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I am all about things that save you time when it comes to food prep. Although I don’t have children in school yet, I can definitely imagine the morning rush and then adding making school lunches on top of it can not be easy!! Anything you can do to save time in the morning to get the kids out the door is a must! For the same reason we all love freezer meals, you will love these ideas for freezer lunches. The other reason freezing foods for school lunch is great is because you have to have a way to keep things cold until lunch. I think the typical solution is an ice pack, right? I just read a really interesting study about keep packed school lunch safe.
The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics. They looked at meat, dairy and vegetable items in packed lunches from preschool children (ages 3 to 5). After measuring the temperatures of the foods approximately 90 minutes before lunchtime, they found only a few items that were at a safe temperature. Overall, about 98% of the food items they tested in all of the lunches were above a safe temperature. Nearly half of the lunches contained at least one ice pack, 12 percent sat in school refrigerators, and yet the vast majority of these cooled lunches did not meet the recommended temperature. The remaining 39 percent had nothing to keep the food chilled.
I was really surprised that even with an icepack, foods were not staying at a safe temperature. Food can sit in the ‘danger zone’ for 2 hours without becoming a risk. So what is the risk if your child’s food sits in the danger zone for 3-4 hours? Staphylococcus aureus is the most common bacteria associated with poorly cooled food and causes nausea, and the 24-hour vomiting and diarrhea that is the ‘I wish-I-was-dead-but-I-know-I’ll-live’ kind of sickness.
Back to the freezer foods. The more cold foods you pack in your child’s lunch, the more those foods and the surrounding foods will remain at a safe temperature.
These are our top 5 freezer foods for lunches:
What?? Don’t they get soggy and gross? No they don’t! The great thing about freezing sandwiches, is that you can make a big batch of sandwiches ahead of time, put them in the freezer and then just pull them out in the morning when you are putting lunches together. They will thaw and be ready to eat by lunch time. There are a few key tips to freezing sandwiches:
- To keep the bread from getting soggy, keep the condiments on the side. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber should all be left on the side.
- Spreading a layer of peanut butter or mayonnaise on the bread helps from getting soggy because it acts as a moisture barrier.
- When making PB&J, spread the peanut butter in a thin layer on two pieces of bread all the way from the top to the bottom trying to cover the whole area. Put a layer of jam on one side on top of the peanut butter. Cover the sandwich, label and freeze.
- Cheddar and cream cheese are good freezing choices, as are sliced lunchmeat, hard-cooked egg yolks and ground meat such as meatloaf.
Yogurt freezes really well, and by the time lunch rolls around it will be thawed but still cold. Even if it hasn’t thawed all of the way, frozen yogurt is delicious! These homemade gogurt makers are awesome for freezing and putting into lunches.
3) Fruit and/or Fruit Cups
Freeze whole grapes and blueberries and sliced peaches, plums, strawberries and nectarines in containers for cold lunch treats. Fruit cups such as applesauce, mandarin oranges or peaches can be frozen and when thawed are a delicious lunch treat!
Fill plastic, zipper-sealed bags with carrots and celery sticks and freeze the individual packages in a large freezer bag. Pop them in the freezer, and then into a lunch container in the morning and they’ll be cold and crisp for lunch.
Some foods are delicious to eat even when cold (lasagna, pizza, burritos) When dinner is over and your food has cooled, freeze the dish in individual portions using small jars, small tupperware containers, or even freezer-safe bags. Depending on what the food is, you may want to put it in the fridge the night before, or if it will thaw in time pull it out that morning to thaw by lunch.
More Tips for Keeping School Lunches Safe:
- Wash your hands when preparing lunches. Touching your face and nose can transfer bacteria to food and can increase the risk of your child getting sick.
- Wash out lunch containers daily.
- Put empty lunch containers in the fridge to help food start out cold.