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Packing a Lunch 101

Do you find yourself quickly grabbing lunch at the nearest fast-food restaurant or vending machine during a busy workday? Meals eaten out are typically high in calories, unhealthy fats and sodium.

Preparing a quick meal the night before or in the morning before work or school can save you money and extra calories. Following proper food safety guidelines will help prevent you from getting sick from food stored at improper temperatures.


Food Safety


When packing a lunch, follow simple, yet critical steps to avoid a food-borne illness. Bacteria can be found in most foods, which makes storing food at a safe temperature very important. Bacteria can double in number every 10 to 30 minutes if left in the “danger zone” of 40 to 140 F for more than two hours.


Preparation and Storage Tips


  • Use thermos containers to keep food cold or hot. Preheat the thermos by filling it with hot water and letting it stand for a few minutes. Pour the water out and add the steaming hot food. For cold foods, fill the thermos with cold water and let it stand for a few minutes prior to adding the cold food.
  • Keep perishable items cold. Perishable items include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, tofu, milk, cheese, yogurt, cooked and cut or peeled fruits and vegetables, pasta and rice.
  • Use an insulated lunch container and store in a refrigerator until lunchtime if possible. If refrigeration is not available, place an ice pack or freezer gel pack in the lunch container to keep food items cold.
  • Bring food that is safe at room temperature. Food items safe to consume at room temperature include fresh fruit with the peel, bread, crackers, bagels, popcorn, canned tuna, dried fruits and nuts.


Lunch Ideas


  • Prepare extra servings of dinner to bring for lunch the next day.
  • Leftovers can be used in a creative way. For example, tacos from dinner can be turned into taco salads for lunch.
  • Pack your lunch in a bento-style box to ensure you have a balanced meal of grains, protein, dairy, fruit and vegetables.
  • Prepare hard-boiled eggs for the week for added protein; eat the eggs for a snack or make an egg salad sandwich.
  • Precut veggies, such as carrots and celery, for the week to have with hummus or peanut butter.




Henneman, A. (2019). Packed lunch safety. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

For more information about food safety, see “Keep Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold” (FN1348) at



By: Rachel Kuhn, Dietetic Intern, NDSU Extension

Filed under: fca newsletter

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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