One thing I often get asked is how I keep Small Child’s lunches cool.
I’m sure we all remember eating warm ham sandwiches from our lunch boxes on hot summer days, it was just a part of growing up. But as we get more adventurous with our lunch packing it does highlight the need to find a way to keep the food cool and fresh, both for food safety reasons and to make sure that your carefully packed food is a pleasure to eat.
Here are my top tips for keeping your lunches cool when the weather is hot.
An Insulated Lunch Bag. Because I pack my lunches bento-style, in plastic lunch boxes or containers, I need something to carry them in. What better than an insulated lunch bag? I have a couple of lunch bags for Small Child, and swap them around according to which size lunch box I’m using each day.
Ice Packs. Traditional ice packs can add a lot of weight to a lunch bag, so hunt out the thin ‘gel’ packs that are designed for lunch boxes. I usually pack 1 or 2 above and below the lunchbox to keep it cool. Try to keep a few extra sets in the freezer at all times, in case a lunchbox gets left at school, you forget to freeze them (a common problem for me!) or one gets burst (this has only happened to me once so far, but I've made sure that all of my ice-packs are filled with non-toxic materials, just in case).
You can get mini ice packs in really cute designs too; here are some of the ones I use.
Frozen Yoghurt Shapes. A favourite technique of mine; freezing your yoghurt into shapes using a silicone mould, or even just straight into a silicone muffin cup can add a fun touch to a lunch whilst also being a practical way to keep the lunch cool. I always pack ice packs above and below any frozen yoghurt shapes, this way they stay cool enough to keep their shape but are soft enough to eat by lunchtime.
As well as keeping the yoghurt itself lovely and cold, adding frozen yoghurt to a lunch can also have the positive knock-on effect of helping to keep the rest of the lunch cool too. Do make sure the frozen yoghurt is in a separate leak-proof compartment if possible, to avoid it spoiling the rest of your lunch if it melts more than anticipated.
Add other frozen foods. There are several foods that work well in bento lunches from frozen. Vegetables such as peas, sweetcorn and soya beans can be put into the lunchbox straight from the freezer, and will be defrosted and ready to eat by lunchtime. Try freezing fruit such as orange slices the night before to keep them cool. As with the frozen yoghurt shapes, adding frozen foods to a lunch has the added bonus of helping to keep the rest of the lunch cool too.
Freeze Drinks. Try freezing a small bottle of water or a carton of juice to add to the lunch bag in the place of an ice pack. It should be defrosted by lunchtime, providing a cool and refreshing drink to accompany the lunch. You could also try freezing home-made smoothies - here are a few of my own simple smoothie recipes.
Reusable Plastic Ice Cubes. If you have any spaces to fill between foods, try adding a few reusable ice-cubes to your lunchbox. If you haven’t seen them before, they are little plastic shapes filled with water that you can freeze again and again. I have this cute set of fruit shaped ones that I keep in a sealed bag in the freezer so that they are always clean, frozen and ready to use.
Hopefully this post has given you a few fresh ideas to save you from warm ham sandwiches for lunch. Lets hope we have a really lovely hot summer to go with our beautifully cool lunches!
PS Packing lunches? Come join our friendly Facebook community to share your lunches and pick up new ideas from our members!