Packing your own lunch is better for the environment and for your health. It's also cheaper and you can control the quality of ingredients. It's so much better to cook these recipes from Paleo Takeout cookbook if you want to eat take out foods without the junk. And, as you know, fast foods are laden with unnecessary sugar and fats that can cause chronic illnesses.
But how do you keep the food safe and healthy so you can reap the benefits of packing your own lunch? Here are some tips.
Food Safety Tips for Packing Lunch
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before preparing lunch. Keep the prep area in the kitchen clean to avoid cross contamination. It takes a few hours for bacteria to grow so if the food gets contaminated during prep, lunch time would be a perfect time for the contaminated foods to make you sick.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in a large bowl with a cap full of apple cider vinegar before packing them.
- For hot soups or stews, use an insulated thermos (I like this and this) (Amazon affiliate links) Fill the thermos with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty, and then add hot food.
- Make sure to wash the lunch containers thoroughly with soap and hot water and dry after each use so there are no food residues left in the containers. Rinse with hot water before packing lunch.
- Keep the hot food in an insulated container away from cold food; keep the cold food with ice packs away from hot food.
- The best containers for carrying lunch is made with food grade stainless steel. They are sturdy, free of endocrine disruptors, and free of chemicals that can leach into the food. You can find a variety of styles and sizes here.
- Pack utensils from home or reusable utensil set like this (Amazon affiliate link) that are little smaller to carry but big enough for adults. I love that they are made of bamboo and includes chopsticks!
- Harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly if the temperatures are between 40 and 140 °F. Be sure to transport food with an ice source and refrigerate until consumed.
- Studies show that bacteria growth begins after about four hours at room temperature, and shorter (around an hour) if above 90 degrees.
- Perishable foods that will not be kept refrigerated should be kept cold by using freezer gel packs or a frozen juice carton.
- Preparing the food the night before and refrigerate to keep the food cold longer is a good practice.
- Metal or plastic lunch boxes with insulated bags are the best for warm foods that need to be kept warm. Paper lunch bags are the worst since they are not environmentally friendly, can crush foods inside, can get wet and break and do not insulate to keep warm or cold. The best solution to keep lunches warm (or hot) is to use stainless steel lunch containers in insulated bags.
- Some foods are just too risky to pack for lunch, i.e. Caesar Salad Dressing or sushi with raw fish. Packing any raw food like raw egg yolk or raw fish is never a good idea even if you use an ice pack. Enjoy them at home and don't pack them for lunch.
- Deli meats are popular for sandwiches but they can spoil easily if not kept at proper temperature. Also, processed Deli meats contain preservatives like nitrates, excess salt, and other fillers. It's best to roast meats like turkey, beef, or chicken at home and slice them thinly for sandwiches.
Final Note on Leftovers
- Pack only the amount of perishable food that will be eaten at lunch. If extra food is carried home in warm temperature, it will get spoiled.
- Discard all perishable leftovers. By the time the food makes it back home, it would have been in warm temperature too long for it to be safe to eat. Prevent food waste and pack appropriate amount of food.
Packing your own lunch is so much healthier but only if you take proper precautions to prevent food borne illnesses. So bring lunch from home but keep these tips in mind when packing them.
I'll be posting some healthy ADULT lunch options in the next post using one of my favorite lunch boxes, PlanetBox.
What's your favorite lunch ideas? Leave your comments below. Maybe I'll include them in my post
Megan Stevens says
These are excellent tips. Thanks, Karen!
Dr. Karen says
linda spiker says
Great tips! An apple and a sandwich were all I ever had as a kid! No oe packed sushi back in the day:)
Dr. Karen says
We had a Korean version of 'sushi' called Kimbap, which is basically, rice rolled in seaweed with veggies and kimchi. for lunch. Sandwiches were too expensive since it contained meat. lol.
The Food Hunter says
This is very useful...passing it along to friends.
Dr. Karen says