Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 17, 2022
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Lunchbox essentials

What every brown bagger should have

1. An insulated box that’s easy to wash A survey done by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) tells us that only half the children who bring a lunchbox to school think it’s washed daily while 8 percent say it’s “hardly ever” washed.

Dirty lunch boxes are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, your lunchbox should be rinsed every evening with a mixture of bleach (5 millilitres) and water (750 millilitres). If you’re concerned about using bleach, try a vinegar solution or just hot soapy water.

An insulated bag ensures food that’s not in a thermos stays hot or cold. Although it’s often easier to use a thermos to keep hot food at 60°C or more, some people prefer hot packs. Cold foods should be kept at 4°C or less. The packs should be rinsed with a sanitizer. Some people freeze their water or juice bottle, allowing their drink to do double duty.

2. A healthy box When buying a lunchbox, check the label to make sure it’s lead-free. If you want to be 100 percent sure that you’re avoiding lead, don’t buy vinyl bags (choose a cotton or hemp bag or a metal lunchbox instead) because claims made on lead-free labels aren’t validated by an independent agency.

In terms of plastic storage containers, check to see if they’re made of polycarbonate plastic (identified as number 7 in the triangle under the bottle). This is the type of plastic that Health Canada is proposing to ban in baby bottles. Decide for yourself if you want to use it. A good choice is a bento box from Ottawa-based Credible Edibles (

3. A litter-free lunch Bringing lunch to work can be an environmental disaster. Single-use water bottles alone are a huge environmental problem. Buy an aluminum or glass bottle that you can reuse. When choosing storage containers, think both safety and presentation. Great ideas include a reusable wrapper made of cloth and Velcro fasteners that doubles as a placemat, an inflatable fruit carrier (like those pictured here from, which can be shipped to Canada inexpensively), the Banana Guard, incidentally designed by three Canadian ER docs
(, again, the latest must-have — a bento box from Credible Edibles.

4. Place mats, napkins, utensils and hand sanitizers or wipes Whatever we eat tastes better if it’s properly presented and eaten with real utensils. If you have elementary-aged kids, find out if their school encourages them to wash their hands before eating. Nearly 60 percent of the children who participated in the ADA survey said that they didn’t wash their hands before eating at school, but 90 percent said that they would if the proper equipment was in their lunchbox.

5. A balanced meal To help you and your children plan lunches, print out the “Cool” lunch guide from the Dietitians of Canada website ( ). This simple tool allows everyone to participate in lunch planning.

The simplest lunches are leftovers. Cook an extra portion of supper, package it in a lunch container immediately and refrigerate (or freeze, provided there’s enough time for food to thaw by lunchtime). Add vegetables or fruit and a beverage, and you have a balanced meal. Some people bring frozen meals. With these, it’s important to add a salad, a fruit and a glass of milk or a yogurt to make the meal complete. Remember presentation: a tuna sandwich can be boring, but tuna “pinwheels” are way more fun to eat.

6. At least 20 to 30 minutes Eating is important and shouldn’t be something we do at our desks or while we work. At most schools in Canada, the emphasis is on getting the children out to play so kids only have 15 minutes to eat. Physical activity is great, but we need time to chew our food well and savour our meal. After all, the enjoyment of food is one of the principles of a healthy diet.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.