School’s here again, which means so is your daily lunch-making routine. For healthy, safe and fun away-from-home meals, keep these lunchbox-packing tips in mind. And try my recipe for Caramel Apple Dip! It’s a sweet addition to any lunch, or the perfect after-school snack.
Keep food-prep areas clean. Always wash countertops, cutting boards, utensils and your hands in hot, soapy water. And don’t let the family pet jump up on kitchen counters!
Put everything away, immediately. After making lunches, return unused portions of perishable foods, such as cheeses, deli meats and mayonnaise, to the refrigerator. Don’t let them sit out for too long.
Pack lunches the night before. If you can, prepare lunches ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator. This helps take the edge off the mad morning rush and keeps cold foods fresh.
Use insulated lunch bags. Insulated lunch bags are the best way to ensure foods stay at a safe temperature until lunchtime. My favorite is the MEDport Fit and Fresh Lunch on the Go Set. It comes with a removable ice pack and individual, re-sealable containers, which make planning and packing lunches a breeze! You can also nestle a frozen juice pouch or ice pack inside to help keep sandwiches and other perishables extra cool.
Keep perishable foods cold. Sandwiches made with refrigerated items such as luncheon meats, cheese and tuna salad should be carried in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack. That way, they’ll be safe to eat for up to three hours without refrigeration.
Send hot foods in a thermos. When packing foods such as soups, stews or chilies, bring them to a boil and then immediately pour into a hot, sterile thermos or vacuum bottle. Be sure to sterilize the thermos with boiling water.
Give the kids some tips. Let your kids know that lunches should be placed out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or other heaters, if possible.
Cinnamon Apple Dip
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Toss apples with lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. In small bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer (or process in a food processor on medium speed) until creamy. Add honey, vanilla and cinnamon. Beat until well blended. To send for lunch, place 2 to 3 tablespoons of dip, along with four apple wedges, in a re-sealable container.
The Kitchen Diva is Angela Shelf Medearis, a regular guest chef on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Today Show.” She is the author of many cookbooks, including, “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.”