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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Is Your Child’s Lunch Box Safe?

A recent study may have you thinking twice about what you pack in your kid’s lunches.

Lunch box safety.I remember when my mom used to pack my lunch for school when I was a kid. This was before ice packs were invented. I’d go to school, put my lunch box in my cubby, and not think about it until lunch time. This is still what many children probably do today.

However, a recent study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, may have you thinking twice about what you pack in your kid’s lunches. The study conducted by the University of Texas showed that more than 90 percent of the items in preschooler’s lunches were kept at unsafe temperatures. The researchers evaluated more than 700 school lunches and found that many items in the lunch boxes had temperatures between 40°F and 140° which is considered a danger zone; when food is stored at this temperature for more than 2 hours, it should not be eaten. Food not properly stored is at risk for becoming contaminated with bacteria that can cause food-borne illness.

So, what can you pack to ensure your child is safe from food-borne illnesses? Recently fellow registered dietitian Ellie Krieger was featured on the TODAY show with suggestions for safe school lunches which I 100 percent agree with!

Foods that Ellie recommended as safe, even if your child’s lunch box isn’t kept cold, include:

  • whole fruits (apples, bananas, oranges, peaches)
  • whole vegetables (carrots, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, celery)
  • dried fruits and vegetables (dried tart cherries, raisins)
  • mixed nuts (No Peanuts! Check with your child’s school about their nut allergy policy).
  • aseptic milks (Horizon, Organic Valley, Silk Soy Milk). Safe at room temperature, cool for taste.
  • dry cereal
  • applesauce
  • hard cheese (Cheddar, Colby, Swiss). If they are prepackaged and individually wrapped they will be safe at room temperature.
  • granola bars
  • peanut butter sandwich (Check with your child’s school about their nut allergy policy).

Luckily, now I am able to put my own lunch in a refrigerator at work. Schools today do not have this luxury so children’s school lunches are often left out at room temperature for over 2 hours where harmful bacteria can grow. Aim for packing some of the above items in your children’s school lunches every day so you can go through your day knowing your child has a safe and healthy lunch!

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Tags: Healthy Eating

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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