yourself and everyone in your life proud. Takeaway: No better lesson learned than to do something for others.
- Optimism/Positive Mindset: The human brain is wired to have 4 negative thoughts for every 1 positive thought. You’ll have to be conscious of this stat, and ramp up your optimism. We suggest you reframe those that say, “you can’t do it,” or “this will never work.” Takeaway: You’re in charge of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Make the best of them.
- Resilience: When things get dicey, keep going. Consider that a touchy situation is just resiliency training and part of your education. As the salutatorian of your high school, you arrive on a competitive campus and discover you are just plain average. Takeaway: Reframe that knot in your stomach by saying to yourself how great it is to be surrounded by minds and hearts that will challenge and stimulate you as you continue on your journey to be the best version of yourself. As you forge ahead, watch how you shine.
- Problem-solving practice: This reminds us of the algebra student who challenged her teacher with: “Why do we need to study algebra when we’re not going to use it in the real world?” The teacher smiled and stated the student was absolutely correct. “Algebra is used as mere practice to problem solve.” We encourage you to practice solving would-be scenarios, especially controversial ones. We love preventative measures. Role-play what you would do if your best friend is bullied. Peer-pressured into experimenting with drugs? A friend has depression or expressed suicidal threats and asks you to promise confidentiality? Consider step-by-step actions to take to reach a successful result. Takeaway: Role-play works.
Bottom line: The emotional things you pack in your backpack are far more important than the physical stuff.
Poppy Spencer is an art therapist and psychology professor, as well a certified Myers Briggs facilitator. Geoff Spencer is a certified coach and speaker. The Spencers can be found online at www.1billionseconds.com and poppyandgeoff.com.