Great memories are made at summer camp, but food poisoning will give the term “unforgettable summer” an entirely new meaning.
Take some time to prepare your children’s food with care, keeping in mind they may be burning more calories than they normally would during a sedentary school day.
Fuel their activities with nutrient-dense foods like carrots, hummus, fruits and whole-grain breads and crackers, and save the chips and cookies as treats. Focus meals and snacks on the USDA’s MyPlate model, which presents a plate with three-quarters of the food coming from plant sources – fruits, vegetables and whole-grain carbohydrates – and a quarter of the plate from lean protein sources – eggs, nut/seed butters, lean meats.
Here are some tips to help you pack healthy, safe lunches and ensure the kids are staying hydrated while staying busy.
n When will your children have mealtimes?
This will help you prepare a lunch that is in the safe-food handling time frame. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cold foods should be kept under 40 degrees, and hot foods should be kept over 140 degrees. The USDA also suggests perishable foods be consumed within two hours. So ideally if you can keep your lunch container consistently cold, the food should stay fresh for at least four hours.
n When do they have water breaks scheduled?
This will allow you to send enough water to keep them hydrated throughout the day. Know that nothing hydrates like water. Sports drinks and juices are high in sugar, which can exacerbate dehydration. (Yes! Swimming can dehydrate you.)
n Where will your children’s lunch box/container be stored: indoors or outdoors? This matters because it’s easier to keep cool food fresh indoors rather than poolside on hot concrete. Where will you need to arrive in case of an emergency? Where are field trips scheduled to take place and will lunch/breaks alter because of them?
n How can you keep cold foods fresh and hot foods hot?
Pack at least two water bottles, but freeze one of them overnight. Utilize streamline ice packs, which will keep foods cool but won’t take up a lot of space. If you’re sending hot foods, get a high-quality thermos container, and preheat it with hot water before you add your hot foods.
n Do not pack highly perishable or heat-intolerant foods like sliced tomatoes, lettuce or cut fruit. Instead, consider acidic condiments like commercially prepared mayo, mustard or vinegar because the acidity helps to prevent spoilage. Certain foods like garlic, honey, parsley, cinnamon and cumin have antibacterial properties and add flavor.
Send whole fruits like apples, grapes and oranges, and avoid cut fruits and soft fruits like strawberries because they tend to brown or get mushy quickly.
Dried fruits and dehydrated fruit snacks like fruit leathers are also lunch box-tolerant and hold up well.
n Freeze yogurts overnight because they will hold up better than most other dairy products. Be mindful that some camps have banned peanut butter and all nuts and seeds, so inquire with the camp before sending the trusty old PB&J with your campers.
Fueling our youngsters properly guarantees they’ll have the energy to run, jump, swim, learn, read, build and really have a rocking summer!
Chef Asata Reid is founder of Life Chef LLC. She teaches wellness through healthy cooking for groups and individuals and is host of What’s Cooking? second Saturdays monthly at Sevananda Natural Foods Market in Atlanta. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for daily recipes and wellness tips @ChefAsata and learn more at www.LifeChef.net.