When the temperature dips, nothing warms the heart better than sending your child to school with some hot and comforting lunch. Soups and stews are perfect since in most cases; their flavors improve in time. A sandwich with a warm beverage also fits the bill. Furthermore, packing that lunch can help you control what goes into your child’s diet at school.
However, there are right and wrong ways of packing hot lunch. Having consulted USDA’s Food Safety guidelines, together with a few food publications out there, I have arrived at this summary of 6 easy steps to packing a safe hot lunch.
- You should invest in a few good quality thermal containers for food and beverages. Keep a few sizes around. Always check for leaks. Nothing is more embarrassing than to have soups and stews leaking from the food jar when you are having lunch with your buddies.
- Always pre-heat the containers by pouring boiling water into the jar and let the water sit for a few minutes; my usual time is 5 minutes. Discard the water only right before you are ready to fill up the jar.
- Heat up the food to piping hot before filling up the food jars. While heating up the food, give it a few stirs to ensure even heating.
- After filling up, put the prepared food jars in a thermal carrying bag.
- Not all food jars have serving cups. Therefore, you should also include an unbreakable serving mug with napkins and a spoon in case your child needs to pour the contents out to cool before eating.
- Instruct your child not to open the jar until it is time for lunch. That way the food stays hot and safe – 140F (60C) or above.
So what is a quality thermal food jar? There is no shortage of food jars in the stores. Good Housekeeping has tested 19 of these jars, but many of them failed USDA’s food safety guidelines. Luckily, they found one winner for a beverage holder for bigger kids or adults and one for a food jar for younger kids.
- The Sigg Thermal Bottle Fashion Line (product information) – Sigg specializes in making eco-friendly food containers and has gained quite a colt following. This bottle can safely hold hot or cold beverages for up to 6 hours. That means it can handle cold drink, hot soup, coffee, hot cocoa safely. It is available as flat or ring top, available in Amazon.
- Thermos Funtainer Food Jar Series (product information) – Thermos has been making thermal food jars for quite some time. I am glad to see that this line of containers passes the food safety test. These food jar can hold hot (not cold) food for up to 6 hours. With the wide-mouth design and fun exterior. Your child’s hot lunch can be both fun and safe. They are available in Amazon, and at Target.
From MyHLI kitchen tests, I have found out that there are two more options that passed the USDA’s standards. They are the 17 oz Stanley’s Classic and the Zujirushi Mr. and Ms. Bento Series. Stanley’s Classic, in particular, has superior performance in holding food temperature. Also from the design standpoint, Zujirushi’s Mr.or Ms. Bento is more suitable for moms and dads. You can read more about Mr. and Ms. Bento in Soups and Stews – Make Them and Take Them. The ordering information for both of these food jars is listed in Tools You Can Use – Winter Lunch Containers.
Of course, no hot lunch is complete without some recipes. For a start, you may be interested in trying these soups recipes.
Hot lunch for cold days. It is one of the best ways to enjoy a mid-day meal. With these tips and products information in mind, you can assure that your child will be safely enjoying some nutritious hot food made by you, and seasoned with just a little love.
Fall is here. The leaves are falling and the temperature is dipping. I feel the need to bring some warm comfort food to work. Soups and stews are my favorites in this weather. They are simple to make and easy to take along. At the same time they give me a comforting meal in the middle of the work-day, when I need it most.
I knew I needed a thermal lunch system to keep the food warm. I went to the stores to see if there were any new designs on thermal food containers. Sadly, I turned up nothing, so I dug up my friendly old (but still in production) Zojirushi thermal lunch jar to see if it was as good as I remembered it.
What is a thermal lunch jar?
The thermal lunch jar may also be known as vacuum lunch jar, or stainless steel lunch jar. The system is generally made up of a cylindrical vacuum jar with a lockable lid. Inside the jar, you will find several stackable plastic food containers which allow you to separate the flavors and/or temperatures of your food. There is usually an attachment for utensil on the side.
How to use a thermal lunch jar?
