Summer is almost over, and kids and teachers are returning to the classrooms. Every day people pack a lunch to take to work or school. As a nation, on average, we eat out between four and five times a week. Half of those meals are eaten at lunch. Bringing a bag lunch from home can save both money and time compared to eating out in a restaurant or cafeteria. A lunch prepared at home is usually cheaper than eating out. Let us just say you eat out for lunch twice a week, and the average cost of your meal and beverage is $10. You can save $20 per week, or up to $1,000 a year, minus the cost of your homemade lunch. The savings is greater when choosing to eat more home prepared meals every week.
The following are tips for planning and packing lunches from home that are thrifty, nutritious, tasty, and safe to eat.
Lunch should provide you with one-third of your daily nutritional needs. Avoid skipping lunch. Lunch fuels the body throughout the afternoon just as breakfast gets you through the morning. Packing your lunch each day will help control the foods and nutrients you eat. Lunch choices can make a big difference in the total calories, fat, fiber, sugar, and sodium you consume each day. Try to include at least three of the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Avoid high calorie beverages, and drink water instead.
Lastly, do not forget food safety tips when packing lunch. When food is prepared ahead and eaten later, food safety is always a concern. All perishable foods must be handled properly to prevent foodborne illness. Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before packing into your lunch bag. There are many foods that are safe to pack without refrigeration. These include foods such as: peanut butter, breads, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, unopened cans of fruit and pudding, pretzels, popcorn, crackers, canned and bottled 100% juices, canned meat and chicken that can be opened and eaten immediately. Store your lunch at the correct temperature. Remember to keep food out of the danger zone, which is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. Bacteria grow and multiply quickly between these temperatures. Food that should be served hot should be stored in an insulated bottle, and do not open it until time for lunch. If no refrigeration is available, use an insulated lunch bag and freeze your beverage, or use a freezer gel pack to keep cold foods cold and below 40 degrees F.
The last essential part of a safe lunch is to always wash your hands before eating or pack hand sanitizer. After lunch, discard all perishable foods, unless you have a way of keeping them at a safe temperature. Clean and sanitize your lunch bag every day after use. Leftover crumbs and other food debris can harbor dangerous bacteria that can grow over time and potentially make you sick.