My kids are excited to get settled into their new school year. It’s a year of new faces, friends and academic challenges. My daughter, Hannah, is entering the 5th grade and my son, Evan, is starting 2nd grade. Both children like to combine the week with school-purchased meals as well as lunches brought from home. Since I see patients for medical nutrition therapy in my office three days per week, Hannah and Evan go straight from the classroom to after-school care at the same school. This makes for a bit longer day for them. The other day, I caught Evan digging into his lunch box when I picked him up from after-school care. He was eating his leftover soup out of his thermos while sitting in the back seat. “Don’t eat that!” I said. Evan looks up toward the front seat with his big eyes. “Why, Mommy?” I proceeded to tell him that his soup was no longer good since it had been sitting out for too long. Before your kids get into their next school year, be sure to have a chat with your children about some basic food safety guidelines. By doing this, you may ward off a nasty case of food poisoning, or worse. After dealing with this situation with my son, I am reminded of the importance of food safety education for my own kids each and every time a new school year begins. A bit of repetition helps in remembering!
What Should Kids Know About Food Safety?
- “Bugs” grow in food. Explain to your children that very tiny organisms can grow in perishable food if left at the wrong temperature. Those organisms can make their bodies sick if they are in their food and they eat it. That is why we need to make sure they follow some important guidelines when eating their food at school.
- Wash hands. Tell your children to always wash their hands with soap and water before handling their lunch. Bacteria can easily transfer from their hands to their food when they eat. Make sure their eating surface is clean as well. For ease in following these directions, you can also put a small container of hand sanitizer and a cleansing wipe in your child’s lunch.
- Safe microwaving. Some children do have access to a microwave at their school. If they do, go over important safety considerations when using a microwave. Eat perishable foods first. In order to decrease food waste, encourage your children to eat the perishable foods in their lunchbox first. Go over what foods require refrigeration or heat. Once lunch is over, the perishable foods will no longer be good to eat later unless they have access to a refrigerator for their leftovers.
- Danger in sharing boxed lunches. We love it when our kids share with others, but there can actually be danger in sharing each other’s perishable food items. There is no good way of knowing for sure if their family has used proper food safety guidelines. When in doubt, do without.
As with everything we teach our kids, knowledge is power. By no means do we want to approach food safety topics in a way that provokes fear in a child. But we do want to empower them to make the right choices when it comes to food, so they automatically follow these guidelines when they get older. More great tips on food safety for kids along with great activity sheets for reinforcement.