An assortment of back-to-school lunch accessories, including a tray containing fruit, rice with eggs and meat, a thermos, water-bottle, hand sanitizer and a COVID-19 mask

If your kids are finally going back to the classroom after months of COVID-19 in Canada, you’re likely having mixed feelings. There’s the excitement and relief of finally getting back to a routine, but it’s understandable if you’re also worried about their safety, especially during lunch time.

Cafeterias and classrooms will likely be reorganized to support social distancing and additional cleaning measures during the midday meal break, but there are a few extra things you can do at home to get your kids (and their school lunches) ready and put your mind at ease. Here are four safe lunch tips to keep in mind when prepping for the big return.

Pack for mealtime independence.

“In the younger grades, we want to make sure kids bring things that are easy for them to open,” says Kathryn Flanigan, a nurse practitioner with the Centre for Family Medicine at McMaster University. Little kids often require help from teachers, educational assistants and lunchroom staff to get the lid off their thermos, for example, or even just to unzip their lunch bag. But when schools reopen there will be a bigger focus on kids doing it themselves. “We really want to reduce anxiety for teachers,” she says.

If your student is heading into grades JK through 3, it’s worth doing a few practice runs with their lunch equipment before September. Make sure they can open their lunch bag, and that lids to food containers are easy to twist off or snap open. “There’s no need to switch to pre-packaged snacks—they don’t make anything safer,” says Flanigan. Individually wrapped granola bars, for example, are notoriously difficult for little hands to manage.

Get a handle on hand hygiene.

If you’ve been washing often and humming the “Happy Birthday” song while you do it (it’s roughly 20 seconds long, the ideal sudsing time)[1], your kid’s already ahead of the class. “Hand washing is going to be a big part of back-to-school,” says Flanigan.

According to school-reopening recommendations from SickKids, beefing up kids’ hand hygiene skills could include an ongoing review of the proper washing technique, the use of age-appropriate signage near sinks and having scheduled hand-cleaning breaks at least five times during the school day—including before and after eating.

Regular hand washing with soap and water is preferable, but having kids use hand sanitizer is also recommended for practical reasons (like avoiding excess traffic in the hallways, since many classrooms don’t have sinks). Clip a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer (containing 60 to 90 per cent USP grade alcohol[2]) to the outside of their lunch bag to ensure they’ve always got some ready when they need it.

Focus on finger-free foods.

If your kids are all about sandwiches and veggie sticks, it might be time to expand their lunch repertoire to include soups, noodles and rice dishes—AKA, lunch ideas that require a spork. Because they’ll be washing and/or using hand sanitizer before and after eating, using their hands to eat shouldn’t pose a big problem, says Flanigan, but opting for meals that require utensils is an extra precaution. Be sure to pack a reusable fork or spoon, ideally in a separate case that can be slipped into the lunch box or bag for easy cleaning and storage.

Remember that not sharing is caring.

For now, the new mantra at school will be for students to keep their hands—and food—to themselves. Encourage your kids to eat their own food and avoid sharing for the foreseeable future.

It’s a good idea to label all of their stuff to ensure items don’t get mixed up with a classmate’s spork or lunch pail. Kids may not be able to share the hallway water fountains to refill water bottles either, so it might be a good idea to pack two: one for the morning and one for the afternoon.

Check out these easy lunch ideas—ready in under 10 minutes.

Safe School-Lunch Essentials

Article Sources

  1. Government of Canada. Reduce the spread of COVID-19: Wash your hands infographic.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When and How to Wash Your Hands.

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