Lunch foods you can make ahead and freeze!
I am all about things that save you time when it comes to food prep. The morning rush can be overwhelming to kids. Especially if you are like me, and require your kids to pack their own lunches. If they find it difficult to wake up, or leave too many things to do in the morning, anything you can do to save time in the morning and get the kids out the door is a must! For the same reason we all love freezer meals, you will love these ideas for freezer lunches.
Benefits to freezer lunch foods
KEEPING THE REST OF YOUR FOOD COLD: When you freeze even a portion of your meal, it can serve as an ice pack to keep things cold until lunch. Sometimes we’ll do this with a frozen water bottle (especially when we are traveling), but you can also freeze food ahead of time to chill the other foods you pack it with.
A study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics. They looked at meat, dairy and vegetable items in packed lunches from preschool children (ages 3 to 5). After measuring the temperatures of the foods approximately 90 minutes before lunchtime, they found only a few items that were at a safe temperature. Overall, about 98% of the food items they tested in all of the lunches were above a safe temperature. Nearly half of the lunches contained at least one ice pack, 12% sat in school refrigerators, and yet the vast majority of these cooled lunches did not meet the recommended temperature. The remaining 39% had nothing to keep the food chilled.
I was really surprised that even with an icepack, foods were not staying at a safe temperature. Food can sit in the ‘danger zone’ for 2 hours without becoming a risk. So what is the risk if your child’s food sits in the danger zone for 3-4 hours? Staphylococcus aureus is the most common bacteria associated with poorly cooled food and causes nausea, and the 24-hour vomiting and diarrhea that is the ‘I-wish-I-was-dead-but-I-know-I’ll-live’ kind of sickness.
PREP AHEAD ON THE WEEKENDS My kids have always been required to pack their own lunch, but if we can spend some family time on the weekend to get food ready for them to pack, it makes their job a lot easier during the week! Having a freezer full of options makes their morning run a lot smoother.
So, these are our top 5 freezer foods for lunches:
What?? Don’t they get soggy and gross? No they don’t! The great thing about freezing sandwiches, is that you can make a big batch of sandwiches ahead of time, put them in the freezer and then just pull them out in the morning when you are putting lunches together. They will thaw and be ready to eat by lunch time. There are a few key tips to freezing sandwiches:
- To keep the bread from getting soggy, keep the condiments on the side. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber should all be left on the side.
- Spreading a layer of peanut butter or mayonnaise on the bread helps from getting soggy because it acts as a moisture barrier.
- When making PB&J, spread the peanut butter in a thin layer on two pieces of bread all the way from the top to the bottom trying to cover the whole area. Put a layer of jam on one side on top of the peanut butter. Cover the sandwich, label and freeze.
- Cheddar and cream cheese are good freezing choices, as are sliced lunchmeat, hard-cooked egg yolks and ground meat such as meatloaf.
Yogurt freezes really well, and by the time lunch rolls around it will be thawed but still cold. Even if it hasn’t thawed all of the way, frozen yogurt is delicious! These homemade gogurt makers are awesome for freezing and putting into lunches.
3) Fruit and/or Fruit Cups
Freeze whole grapes and blueberries and sliced peaches, plums, strawberries and nectarines in containers for cold lunch treats. Fruit cups such as applesauce, mandarin oranges or peaches can be frozen and when thawed are a delicious lunch treat!
Fill plastic, zipper-sealed bags with carrots and celery sticks and freeze the individual packages in a large freezer bag. Pop them in the freezer, and then into a lunch container in the morning and they’ll be cold and crisp for lunch.
Some foods are delicious to eat even when cold (lasagna, pizza, burritos) When dinner is over and your food has cooled, freeze the dish in individual portions using small jars, small tupperware containers, or even freezer-safe Ziploc bags. Depending on what the food is, you may want to put it in the fridge the night before, or if it will thaw in time pull it out that morning to thaw by lunch.
More Tips for Keeping School Lunches Safe:
- Wash your hands when preparing lunches. Touching your face and nose can transfer bacteria to food and can increase the risk of your child getting sick.
- Wash out lunch containers daily.
- Put empty lunch containers in the fridge to help food start out cold.
For more school lunch ideas and tips, check out: