Ready for school?

Ready for school?

It's hard to get that morning routine going, especially if you are trying to pack a lunch on top of the other things that need to be done. Packing a lunch offers convenience and a cost-savings that can add up. If lunch costs $4 a day, five days a week, for 52 weeks a year, budget $1,040 a year for lunch.

Packing a lunch with leftovers, a sandwich, or even purchased, single-serving foods, might average $2 a day and yield savings of $520 a year.

I encourage you to give school lunches a try. They are nutritional and offer a fresh, safe meal for students at a reasonable cost.

Health-reducing calories and fat and preventing food borne illness are, however, as important to consumers as saving money. Pack a safe and satisfying lunch with these tips:

Choose a lunch box, bag or cooler that will work best for you. Children may prefer cartoon character lunch boxes with coordinated thermal containers. Teens may opt for insulated coolers that hold more food, and adults may prefer insulated bags that fit in their desks. Lunch box storage and the availability of a microwave for heating leftovers or single-serving meals are also factors. If a lunch box will be stored in a school locker, car, or other unrefrigerated area, an insulated cooler may be the best choice. Consider convenience, durability and price. Reduce risks from foodborne illness by keeping lunch box, bag or cooler clean. Wash thermal and re-usable containers after each use. Keep kitchen and food preparation area and tools clean. Use a clean tool for each task. Wash hands in hot, soapy water before and after handling food or eating. Simplify preparation: Make more than one lunch at a time. Prepare a main dish and freeze it in reusable, single-serving containers. Or, make several sandwiches at once; wrap individually and freeze for future use. When frozen sandwiches are packed, they thaw gradually and should be ready to eat. Being cold makes them less susceptible to foodborne microorganisms that may cause illness. Count on leftovers. Use them within a day or two, or wrap and freeze for future use. Pack hot foods, such as soups or casseroles, in insulated containers, or freeze them before packing. Foods that do not freeze well include hard-cooked egg whites; salad greens; sour cream; jellies; gelatin salads; and some raw vegetables. Transfer chilled or frozen foods from the refrigerator directly to lunch box, bag or cooler. Pack condiments separately. When sandwiches are frozen and then thawed, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and other spreads make bread soggy. Add condiments or vegetables like lettuce and tomato before eating. Vary breads and/or sandwich fillings. Include fruits and vegetables. Students who say they don't like vegetables usually do like peanut butter and celery, carrot bar cookies or pumpkin bread. Milk and other beverages can be purchased; juice in a box also packs well. Pack moist towelettes or hand-sanitizing solutions for use before and after eating when soap and water will not be available.

n Add an extra treat occasionally — raisins, bakery-style cookie, note or newspaper cartoon — to make the lunch special.

Jana McKinney is a McPherson County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.