Tips to help keep your kid’s packed lunch out of the ‘Danger Zone’

lunchbox with words

Children are at high risk of contracting foodborne illness because their immune systems are still developing.

Kids under the age of five have the highest incidence of Campylobacter, E. coli, and Salmonella infection among any other age group in the United States.

This highlights the importance of following the USDA’s four food safety steps whenever preparing meals: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

To help families teach the importance of the four steps to young children, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has developed a food safety “science experiment” that parents and children can do together to make sure school lunches are safe to eat come lunchtime.

Here’s how to do the experiment with your kids: To start, parents should pack their child’s lunch and have their child store it as they would at school. After the normal time between lunch packing and consumption has passed, parents should help their child take the temperature of the lunch contents. Cold items should still be below 40 °F and hot items should be above 140°F.

If food in is in the Danger Zone (between 40 °F and 140 °F) parents can use the following tips to ensure their child’s lunch remains safely outside the Danger Zone for future preparations:

1. If the lunch contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two freezer packs. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the Danger Zone, so perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long.

frog ice pack2. Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs. Freeze these items overnight and use with at least one other freezer pack. By lunchtime, the liquids should be thawed and ready to drink.

3. Pack lunches containing perishable food in an insulated lunchbox or soft-sided lunch bag. Perishable food can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a paper bag.

4. If possible, a child’s lunch should be stored in a refrigerator upon arrival. But leave the lid of the lunchbox or bag open in the fridge so that cold air can better circulate and keep the food cold.

5. If packing a hot lunch, like soup, chili or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Tell children to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot – 140 °F (73.9 °C) or above.

6. After lunch, discard all leftover food, used food packaging, and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

7. If packing a child’s lunch the night before, parents should leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cooler longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.

By following these tips, parents can reduce the risk that their child will be kept home from school due to a foodborne illness.

Parents with more food safety questions can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at, available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.  For more tips to keep your family foodborne illness free this season visit and follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter.

Information for this post came from a report from the USDA.

Mealtime Mama: Raspberry Streusel Squares


My husband’s Aunt Irene is a great cook.

I haven’t seen her since we visited the shore six years ago, but I still have a little file of recipes she sent me after our trip. I noticed this one tucked away today and thought I’d share:

Raspberry Streusel Squares

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3/4 cups butter (softened)

1 1/2 cups quick cooking rolled oats

1 jar (10 oz. or 3/4 cup) red seedless raspberry preserves

1/4 cup chopped almond slivers

Powdered sugar

Directions: Sift into bowl — combine flour, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl; stir in sugars. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly; stir in oats.

Press about two-thirds of mixture onto bottom of lightly greased 9×9 inch baking pan. Spread on whipped preserves (after having taken the jam from the jar and put it into a bowl and whipped it).

Add almonds to remaining crumb mixture and sprinkle over preserves, patting down lightly.

Temperature: Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, then cut in squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Mealtime Mama: Oatmeal cookies made by mom


When my siblings and I go “home” to my parents’ house, we inevitably finish dinner and say we’re craving something sweet.

We often ask our mother to make oatmeal cookies, maybe because she always has the ingredients on hand. Or maybe because, when I bite into one, I seriously feel about 8 years old again. Especially when I eat them warm right out of the oven.

I’ve really been craving those cookies lately, so I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to ask for the next time I visit.

Shannon’s Mom’s Oatmeal Cookies

quick oats1 stick butter

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups oatmeal

Directions: Beat together butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla. Beat well. Add flour, soda and salt. Mix well. Add oatmeal and mix. Drop by rounded spoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet. Serve warm and start a new family tradition!

ozark-natural-foodsOzark Natural Foods is a locally owned consumer cooperative dedicated to participatory democracy. Its mission is to provide owners and the Northwest Arkansas community with natural and organic products that encourage healthful living and a sustainable planet. Click here to become an owner, which has all kinds of special benefits!

*This post originally published on nwaMotherlode in May 2013.

Mealtime Mama: Italian Style Roasted Peppers


If  you love bell peppers (we do!), below is a unique recipe from the Ozark Natural Foods website to try this summer.

If you’d like to see other recipes on the ONF site, click here.

Italian Style Roasted Peppers

onf bell peppers4 large green bell peppers

1 large red pepper

2 large cloves garlic

3 Tbsp olive oil

Black pepper to taste

Directions: Wash and dry peppers. Place on greased baking sheet under broiler. Broil and turn peppers until skin gets black on all sides. Or, use tongs and hold over gas flame. Wrap in kitchen towel and allow to cool to touch (or place in paper bag and close) at least 10 minutes. Peel off charred skin, remove stem and seed. Cut into thin strips. Mix pepper strips with garlic, olive oil and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

ONF storeOzark Natural Foods is Northwest Arkansas’ natural-foods Co-op, owned by a community of more than 10,000 investors, most of whom live in Northwest Arkansas. ONF has been an essential part of the community for more than 40 years, growing with Fayetteville and the surrounding area.

Mealtime Mama: Cool summer recipes

mealtimemama-ONF It may be hot outside, but it’s precisely the time to bring the heat to my mouth. Whether you use fresh tomatoes or canned, this homemade salsa is a fresh treat.

In the summer, my mom always has it waiting for me when I arrive “home” for a visit. I even had it for breakfast one day! I love it that much. Below the salsa recipe is another family favorite that involves fresh broccoli. No turning on the oven for this one and it’s super good, especially to share at a potluck. Don’t let the broccoli fool you; the recipe also has BACON in it.

Banquet Salsa:

tomatoes-on-vine.PNGHalf a large green bell pepper (or one small)

1/2 jalapeno

Small onion, diced

1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes

Diced garlic (two cloves)

Cilantro to taste (finely chopped)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt & pepper to taste

Place bell pepper and jalapeno into the oven and broil them until the skin browns. Then peel the skin off and dice finely. Mix the other ingredients together and chill. Enjoy!

Broccoli Salad:

broc.jpg2 bunches broccoli, separated into florets

8 bacon strips, fried and crumbled

1/2 cup chopped onion (red adds color)

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons raisins (or to taste)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup mayonnaise

In a large salad bowl, combine broccoli, bacon and onion. Set aside. In another bowl, combine mayo, sugar and vinegar until smooth. Just before serving, pour dressing over salad and toss.

ONF storeNote from the mamas: The Summer Remix symbol appears on posts previously published on nwaMotherlode that were noted as a “reader favorite”. If you missed the original publication date, we hope you’ll enjoy this encore performance. Happy summer!


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