Everything You Need to Know About Packing a Lunch for Camp

These expert tips will help you send your kids off to camp with healthy lunches that can withstand the hot summer temperatures.

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Get Packing

Camp is back in full swing — and that means packing lunch is back on the agenda. Here’s what you need to remember when you pack your kiddo’s lunch during the hot summer months.

Know How Their Lunches Will Be Stored

It makes a huge difference if your child’s lunch is being stored in a refrigerator verses kept out in the hot sun. Many establishments do refrigerate lunches, but always ask before you pack that lunchbox. Unrefrigerated lunches are kept out in hot temperatures that allow bacteria to grow, which means you’ll need to pack items that are shelf-stable, like a nut butter sandwich and banana, or include several ice packs.

Start Clean

Before packing your child’s lunch, make sure you start with clean hands, clean countertops and clean utensils. This means you need to wash your hands properly, and clean and sanitize countertops, utensils, dishes and anything else that will touch your kid’s food.

Use Insulated Bags

Insulated bags are designed to hold the cold temperature for a bit longer. This doesn’t mean the food can sit out in the hot sun all day long, but it does give you some wiggle room if there is some time between packing the lunch and putting it in the fridge. Reusable brown bags don’t hold in temperatures and can also easily tear.

5 Lunchboxes and Coolers Perfect for Summer Camp

Use Ice Packs

To keep your child’s lunch extra cold, pack in several reusable ice packs. It’s just another barrier to slow down the growth of bacteria when the lunch spends time outside the refrigerator (like while your kid is traveling to camp).

Keep It Extra Cold

You can also freeze items like juice packs and water bottles and use them as additional ice packs. Plus, if they happen to stay cold, it’s a refreshing beverage for your child, especially on a hot day.

Opt for Non-Refrigerated Items

If you’re worried about how long food will remain outdoors, opt for non-refrigerated items. Although it can become challenging, you just need to get a little creative. Healthy options to choose from include:

Aseptically packed soy milk or low-fat milk or chocolate milk

Whole fruits like bananas, apples, pears, plums and oranges

Whole vegetables like cherry tomatoes and baby cucumbers

Single-serve canned or vacuum-sealed packs of tuna, salmon or chicken (many now come in a variety of flavors)

Sandwiches with nut butter, like peanut butter, almond butter or soy nut butter

Whole-grain cereal with a shelf-stable box of milk

Dried or freeze-dried fruit or vegetables

Nuts and seeds (if allowed)

Jerky

Freshly popped popcorn (if old enough)

Cheese (Laughing Cow and Babybel do not need refrigeration)

Make Your Own Healthier Shelf-Stable Food

Use wholesome ingredients to make a healthier trail mix (with or without nuts), muffins or even pancakes. Try this fabulous Healthy Carrot Muffin recipe, or make Pumpkin Seed Dried Cherry Trail Mix. If your child’s camp is nut-free, swap the nuts for a different seed, more dried fruit or even pretzels.

Get the Recipe: Healthy Carrot Muffins

Tuck In Hand Wipes or Sanitizer

Remind your child to wash their hands immediately after lunch. It’s always a good idea to pack in a few hand wipes or a mini sanitizer, just in case your child is in a rush or no handwashing stations are available.

Toss Suspect Leftovers

Any items that have been sitting out in the hot sun for hours should be tossed, especially yogurt, cheese, milk, meat, poultry, sliced fruits and vegetables, and leftover cooked foods. Although the camp may keep the lunch refrigerated, if your child sat on a hot bus for a while or went to the park after camp, the food should certainly be tossed. Always go by the motto "when in doubt, toss it out."

Clean Reusable Lunchboxes, Utensils + More

Reusable lunchboxes should get cleaned with soap and water every day. Food and drinks spill into those lunchboxes, which can lead to not only a smelly lunchbox but also bacteria, mold and other unwanted goodies in there. When your child comes home from camp, unpack the lunchbox and give it a good wash and dry with a clean towel or let it air dry. The same goes with any reusable bags, utensils or anything else that will be reused.

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