How to keep kids' lunches cold
Keep kids' lunches cold with these tips and tricks for lunchbox safetyIn the summertime, maintaining a cool lunchbox (and we mean temperature, not hip points) is the goal of every parent when they send their kids off to camp or daycare or grandma’s. You just prepared a scrumptious chicken salad sandwich and a container of fruit and a nice cold drink in your little one’s thermos; the last thing you want is for it to all be warm and lifeless by lunchtime.
But, by thinking ahead and using a few clever tricks, you can ensure that lunch is as cool and crisp as the moment you packed it.
Pick the Right Container
Not all lunch receptacles are created equal, and this holds especially true in the heat of the summer. The old standard paper sacks and metal lunch boxes are prone to temperature changes and offer little in the way of protecting packed food from spoilage. What you need instead is a little insulation. Luckily, insulated lunch boxes and bags come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors these days. Look for one which zips up tight for maximum protection, and has thick insulated walls.
Typically soft-sided (it would be awkward to carry around a hard plastic Igloo drink cooler), these lunch packs are designed to appeal to everyone from the executive woman on the go to the tiniest preschooler with an avid love for Disney characters. In the case of children, you want to pay special attention to size and ease of carrying. A big lunch tote might be great for dad's day at the office, but little Maddy who eats like a bird isn't likely to need that much space. Keep it compact (but roomy enough to fit everything, including a thermos or juice box). Full containers are more efficient at staying cool than those with a lot of empty space for stuff to bang around in.
It's true: reusable ice packs have revolutionized the packed lunch. Typically filled with some sort of alien blue space gel, these great things can be frozen again and again, come in various shapes and sizes (including simple pillow-like plastic bags filled with the stuff or hard plastic versions of the same), and are easy to pop in and out of the lunch bag with zero mess. No melted ice cubes; you just stick it right back in the freezer when the day is done, and use it the next day.
As the next evolution of the reusable cold pack, some lunch containers now come with freeze-gel built into them. This way, if you want to, say, keep the carrots cold but not have the sandwich in direct contact with a lump of ice, just pack the carrots into a self-freezing container to keep them nice and frosty, put a few napkins on top of the closed container, and pack the sandwich on top. The frozen carrot compartment will keep the ambient temperature in the lunch bag nice and cool, but your sandwich won't get colder than you want it.
Another way to ensure the lunch box stays cool is to add frozen food items your kiddo will want to eat at lunch. Frozen juice-pops (tightly wrapped in plastic so there's no leaking) make a nice treat, as well as certain frozen or semi-frozen fruits. If everything is packed in cold and sealed up tight, the frozen items might thaw a little, but they'll still be plenty slushy come lunch time. You can also do this with frozen juice boxes. This is a good idea if you've got a full lunch bag with no extra room for an inedible ice pack.