My Zojirushi SL-XB20, has three compartments.
- Bottom container – for my hottest food such as soups or stews. It has a valve and gasket-seal and is spill-proof.
- Middle container – for my relatively warm food such as pasta, rice. It has a screw-on lid with a layer of air inside to act as an insulator from the top container.
- Top container - for my food that needs to stay cool, such as fruits or salads.
Here are a few tips from Zojirushi.
- You can use the jar for cold food also
- Preheating and pre-cooling before filling the containers is recommended. To preheat, soak the food containers with warm water. To pre-cool, soak them with cold water. Doing so can enhance the function of the jar.
- Do not place in dish-washer or dryer.
My Personal Note
The top container seems tricky. Although my user’s manual explains that the layer of air in the lid of the middle compartment is supposed to insulate the warmth from reaching the cool compartment, I find that my grapes or salads do not stay chilled. Therefore, I sometimes bring an extra thermal food jar just for the foods that need to stay chilled. However, I have used it for my BBQ or hot wings, and it has been fine. I will be experimenting with putting blue-ice into the top container and check if that helps hold the chill better.Should your food lose warmth, all the inside containers are microwave-safe as long as your leave the lids off. Overall, my lunch jar is more versatile than most thermal food jars since it holds all my dishes in one place and has above-average thermal control.Some New Models from Zojirushi
Zojirushi has since made some major improvements on the new models which make me a little jealous. Their new models, Classic Bento, Mr Bento and Ms Bento have a forked spoon (sometimes called a “spork”) instead of chopsticks, which most will find more suitable for western dishes. They also come with carrying cases instead of carrying straps. This should make them much easier to carry.
By PK, We Live Concepts
Bento is a Japanese cuisine style in which food is prepared in single-portions for take-away. The containers, bento boxes, are usually of box-shaped, and are found ranging from disposable plasticware to hand-crafted lacquerware.
In the effort to create a healthy lunch, and put an end to stuffing food in plastic bags, I wanted to try this Japanese bento-box system. So off to Japan Town I went, on a mission to find a good bento box.
The prices ranged from $3 to $40 per box, the designs ranged from kids to grown-ups. Inside one of the gift shops, I found some very well-crafted bento boxes, and l spotted the one I wanted. However, it was a bit pricy. So as usual, I began asking the store manager a lot of questions about the selection and use of bento boxes before investing in a bento box. Not only did the manager surprise me by showing me how knowledgeable she was about bento boxes, but she also showed me a supplier’s catalog that showcased how the Japanese transformed boxed lunch into an art form.
From talking with her, and through some more research I did later, I learned some basic tips for selecting bento boxes.
Sizes and material
- Bento boxes come in different sizes for different appetites, including ones that are made for sharing lunches.
- High-end bento boxes are lacquered and therefore should be protected from scratches.
- Lacquered bento boxes are best for lunches that can be assembled the night before or in the mornings and later consumed at room temperature. Some lower-end models are microwavable.
- Check for stickers that tell if the bento box is microwave-safe.
Using the bento box
- To minimize shifting when transporting the food, you may line the compartment with lettuce leaves or simply baking cups. They bunch up and fill the gaps between the food.
- One should remove the top cover where the intricate designs are usually found, and microwave only the compartment that needs to be heated.
- Sauces and salad dressings should be stored in condiment containers until right before eating. (such containers can be found online, with department store food storage supplies, or in camping supply stores)
- Hand-washing is recommended, especially for the high-end boxes.
- There are mini lunch chopsticks, forks and spoons in box-sets available also, but I have found carrying a regular fork and spoon, and some extra napkins in a sports water-bottle works well for me too.
- Some bento boxes even have accessory compartments.
At the end, I did buy a nice lacquered-box and a fork-spoon-chopsticks box set to go with it. Later, I also discovered that camping supply stores sold some great tiny condiment containers in their cookware/foodware section…sweet!
Sure enough, I bought the bento box and some accessories I needed and planned on experimenting with it with some recipes.