Do School Lunches Make you Sick?

(Reprinted from 2013)

Ask almost any mom what she dreads most about back to school, and she’ll tell you it is making lunch every day. We want to help. Erin has suggestions to make school lunch more fun and Tammy has great tips for keeping lunch healthy. The doctor in me can’t help but talk about food-borne illness and the risks that live in those brown paper bags.

Most of the common lunch ingredients can spoil, even over a short period of time. Cheese, cold cuts, dairy products and salads with chicken, tuna and eggs are all perishable.

Food that goes unrefrigerated allows bacteria to multiply. If lunch is going to sit out for a while, especially when temperatures are warm, consider insulated lunch bags (great for the environment) and cold packs. As a bonus, the food will taste better and increase the chance your child actually eats the healthy meal you prepared.

Here are 5 tips to for healthy lunch-time eating:

1. Freeze your bread. My sister who makes five lunches every night, makes the sandwiches on frozen bread which defrosts by the time her kids eat lunch, but keeps the sandwich insides cooler. Yogurts and cheese can be frozen as well and left to defrost in the few hours before lunch.

2. If you make lunch the night before, make sure to keep it refrigerated until it is time to walk out the door.

3. When in doubt, throw it out. If you aren’t sure when you bought the turkey or salami, don’t take the risk. If bacteria are already lurking, a lunch bag is an ideal setting for them to grow.

4. Know which ingredients that won’t go bad, and are great for school trips:
• peanut butter and jelly
• whole fruit and dried fruit
• snack packs5. If your child eats a lunch prepared at school, the following tips apply to them as well.
• Remind kids to wash their hands before lunch, especially after using the bathroom. eColi, which is found in feces, is a common causative agent of food poisoning.

• Teach them to keep their food off the table and on a napkin instead.

 Avoid lunch sharing, especially with the increasing prevalence of food allergies.

• Kids should avoid sharing out of the same snack or chip bags, especially during cold and flu season.

Hopefully, I didn’t just make school lunch prep more stressful, but food poisoning is definitely something to protect against.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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